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Hangman (Game): How to Play, Rules, Gameplay, Variations,…

Last Updated on January 7, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Hangman game coming out of notebook
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One of the simplest guessing games to play is the game of Hangman. It can be played by anyone who can read and write, of any age, and anywhere. It is a game that can be adapted easily to the level of knowledge of the players and requires minimal tools to play it. Due to these simple facts, Hangman is the type of game that everyone wants more of once they start playing it!

A Brief Summary of Hangman:

  • How to play Hangman: one player sets a word or phrase that other players must guess
  • Rules: players take turns guessing; if a correct answer is guessed, the same team/player guesses again, letters are filled in on the empty dashes, and wrong guesses result in the incremental hanging of the man.
  • Strategies: use words that begin with vowels and guess consonants for 4-letter words.
  • Variations: Spaceman and Snowman.

Liked what you’ve already seen in the summary? Read on if you want to learn more.

Everything You Need to Know About Hangman

The more you know about Hangman, the better you can get at the game. Below, we look at how to play Hangman, what the rules are, some strategies you can try, and some variations to consider. Enjoy!

How to Play Hangman

Hangman needs a minimum of two players (unless you’re playing against a computer), one sets the phrase/word, and one guesses the answer. It can be played between teams or with one group member posing the question to the others. 

First of all, you will need something like paper and a pencil to play. The objective of Hangman is to guess the word, letter by letter, posed by the questioner before the complete picture of the hanging man is drawn.  

Rules

The rules of Hangman are simple. If more than one person is guessing the letters, each one must take a turn to call out the chosen letter. This is a good exercise for teaching children to have patience.  

Words, as well as phrases, can be used. Usually, proper nouns such as personal names, places, or brands may not be used. The team or person that answers correctly continues with another chance until an error is made. 

A game consists of enough correct answers to fill the empty dashes (winning) or until the hanging man drawing is complete, element by element after each incorrect answer (losing).

Gameplay

Right, we have established that you need a question master and an answering person or team. The question master thinks of a word or phrase. They write down a series of horizontal dashes to represent the number of letters. 

Then, the answering person calls out a letter, be it vowel or consonant, hoping it will be one of the letters represented by the dashes. The question master fills this in if it is correct. If it is incorrect, the hanging man drawing begins, stroke by stroke, for each wrong answer.  

Start with a small horizontal line to represent the ground. Next comes the vertical line, followed by another horizontal line at the top for the gallows. We then need a cross-piece in the angle at the top. Now we draw the rope, hanging down. At the bottom of the noose is the hanged man’s head. Beneath his head, a line represents his body. Arms are added, and finally, the two legs.

Drawing hangman on the notebook and pen
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Many Youtube videos will show you the diagram usually used. Once the drawing is fully finished, the game is over, and another person becomes the question master.

Strategies to use when guessing

Although Hangman is a guessing game, some strategies can give you the added advantage. Firstly, there is an order of frequency in which letters are used in any language. 

In English, the letter frequency of common words is as follows: E, S, I, A, R, N, T, O, L, C, D, U, P, M, G, H, B, Y, F, V, W Z, X, Q, J. So, when you are guessing the letters of the word or phrase, begin with the vowels E, I, A, and O. 

U is not standard, so after the first four vowels, it is suggested to start with the consonants, S R N T L being your first choices. 

There are some exceptions – for four-letter words, guess first S, then B, then F. For five-letter words, it is the only time that S should be your first letter guess.  

Strategies to use when setting the question (word or phrase)

You must choose words that are suitable for the intellectual level of your opponent. You won’t be asking a 10-year old to guess the word “compatibility,” for example. However, suppose you are determined to be the Hangman Master. In that case, you will ask diabolical words to confuse and baffle your opponent!  

Begin with what appears to be an easy 5-letter word. Your opponent will be guessing all the usual vowels and consonants, not knowing they should be thinking of J Z and Y to form the word “jazzy.” “Fuzzily” is another good one.

Bamboozle your opponent by using seldom-heard or read terms such as “Zugzwang” (a move in Chess to one’s disadvantage). Try using “Squdgy,” meaning squat and pudgy. Your opponent might guess the U, which is usually followed by another vowel.  

Use words with unusual combinations of letters, such as in the word “Randkluft” (a chasm caused by a receding mountainside). If you are using a phrase, think of unusual combinations of words. “Lampshades and cream,” for example. “Beercans and Tigers” is another one. When challenged, casually and confidentially, pass them off as either books or musical bands.

Variations of the Hangman game

For various reasons, the drawing of a hanging man might not be acceptable and potentially problematic. Several countries around the world employ hanging as capital punishment. People might find the hanging man drawing offensive. Many other pictures can be used, provided they are simple and do not consist of many elements. 

– Spaceman

Spaceman” is used widely. The drawing here consists of a spaceship above a child’s typical illustration of a stickman. Two diagonal lines emanate from under the craft, suggesting movement. 

The spacecraft is the iconic “flying saucer” with a dome at the top and three portholes in line. It has a short antenna sticking out from the top with a small disc at the end. The landing gear consists of three semi-circles attached to the bottom of the spaceship. The game is played in the same way as Hangman, drawing element by element as wrong letters are proposed. 

– Snowman

Another form of the game is “Snowman.” Again, the drawing is a simple one. Begin with the largest circle, which will be the base of the Snowman. The next move is the middle circle, then the head circle at the top. Add his tophat, followed by two stick-type arms, two eyes, and a carrot-shaped nose. The final move, as the game is lost, is to add a down-turned mouth.

Happy Snowman in black hat and red scarf.
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– Others

You can also vary how the game is played if the drawing is completed first. Elements of the picture are then erased as incorrect answers are given.

Another simple drawing is that of a beetle. Draw the head, the body, and the six legs. Add eyes and antennae. Spiders work well too. A head section, a body, eight legs, and some eyes will complete the diagram. 

You are limited only by your imagination, have fun creating different pictures to replace the original hanging man. You may also add more detail to your drawing, giving the person guessing the word more opportunities to find the correct word.

The game can also be played online. Check the hanginghyena website for a fun Snowman game. It is beneficial for children as they learn to think about what the word could be, as they see the letters collected on the dashes below the drawing.  

Final thoughts

As you will have realized by now, playing the game of Hangman (or any variation of the game) can be as straightforward or as complicated as you would like it to be. Besides being a fun game, it indirectly forces your brain to think about vocabulary, spelling, and letter sequencing. 

Hangman is a word guessing game that can be played virtually anywhere, by anyone who can read and write. It can be played in any language. Vary the game by deciding beforehand if a specific category of answers is going to be used. Song titles, movie titles, names of music groups are all suitable. ‘Original’ rules suggest that no proper nouns, brand names, and such may be used, but rules are made to be broken!

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.