10 New Year’s Eve Party Games For Adults

by Sara Levine
Group of friends toasting with champagne at night. They are standing outdoors in a restaurant at dus...
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I’m all for parties, but I hate planning them — it’s too much pressure to make sure everyone has a good time. Throwing parties as an adult can be especially difficult. Plan too many activities, and the fun can feel forced. Don’t plan at all, and you risk your party descending into awkward silence when everyone runs out of things to talk about. And when you throw New Year’s Eve — arguably the most overly hyped night of the year — into the mix, the pressure to entertain successfully can be downright crippling. But don’t fret. An easy way to make sure you and your guests have a good time is to have a couple of games on hand in case things get stale. So I’ve racked my brain and come up with New Year’s Eve party games for adults. You’re welcome in advance.

Going to parties as a kid was easy because the number of games you could play was basically never-ending. From telephone to duck duck goose, you could have a blast with no extra materials outside a circle of friends. Well I’ve got good news: Many of the same games you played as a kid are just as fun — if not more so — as an adult. I mean, everybody loves a good throwback.

1. Salad Bowl

This is a game I played in camp when I was 15, and again a few weeks ago — and let me tell you, both times were equally laugh-inducing. You’ll need a bunch of slips of paper, writing utensils, and a giant bowl (or bowl-like container) for this game. Here’s how it works: First, divide the room into two teams. Then, everybody writes the name of a person, celebrity, or fictional character on a slip of paper and puts all the slips in the bowl. Each team goes down the line member by member, picking out one slip of paper and trying to have their team members guess who it is. There are two catches, though: First, there’s a time limit (I think I did one minute, but whatever works for you). Second, there are three rounds. In the first round, you can use words, song, gestures, anything goes to get your team to guess. In the second round, you can only use one word. In the third round, no words or sounds are allowed. The slips of paper are returned to the bowl in between each round, though, so it becomes a sort of memory game as the rounds progress.

2. Tape Heads

Apparently this game is actually called Heads Up, but at camp we called it Tape Heads so that’s the name I’m going with forever. You may have seen it in Inglourious Basterds. Materials needed are either masking tape and marker; paper, tape, and pens; sticky notes, or some other form of paper that will have a way of sticking onto your forehead. Each person writes down the name of a famous person on their piece of paper and then passes the paper face-down to the person to their right. Without looking, everybody sticks the paper to their forehead. Then, you each take turns asking each other yes or no questions to try to determine who’s on your forehead. Watching people struggling to figure out something you already know is always hilarious, albeit in a slightly sadistic way.

3. Charades

Charades is the original party game; I shouldn’t have to explain how it works to anyone. Knock it all you want, but there’s a reason it’s been around since the 18th century.

4. Password

I play this game every year with my cousins at IHOP and it never fails to pass the time. You’ll need an even number of people for this game, so I suggest substitutions if someone’s left out. Divide the group into two evenly split groups and arrange the groups in a horizontal line facing one another. The person across from you is your partner. Each round, each group comes up with a word that they’re each going to try to get their partner to guess. What makes this game difficult is that you can only provide a one-word clue. You can’t use a word’s rhyme as its clue, and you can’t use proper nouns. Whoever guesses the word correctly gets a point, and you keep going to see who gets the most points.

5. 7 Up

If you didn’t play this game in school when you had a substitute, I don’t know what you were doing with your life back in the '90s. 7 Up (or the longer title, Heads Up 7 Up) got me through many a school day. Anyway, here’s how it works — no teams needed for this one. You’ll need to designate someone as “the teacher” — I would just pick the host to make it easier. The host picks seven people to be “It”. When the host says, "Heads down, thumbs up," the remaining people obey. The “It” people then go around and press down everyone’s thumbs. When everyone’s thumbs are down, the host says “Heads up, 7 up” and everyone tries to guess who pressed down their thumb. Whoever gets it right becomes the new “It.” Rinse, repeat, and maybe indulge yourselves in a little walk down memory lane.

6. Coke and Pepsi

This game is honestly my favorite. You actually need an odd number of people for this — one person will emcee rather than play. I could spend six pages going into all the intricacies and special rules of this game, so I’ll just help with the setup. Everybody picks a partner, and the partners go stand on opposite sides of the room from each other. One side of the room is designated as “Coke” and the other is “Pepsi.” When the emcee yells out “Coke,” the coke side has to run across the room and sit on their partner’s lap. When the emcee yells “Pepsi,” the Pepsi side has to run across the room. The last person there is out, so it’s sudden-death elimination. Like I said, there are many more rules — most named after different sugary beverages such as Mountain Dew, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, and more — but I really don’t have the time or finger strength to get into it. This blog post covers it pretty accurately, or you could just ask any one of your friends who’s ever been to a bar or bat mitzvah.

7. Catchphrase

Catchphrase is another word guessing game. You can play this with a board game or an app, or you can use the power of imagination and a pre-determined set of words — like, for example, a list. The goal is for each team to try to get their team to guess as many words as they can under a certain time limit. You obviously can’t use any parts of the word, or a rhyming word, in your clues.

8. Broken Telephone

Yeah, I might sound like I’m 10 years old right now, but I’m not even exaggerating that I’ve made friends and laughed myself into tears just by playing this game. This game is similar to telephone, except that instead of whispering what you just heard into the person next to you’s ear, you whisper the first thing that comes to mind. It’s really fun in the end to go around and say what each person said, and how you can start out with one word and end with something totally out of left field.

9. Two Truths And A Lie

This probably only works if your guests don’t know each other very well — or I guess it could also work if you go with very obscure facts about yourself. Either way, it’s a good way to get to know everyone a little better.

10. Never Have I Ever

Listen, this game doesn't have to get X-rated — for instance, I've never broken a bone. (That's my go-to, by the way.) But fair warning: once somebody takes it past PG-13 territory, there's usually no going back.

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