What Is Charades & How to Play It! (All You Need to Know)

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For many, Charades is a fun party or family-gathering game. It is enjoyed by both young and old and has been a firm favorite in group gatherings since the early 19th Century. The popularity of Charades is simply undeniable. What most people do not know is that Charades was actually born from a literary game that surfaced in the 18th Century in France

What is Charades? The Oxford English Dictionary defines Charades as “a game in which players guess a word or phrase from a written or acted clue given for each syllable and for the whole item”. 

In a game of Charades, two teams play against each other. Charades cards (either from a store-bought game pack or ideas written down by opposing teams) are split between the two groups. One person from each group is selected at a time to act out the word or phrase on the drawn card. Only the actor knows what is on the card. The objective is for the team to guess what the word/phrase is as quickly as possible.

Before the French started playing “acted Charades”, their Charades game was a literary game. It was an entire Century before literary Charades transitioned to a game of acting and miming. This game was a kind of riddle that had to be solved by describing (note: not acting or miming) each syllable as a separate word in order to come up with the actual word or term in question.

It was only in the 19th Century that the acted version of the game became popular. And it is this version that we are most familiar with and play most often today. If you want to learn more about how to play Charades, read on. Below you will find some tips, advice, and guidance on how to play the game. 

How to Play Charades

happy friends playing charades in the evening
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Playing Charades is quite easy, but can seem daunting or overwhelming to those who have never encountered it before or are shy/reserved. Ironically enough, Charades is a game that everyone enjoys, and it can be the perfect ice breaker at a gathering, even for those who are shy or do not enjoy group communication.

The first thing you need to know is that you do not need an official Charades game pack to play the game, but I have found that it is a lot more fun as everyone in the group is exposed to new words, ideas, and phrases. Below I make notes on how to play Charades and get the most out of the experience. Enjoy!

The Charades Cards

If you buy a Charades game pack, you will find a variety of cards inside the pack. These cards need to be shuffled and then divided between the two teams. If you do not have a game pack, you can create your own cards by writing words and phrases on slips of paper. 

All Charades packs focus on 6 main categories which are: movies, television shows, song/music titles, plays, book titles, and famous quotes. Each team can write down several phrases and words and then hand them over to the opposing team. To ensure that no unfairness results, when creating cards, check with your own team if they know the answer. If half of the team knows the phrase or word in question, it is deemed fair and acceptable as an option. 

The cards are popped into two different containers (hats, buckets, bowls – all of these are acceptable) – one for each team. The team actors for each round will draw their cards from these. 

Who Starts the Game of Charades?

Teams take turns to mime their chosen word/phrase to their teammates, but which team starts the game off? To decide who starts the game, the teams have a coin toss or roll the dice. Before you do this, decide if there will be a penalty for players who speak instead of mime. Then it is time to roll the dice, or toss the coin and get started.

tossing coin
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The Action of the Game 

The team that wins the coin-toss or dice roll begins the game. The team must select one player to draw a card and mime the first word/phrase. Once the card is drawn, the actor is given a few seconds to read the word/phrase and plan their communication. 

All the players on the team have to take a turn before the first player can have another turn. This stops teams from choosing their best communicators over and over to act out or guess words and phrases. 

In short, when I first started playing the game, I learned the hard way. People always find a way to cheat (or try to), so it’s important to make sure that all of the rules are understood. If this does happen, take it in your stride – it’s all in the name of fun, so don’t get too competitive and don’t overreact. 

Making it Easy for Your Teammates to Guess

How can you make it easy for your teammates to guess the word or phrase without cheating or talking? It can be extremely difficult to convey just a word or phrase through non-verbal communication. For this reason, it is a good idea to convey a few of the basics to the team upfront, so that the gameplay can run smoothly and with everyone “on board”.

You can use gestures to lay the foundation by communicating which category the phrase is from, how many words the phrase is (by holding fingers up), showing which word you will act out first (holding fingers up the second time), and the number of syllables the word is by laying your fingers on your forearm. If the team can get this information from you quickly, the real work can begin – the fun can start.

The chosen team members must continue to act out the word/phrase until they run out of time, or a team member gets it right. When someone guesses the answer, the round comes to an end and the team gets a point. The good news is that you do not have to try and communicate that phrase again if the team cannot guess it or you run out of time. That is considered a missed round and no points are awarded or lost.

Friends At Home Having Fun Playing Charades Together 2
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Most people play until they run out of slips or until there is a clear winning team. In my experience, the game goes on for hours with much hilarity until the night wears on and it’s time to “call it a night”. Whether you are playing Charades with family, friends, or with a work team for team building, you are guaranteed to have fun. 

Getting the Basics Down to a Fine Art

No one should go into a game of Charades blindly. Before the game, both teams should pay attention to some basic gestures that can be used to demonstrate certain information. Some gestures to discuss and familiarize both teams with are specifically the categories. You can gesture these in the following ways:

  • Book titles: relay this by opening hands as if reading a book.
  • Movies: gesture as if turning the crank on an old fashioned video camera.
  • Television shows: draw a square in the air with your pointer finger.
  • Song titles: mime the action of singing into a microphone.
  • Famous quotes: relay this information by using fingers to create air quotes.
  • Plays: act as if you are pulling a rope to raise a theatre curtain.

Other gestures and signs that you can discuss are “sounds like” when you want to say that the word sounds like another word that is easier to guess. You can communicate this by cupping your ear before miming the other word. You can make pinching gestures to indicate that the word you are acting is short too. 

You can also relay the information that the team has the right word, but the wrong tense, by linking fingers together to show that it is a plural, or waving your hand behind your head to show that it is a past tense. 

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The Best Tactic for Playing Charades: Have Fun!

Because I have such a passion for playing Charades, many people ask me what the trick to winning is. I don’t believe there is a trick. For the most part, teams usually win because they adapt to communicating non-verbally with each other. I have found personally that the most important way to play Charades is to just fully engage with your teammates and have fun. While there might be penalties for mistakes during gameplay, the main objective is to work as a team and have as much fun as possible. 

Time To Play

Now that you know what Charades is and how to play it, it’s time to gather a group and ready them for an evening or afternoon of fun, excitement, and bonding. I jump at the opportunity to play Charades, and I believe that once the bug bits, you will too.