Thought Leadership

The Names Game

By Colin Walls

How do you spend your free time in the evenings and at weekends? Obviously, I would expect as many different answers as there are readers of this blog. But one thing that many people do, at one time or another, is play games. This means different things to different people. For some, gaming is something they do on their computer – either pitting their wits or skills against the computer itself, or playing against other humans out in cyberspace.

For me, I prefer game playing to be a social activity – I like to play with real live human beings who are actually in the room with me. If there are just two of us, I do not mind Chess; Othello is another favorite. For a group of 2, 3 or 4, my firm favorite is Scrabble. We were recently introduced to The Settlers of Catan – a role-playing board game, which I felt was quite compelling. For a larger group – at a party say – games need to be adaptable to the number of people and accept a wide level of capability among players. They also need to be quick and easy to learn. With all that in mind, I would like to tell you about my favorite. I do not know if it has a real name, but I will call it The Name Game …

To play this game you need, I would say, 8 or more people. The equipment you need is:

  • Some paper, cut into small slips – 5 for each player
  • Some pens or pencils
  • A container into which all the paper slips may be placed
  • A means of timing the game

Each player writes 5 names of people on 5 slips of paper. The people must be well known or famous; at least they must be very likely to be known to everyone in the room.

The slips of paper are all folded once and placed in the container.

Players are divided into 2 teams – ideally of equal sizes, but an odd number is OK.

The game takes place over 3 rounds; each round is a series of slots, which are taken by each team alternately. Each slot is for a fixed time period – normally 1 minute.

One team starts and a player in that team becomes “speaker”. This role is taken by each member in turn as the team gets a slot. They remove a slip of paper at random and look at the name. They then have to describe the person, but must not say or even hint at [e.g. by spelling] the name. The other members of their team have to identify the person. When they get it, the slip is put to one side and the speaker grabs another slip. This continues until the time is up. Then the other team has a slot.

This continues until all the slips are used, when the round ends. Each team counts up how many slips they have put aside and that is their score. The slips are returned to the container.

The second round starts with the team who were playing at the end of the last round. This proceeds in exactly the same way, except that the speaker can now use just a single word [and must not perform any actions or mimes]. Again, the round ends when the slips are exhausted and the scores counted.

The third round is the same again, but now the speaker cannot say anything, only perform actions. At the end of this round, the score is counted again and the scores from the 3 rounds added together. The team with the biggest total is the winner.

It is a very informal game, which appeals to all ages. A key strategy is that when one team is playing, the other should observe and listen carefully. By the time round #2 starts, players need to have a good feel for the total list of names. This is even more important for round #3.

I hope you enjoy The Names Game. Do let me know by comment or email if you know any variations on the game.


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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at