Category Archives: Games

No Props Needed: Name Games (part 1)

It’s the start of another school year and at my church in Beijing we have a LOT of new teens in our youth groups this year. There are new grade 6 students now old enough to attend, some 7th graders who didn’t come last year, some older students who’ve decided to be more involved this year, and a bunch of families new to Beijing.

When half your group is new, learning names is a big deal – when you know others’ names it makes you feel more connected, less isolated. For the not-new students, learning the new kids’ names helps them be more inclusive, and get to know the new people faster.

With that in mind, we’ll be sharing some great name learning games that don’t require much by way of prep or props. These are the games we’re using to start off the school year in our youth groups.

The Pillow Game

When I was a student, we played this game with a rolled up newspaper. With my groups now, I use pillows. It doesn’t really matter what you use, as long as you can hit people with it without actually hurting them. Pool noodles would work well, too.  So yes, a prop is needed, but there are lots of round-the-house type options. The best thing about pillows is that you can throw them across the circle to hit your target – an additional bit of fun.

Everyone sits in a circle; one person stands in the middle with the pillow. A name is said to start things off. The person in the middle has to hit the named person with the pillow before they say another name. Then the person in the middle goes for the newly named person, who says another name. It keeps going in this fashion until the person in the middle hits a named person before they can say another person’s name. (You can’t call the name of the person in the middle). The new person stands up and the one who caught them sits in their chair – this means people change seats throughout the game so you have to remember what a person looks like, not just what part of the circle that name was! When the person in the middle catches someone, they must say a new name before sitting down – or they can get whacked back and be right back in the middle.

That’s a little confusing, with all the pronouns, so here’s how it works. Let’s say Bob is in the middle. The name “Mary” is called. Mary yells “Lily” before Bob gets to Mary. Then Bob runs toward Lily who yells “David”. David says “um um um” at which point Bob hits him with the pillow. David stands up and takes the pillow, Bob says “Peter” and sits down.

With a large group, we added a second pillow – so two people were in the middle, chasing after the one name that was called. If you have two people with the same name, the group should agree ahead of time on separate names (use a nickname, a surname, whatever you like) so that they can be distinguished. Careful, though – those nicknames can stick!


A prop is needed for this, too – just a blanket or heavy sheet/tablecloth, or something or that sort. You could use a tarp or a piece of canvass… lots of options. This game works best once the kids have had a chance to learn names first – so it’s best played after another name game or a few weeks in.

Divide the group into two teams. Two leaders hold the blanket (or whatever) between the groups so they can’t see each other. A leader counts down from 5 to 1, while the groups each choose a representative, who stands in front of the blanket. When the count gets to 1, the leaders pull down the blanket. There are two kids facing each other who must now race to say the other person’s name correctly first. The first one to guess correctly wins a point for their team.

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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Games


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No props needed: the great game of AIRPORT

This is the first post on no-props-needed games. Sometimes I’ve looked over lists of games and mentally crossed out 2 in 3 (or more) because they call for props that are difficult – or expensive – to come by in China. I’m sure the list of available props in places less metropolitan than Beijing is much more restrictive.

Enter the no-props-needed games. These are games that we love, that are engaging and fun, and best of all – don’t require you to buy crazy things! This game requires chairs and an empty water bottle – but since most meetings I’ve been to have chairs of some kind available and the water bottle is basically trash, I’m going to count it anyway ;)

Airport is my favourite youth group game (at least at the moment). I learned it from John Sorrell, and he in turn learned it from Smick (Erik Johanson). As with most great games, this one has a story. We start out by having each kid grab a chair and scatter throughout the room (and sit). Then someone tells the story…

We are waiting in an airport and we just found out our flight has been delayed for 8 hours. Again. So, being bored we have decided as a group to mess with the next person to walk up.

One person gets out of their chair and goes to the opposite side of the room. They attempt to sit down but the whole group shifts around so that the person who’s in can’t get a seat. This sometimes requires creative thinking and teamwork on the part of the seated kids. There is always an empty chair, so the trick is to make sure the empty chair keeps moving away from the person who’s in.

One last thing. The person in the middle is given a slight handicap – they must hold an empty bottle between their legs (we usually use a cheap plastic water bottle someone’s just finished). This is to simulate the luggage they would be carrying around, of course! When that person manages to sit down, the last person standing is the next one in.

I know it sounds simple, but I promise – it takes off quickly! John says he’s played it in 6 countries and kids have always engaged with it. Here in Beijing it draws in kids who can be stand-off-ish in games times normally. I’m not a huge games person and I love playing it! I’ll admit, it gets a little crazy the way we play – people diving on chairs, sitting on each other (arguing over who got there first), some bent chair legs, and a few minor injuries…

One great thing about this game is that it’s so easy to add (or subtract) a player anytime – if kids show up late they can easily join in whenever they arrive. We sometimes play attempting to get every person in at least once – even teaming to get a certain person in rather than to stop the person who’s in from sitting down!  I’ve seen a kid walk behind the one who’s in (and is less mobile due to the bottle between their knees) ready to duck in front of them and steal the chair they’re headed for. I’ve seen a grade 6 boy fling himself on a chair as if his life depended on it! There’s so much room for creativity and engaging in individual ways. And it’s just plain fun!

Departure waiting areas at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok. That's a familiar sight...

Departure waiting areas at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok. That's a familiar sight...

The best part about airport is that the story is SO TCK. If you try this in your home country, the game works but the story doesn’t connect. In Asia, you tell that two sentence story and every kid is with you – they know the pain of airport delays. There’s something awesome about a game with a story that fits your life – and this game’s story fits the TCK life beautifully. A game that brings your friends with you into the boredom of a delayed flight? Well that just rocks.

I know what (and who) I’ll be thinking of next time one of my flights is delayed ;)

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Posted by on May 20, 2011 in Games


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Great Glowstick Games: Human Pac-Man

An important thing to remember when running games is to work with what you’ve got. Use the unique characteristics of the environment you’re in.

For a few years, the Beijing Expat Youth camps were held at a conference centre in the far south of Beijing. The grounds of the centre had all sorts of odd fields. The most unusual feature was an abandoned maze. It was originally a water maze – cement walls enclosed waterways which little boats paddled along. Higher walls formed the maze, and trees grew all through. By the time we came along, there was no water – just a few half-rotten boats and a lot of leaf litter lying in the bottom of a cement maze. It was dingy and not a little dangerous. So, of course, we used it for night games!

The most famous game we ever ran in the abandoned maze was Human Pac-Man. We created it for our second camp there, with the maze in mind.

Human Pac-Man
4 teams
4 garbage bins
15 large balls
30 medium size balls
200+ little balls (we used pingpong balls)
8 sheets

The kids got a few glowsticks each to light themselves up with. When we arrived at the maze, they were divided into their teams, each of them gathering in a different corner of the maze. In each team’s corner was a plastic garbage bin, which they would use to collect their points.

When the whistle blew to start the game, the kids left their corners in search of balls – the bigger the ball, the more points it was worth. They were human pac-men, in search of delicious dots. Once they deposited the balls in their team garbage bin, they were “safe”. At the conclusion of the game, the contents of the bins were counted and the team with the most points won.

Of course, pac-man has a nemesis: the ghosts! 8 leaders were sent around the maze, each draped in a sheet of some kind. When caught by a ghost, kids had to drop any balls they’d collected and follow the ghost to the “prison” in a large open space at the centre of the maze. Kids were free to collect balls in any section of the maze, not just near their home base, but the farther they roamed, the higher the risk of getting caught.

The prison was run like many we’ve run before and since – kids were required to do all sorts of random things to get free and return to the action. Sometimes they had to sing silly songs, or do silly dances, or perhaps provide profuse flattery to the leader in charge!

And there you have it – a very simple game. Easy to set up, easy to teach, easy to run. No bizarre rules to explain (or get confused), no weird supplies to locate. Running it as a night game meant the balls weren’t too simple too find, and made the ghosts more ghostly.

So why was this game so popular? Why is it still remembered so fondly, 5 years after the fact?

I think there are two main reasons.

1) It captured imaginations

Most people have played the computer game Pac Man. It was easy to relate the simple elements of the game we were playing to the computer game they remembered – making the whole thing seem much more sophisticated than it actually was. We weren’t running around collecting balls and avoiding leaders – we were in a computer eating dots and fleeing from ghosts!

2) Location, location, location

This game only worked because we were running around an old maze. Without those walls, the idea of being in the computer game falls apart. By creating a game that worked with the unique location available to us, we were able to make the game more than a game. It was a special game, one that is forever associated in all our minds with that location.

So why tell you this? I assume it’s unlikely you’ll be running night games in your own abandoned maze any time soon. If you do have access to a maze for night games, keep Human Pac-Man in mind! For the rest of you, though, consider those two points when preparing games for your own events.

Capture Imaginations – instead of running complex games, use simple games with easily understood rules, and make them interesting with a great story.

Location – make the most of the location you have. Choose, or create, games that engage with the environment they’re played in.


Posted by on April 8, 2011 in Games


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Great Glowstick Games: Building a fire

“Building a Fire” is a game that Joe Jackson, Matt Banker and I cooked up for the Beijing Fall Youth Camp 2010. We were using a Wilderness Survivor theme, and so we created games that would fit that. (We’ll probably write about some of the other games we did in another post – there were some good ones!)

The main reason I chose this for one of our first games posts is that a few months later, Christina and I used it for the Cross Culture 2011 retreat in Cambodia. It was a very different group in a very different location; we adapted it heavily and it worked wonderfully. I love games that are flexible and therefore easy to adapt! Flexibility is important for those of us running games in random places – the traditional models don’t always work, so we change games to fit us.

Building a Fire – original Beijing version

What we started with:

Four teams (total 100 people)
1,000 small red glowsticks
400 small yellow glowsticks
200 small blue glowsticks
Several hundred small green glowsticks for marking
Several large red glowsticks for marking (and some small red ones)
Several large blue glowsticks for “obstacles”

Object of the game

Build enough fires to keep your team warm (and alive). Instead of awarding points for games over the weekend, teams were fighting to survive! Each complete “fire” would keep 5 team members “alive” so teams of 25 people needed to make 5 fires. These “fires” are made by collecting enough of the right glowsticks in the right combination. Each team was required to calculate the number of fires they needed, then collect the right amount of glowsticks and return them to home base before the end of the allotted time.

Adaptation: set the colour/number combinations according to the amount of glowsticks you have available. For our purposes, each complete fire required 10 blue, 20 yellow, and 50 red glowsticks. To fit the narrative, we called the blue “matches”, the yellow “kindling” and the red “logs” – or something like that ;)


Of course, no good game is complete without challenges to overcome. We assigned some leaders to be “Wind” and “Wild Animals” (lions and tigers and bears, oh my!); they were distinguished by holding large glowsticks.  If a kid was tagged by a “Wind” leader they were required to hand over any glowsticks they were carrying; the glowsticks were then redistributed by the leaders (so they could be collected again). “Redistributing” generally meant “randomly tossed over there somewhere”.

If a kid was tagged by a Lion, Tiger or Bear, not only were their glowsticks stolen, but they were mauled. Badly maimed, these kids were required to sit on the ground and not move (they could yell but that was all) until they were carried back to home base (dragged or piggyback or carried by four limbs – anything they came up with) at which point they were magically revived. Every “mauled” kid left out in the field at the end of the game was a life counted against the team’s total.

Setting up the field

The “field” was a wide area full of trees, walls, and low-ropes equipment. There were hills, piles of dead leaves, and random bits of metal. In short, it was rather a mess.

The green marker glowsticks were used to do several things:

  • to mark the trail into the game area (since the kids were making their way out there at night)
  • make the home bases (green circles near four corners of the playing area)
  • mark the boundaries of the play area (where there was no fence)
  • warn of any dangerous areas (i.e. KEEP OFF THE BROKEN METAL THINGS)

That last point is very important for night games – kids who are running around in the dark will often not see danger til it’s too late to avoid. Using a set apart glowstick colour to mark danger helps a lot!

A mix of small and large red glowsticks were used to mark a “safe zone” in the middle of the play areas where the first aid officer and some other available leaders remained throughout the game. When kids had any sort of problem (sprained ankle, clarification of rules) they could find someone to help.

The play glowsticks (blue, yellow and red) were distributed even-ish-ly throughout the playing area. (Some strategy was discussion and used – such as putting certain colours primarily in certain areas, so each team would have to travel away from home base to find them).

Game Play

All game rules were explained to the teams in the indoor meeting room. Kids were released to get cold-weather gear and met out at the playing field, where leaders were available to direct them to the home bases. After 5-10 minutes to strategise, the game was started with a siren. We gave them about 20 minutes to run around collecting, losing and re-collecting glowsticks. A 5 minute warning siren was given, and then a long final siren. (Having a loud, recognisable noise for marking time in night games helps a lot, especially when the group is spread out over a large area).

It sounds simple enough, but it really worked as a game! I was impressed by how it drew in the high school girls in my cabin. One or two were a bit sick, and others just didn’t want to play the game. I convinced them to at least come out and see the glowsticks (the lit up game field is always one of the best sights of camp) and said they could go back to the cabin soon after that. Once the game started, however, they got so involved they never asked to go back to the cabin – they engaged with the game and played the whole time. One big advantage of this game was that there were several different roles – kids could play the game the way they wanted.

  • Strategy – coming up with a way to play the game and instructing others
  • Glowstick collectors – running far away to get what was needed
  • Medics – going out and finding mauled kids then bringing them home
  • Counters – counting up the glowsticks brought home, working out what was still needed, and communicating this to the collectors

Cambodia Adaptation

When we played this at the Cross Culture retreat, we came up with a lot of major adaptations. The game still worked brilliantly.

We started with:

9 kids
4 leaders
20 blue glowsticks
5 pink/red glowsticks
30 yellow/green glowsticks

The kids played as a single team trying to beat the game. Each fire saved three people, and consisted of 5 blue, 7 red/pink and 10 yellow/green glowsticks. Several blue glowsticks were used to mark the “obstacle” leaders. There was one Wind leader and one Rabid Camel* leader patrolling the game field. The biggest change was omitting the home base. Mauled kids were not revived by being brought to base, but by having three team members come to them at the same time. Glowsticks were also not safe until a complete fire was presented to the “safe” leader. The kids were hiding glowsticks under jackets, in their pockets – anywhere they could find!  The play area included a swimming pool and a bunch of glowsticks ended in there (along with several fully clothed kids and leaders). It was mass chaos and thoroughly enjoyable!

*an in joke that was woven through the entire weekend!

I think “Building a fire” is a great glowstick game because it is so flexible! You could even re-story it to fit a different themed camp – have them building something different – not a fire but… <constructing a building/foundation><weaving a carpet><harvesting crops>. Sky’s the limit!


Posted by on February 14, 2011 in Games


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10 things to consider when running games

Today’s post is a guest post by Tim Carigon. Tim was a youth pastor/sr. pastor in Hawai’i for 20 years before moving to China with his family to work on behalf of Chinese youth. He also provided us with his “master list” of youth group games, so stay tuned for some of those in coming weeks!

10 things to consider when running youth group games….

#10 Leave them wanting more
Don’t run games into the ground.  Get it flowing and then just when the energy is peaking, wait a couple minutes and move to the next. 

#9 Have a games closet
If you are serious about gaming keep a closet full of implements, resources and stuff. In that closet keep the resources you used most often in games. Any time you play a game that calls for something new, add it to the closet. My must-have list includes duck tape, hula hoops, balls of all sizes, costumes, big markers, poster board, cardboard, playing cards, clothes pins, bullhorn, portable sound, game music, big dice and a whole lot more.

#8 Everything is spiritual
Games are tools to break down walls and bring kids to the center of the community.  They prepare teens to hear, listen and accept.  They are spiritual if you see them as part of the whole experience, and the broader strategy for impacting teens’ lives. Only use games to the degree to which they accomplish your goals.

#7 Safety First
Or at least 2nd!  ;o)  The best games are the ones that are on the edge, but not over it.  The games kids remember are the ones with a little perceived danger. Push the envelope, but be willing shut down games that head over the edge.

#6 Adopt & Adapt
I like to use the word adopt instead of steal, it just sounds more spiritual.  The best way to learn games is to see them – not just read about them.  Adopting someone’s games is really stealing and in youth ministry stealing is permitted. Adapting is what you do to all good games to make them better.  Many outdoor games are adaptations of the good ol’ “Capture the Flag”.  Adapting allows you to adjust games to fit your needs, create variety and make an old game better.  Adaptation usually involves changing one or more of the following: Time, implements, space, rules, object, or players.

#5 Transitions & Connections
The key to a good game session is your transitions and connections.  When planning your games try to lump them together by kinds.  Example: If you do one circle game, do many circle games linked together.  This saves transition time, and allows you to link games together much easier.  Transitions should be filled with music and direction.  Transitions allow for momentum.  The key to transitions is to have all needed implements pre-selected and right next to you.  It also helps to have an assistant that can be prepping the next game.

#4 Keep the plates spinning, but know when to bail
Once you get things rolling keep building momentum.  Momentum is what you are after; that is why you do not wait for a game to tail off. By switching games just when you have built momentum you take that momentum into the next game.  If a game is not adding to the momentum know when to bail and move on.

#3 The more points the better
When it comes down to it the score does not matter, but it sure makes it more fun.  It is not a track and field meet, so don’t score it 5,3,2,1.  The same game is more fun if the winner gets 10,000 points.  And if you are not sure of the score, just make it up!  The more points you give out the harder it is for them to know if the score is right.  ;o)

#2 Find your funny bone
The game master needs to be an emcee/cheerleader/heckler/score keeper/referee/coach and most of all comedian.   The emcee needs to be actively engaging the kids as they play.  When everyone is laughing the game is not taken too seriously and everyone can laugh at themselves.

#1 Variety is the spice of life
All games are not created equally.  Games can be mixers, team builders, upfront games, crowd games, big field games, stunts/gags, messy/gross games, sports and relays.  Use them all for different effect.

Good gaming,

Tim Carigon

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Introducing our favourite games….

One of the main goals of this site is to resource and support youth workers, especially those working with groups of TCKs in Asia. One of the problems you can run into with setting up youth group games is that most resources currently available are USA-centric. Sometimes the “basic” equipment or settings used don’t work for us in our less conventional locations. We’re planning a few different series of our best games – ones that are flexible, for use in different places and with different props, or with no props at all.

Here are some categories we’ll be writing on:

Often a group doesn’t have time or space for an involved game, or not enough resources to set them up. But don’t worry! There are a lot of short and simple games you can play to get things started.

No Props Needed
Don’t you hate when you come across a great game, only to discover it needs you to use things that are unavailable (or only available as expensive purchases in an import store)? Maybe it’s index cards, or pudding… whatever it is, it turns a simple game into one requiring time and money to prepare. Never fear! We are going to share a bunch of games that don’t require ANY props but still get kids excited and engaged.

Bestest Messiest Games
We all know it’s true – games that create a big mess create big memories, too. Plus, it never gets old watching someone ELSE get covered in goop. We have a bunch of great messy games that your youth group aren’t going to forget in a hurry!

Great Glowstick Games
I had never heard of “night games” til I started doing youth work in China. For the uninitiated, let me elaborate. Night games are what they sound like: big group games played at night – most notably at “big” events like camp, when you likely have several hours of darkness with your kids! A great way to make night games extra memorable and fun is the use of glowsticks. We have a whole range of creative ways to use glowsticks, and to work your big group game into your camp theme.

If you have your own great games to share, or you’ve been looking for something in particular, let us know! We’d love to hear from you.

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Posted by on February 4, 2011 in Games, Youth Resources


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