Previously: 17 Ritual Games To Play For Luck And Good Fortune.
Some ritual games are meant to be experienced alone — absolutely alone, with no other people present. If you and your favorite people share an interest in the strange and spooky, though, good news: There are plenty of ritual games you can play with friends — ritual games that, in fact, require pairs, trios, and even large groups of people in order to work properly. Besides, there’s safety in numbers, right?
Well… not necessarily. Don’t let the presence of others lull you into a false sense of security; these are still Most Dangerous Games we’re talking about here, after all.
[Like what you read? Check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available from Chronicle Books now!]
Still, though. If you’re looking for an activity for your next get-together, and you know for a fact that all of your guests are as spooky as you are — these 24 games might be worth trying.
Who doesn’t love a good themed party?
By “sleepover games,” what I mean are the kinds of ritual games that are commonly played by kids — often at sleepovers, but also on the playground, at summer camp, during playdates or gatherings at friends’ houses, and other similar settings. These games tend to be a little lower in terms of the stakes than many other ritual games; there’s also frequently an actual explanation for why they work the way they do — usually a psychological or physical trick.
If you were a spooky kid, maybe you grew up playing one or more of these games. I sure did — and generally, I suffered no ill effects from them.
Still, though: Play at your own risk.
hen I was young, I thought of Concentrate as a little morbid, perhaps, but didn’t necessarily consider it a Most Dangerous Game. It was the kind of game my friends and I used to play in order to put each other in “trances” or to attempt to “hypnotize” each other. It didn’t generally work — but then again, our version didn’t include the bit about simulating death, or about how doing so would reveal to you how you’d actually die one day. Numerous variations on this one exist, but that one — the one I only found out about when I was much, much older — that’s the one that nudges Concentrate into Most Dangerous Games territory.
You’ll need at least two players for this one, although more can be present if you like. The tune we used to use for the chant can be found here.
I don’t have any personal experience with Cat Scratch, so I can’t speak to its efficacy — but those who grew up playing it swear it works. Like many sleepover/playground games, it involves one person telling a weird sort of story to another person while lulling them into an extreme state of relaxation; then, at a key moment, some sort of physical effect is meant to be felt by the listener — in this case, scratches from a phantom cat are supposed to suddenly raise themselves on the person’s back. They’re not permanent, though, so the angry, red marks should clear up on their own pretty quickly.
Or at least, that’s what the internet has led me to believe.
Like the other games in this section, Cat Scratch requires two people at minimum to play, although others can watch, as long as they stay quiet.
The Sandman Game
Like Concentrate, there are a bunch of different ways to play the Sandman Game. The end result, though, is usually the same: It tricks your body into feeling like it’s been packed full of sand. It’s a super weird sensation, made all the weirder by whatever story the storyteller player tells the listener. The version I’ve documented here is the one that I used to play growing up, but it’s an extremely flexible game; feel free to adjust it however you see fit.
All you need to play are at least two people; everything else is optional. If you play it in a group, just make sure your bystanders don’t make any additional noise while you play — that’ll ruin the mood.
Purple Hearts feels to me like a variation on some of the simpler versions of Doors Of Your Mind that are floating around out there — think White Door, Black Door/Red Door, Yellow Door and the like. I’ve been unable to pin a firm date of origin to it, but the scant amount of information I’ve been able to find about it suggests that it was around in the 1980s and ‘90s; I’ve also seen a little bit of talk about it being played by folks when they were young, hence its inclusion in the Sleepover Games section of this list.
It’s a little more involved than Concentrate, Cat Scratch, or Sandman; like those other games, however, it requires two people at minimum, but more can be present if you like.
Remember: When you see the Purple Hearts, it’s time to wake up.
Feel like playing something with a friend, but don’t want to play host to a whole crowd? These games all call for two players — and pretty much only two players. It’s worth noting, perhaps, that many of them tend to be what I usually classify as Games Of Knowledge; as such, if you’re in the mood for something Ouija-like, these ones are a good way to go. However, not all of them are Games Of Knowledge. Some of them are… something else entirely.
The Martha Game and Charlie Charlie
Feeling the need to ask some urgent yes-or-no questions to the Great Beyond? Got a couple of pencils lying around? Grab a pal and give one of these two games shot.
Of these two picks, the once I’ve documented as the Martha Game is the one that requires precisely two people — no more, no less; Charlie Charlie can technically be played with only one player, or with as many as you like. Given that the names for these two games have been used interchangeably at various points in time, though, I feel justified in including both of them in this section. More broadly, you might hear them both called El Juego de los Lapices — the Game of the Pencils — so it’s worth remembering that the moniker can refer to two different sets of rules.
Another Game Of Knowledge, Sara Sarita requires not a set of pencils, but two coins to play — one for each player. What’s more, it must necessarily be played with two players; the answers to any questions you might ask during it depend on how both of the coins fall: Both landing heads up corresponds to “yes”; both landing tails up corresponds to “no”; and one landing heads up while the other lands tails up corresponds to “maybe” or “I don’t know.”
You cannot flip both coins yourself.
This is important.
Don’t flagrantly disobey the rules. It… won’t end well for you if you do.
The Synchronization Game
There are a few games out there that purport to take photographs of ghosts, spirits, entities, or other non-corporeal beings; the Synchronization Game, however, is a true team effort: One player operates the camera while the other operates the lights — and if these two players don’t master the timing of their responsibilities exactly, then the ritual will fail.
If it works, though? Well, you might just capture something… unusual. Look carefully at the photograph after you’ve taken it. You never know what you might find.
Charlotte’s Web is a Reddit creation; it was posted more or less simultaneously to both r/NoSleep and r/ThreeKings in 2013, although its original poster seems to have since deleted their account. The aim of the game is to summon the ghost of a child — the titular Charlotte — and just… spend time with her. She’s a kid; she likes to play. If you and your favorite pal are both good with kids, you might have better luck executing this one than others might.
The thing is, though — Charlotte has a temper. She’s easy to anger, and you absolutely do not want to experience one of her temper tantrums.
Some kids have pretty impressive temper tantrums. Charlotte’s, however, can be downright fatal.
Game Of The Scissors And The Book
I’ve found and documented three versions of the Game Of The Scissors And The Book — in the original Spanish, El Juego de las Tijeras y el Libro. Two of them are quite similar to each other; they’re Games Of Knowledge that involve using a pair of scissors and either a spiral-bound notebook or a hardcover book to acquire information from a spirit of your choosing. The third, though? Well, that one’s… a little different. The version with the hardcover book, you see, is the game that the titular spirit of a different ritual game is said to have been playing when she died: Veronica of Nine Times Veronica. The third version of the game, therefore, is sort of a hybrid of the first two versions and Nine Times Veronica.
It is by far the most dangerous of the three.
But hey, if you’re feeling daring, you might be able to convince your bravest friend to play it — or one of the other two versions — with you.
It might… fun.
Small Group Games
If your ideal social gathering size is somewhere in the neighborhood of five people — and those five people all have a certain subset of unique interests — you might think about suggesting playing one of these games at your next get-together. Just make sure everyone knows the risks, and — perhaps most importantly — have somewhere to go if things go sidewise, and the means to get everyone there safely.
It’s all fun and games until you realize you’ve summoned a demon from another dimension and can’t figure out how to get them to go home.
The Corner Game
An empty room. In that empty room, four corners. And for each of those four corners, one player — four players total. If you perform a specific set of actions that sees each player rotating around the room, corner to corner, you might be able to convince something otherworldly to appear.
That’s how the Corner Game works. But the thing is, you also might be at risk of vanishing into that other world yourself, if something goes wrong.
Oh, and did I mention that, if any players go missing throughout the course of the game and fail to reappear you… might never be able to stop playing?
Because that’s one possible outcome.
Are you willing to risk it?
I’ve known about this Vietnamese game for a few years, but it’s only fairly recently that I really looked into it — and you know what? It sounds pretty fun! Ma Lon, or the Ghost In The Can, is sort of like a supernatural version of Kick The Can; if you and friends carry it off successfully, you’ll (allegedly) be able to summon a spirit into the can and spend some time running away from it as it chases you.
Technically, you can play this game with as many players as you like; however, it’s not recommended you play with only one (even though you can if you really want a challenge), and if you play with too big a group, it either might not be much of a challenge, or might result in an overcrowded playing field without much space to move around. Small groups are therefore ideal.
The spirit, by the way, likes treats — and so does the titular being of the next game:
Gnome Gnome Come
To be fair, who doesn’t like treats? The gnome in Gnome Gnome Come however, really likes them — or at least, one potential gnome you can summon while playing it does. There’s a reason some variations straight-up call this Russian game Sweet Tooth, after all.
An odd number of players is ideal for Gnome Gnome Come; additionally, although there isn’t really a limit on the number of folks who can join in, it is a wish-granting game — which means I wouldn’t try it with too many people if I were you. The gnome you’re trying to summon might not feel super charitable if it thinks it’s getting exploited. Three or five seems like a good number to shoot for.
The Spirit Of The Pen, Kokkuri-san, the Compass Game, and Jelangkung
Structurally and functionally, the Spirit Of The Pen, Kokkuri-san, the Compass Game, and Jelangkung are all of a type: They’re Ouija-type games, although unlike Sara Sarita, they allow for more than just two players. Furthermore, you don’t need to procure an actual Ouija board to play them; indeed, making the board/apparatus yourself is a key part of the process. The boards are usually just drawn on pieces of paper, too, making these games quite accessible.
Each of these options has one or more limitations that make them better suited for smaller groups than larger ones, though — and in many cases, those limitations are the same ones: There are, for example, only so many people who can comfortably hold onto a single pen or rest their fingers on a single coin at one time.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a larger group of bystanders watching the smaller group as they actively play; for some games, that’s fine.
Games For Bystanders And Spectators
What if all of your friends aren’t all in? What if some are curious, but still wary? Some games permit bystanders or spectators — folks who can be present while the game is being played, but who don’t necessarily have to do much, if anything, in the way of participation.
Now, it’s worth remembering that sometimes, bystanders do need to participate actively in some way; the level of activity is usually minimal, though, with little stress or pressure to get things right—think saying a specific phrase at a specific time, or simply standing still and quiet throughout the proceedings. Also, in addition to the games listed below, the rituals in the Sleepover Games section up top are good for groups of bystanders; they each only have two primary players, although they can be observed by any number of people.
Mother Midnight remains one of my favorite rituals, largely because there doesn’t seem to be much about it anywhere. The only reason I was able to document it here is thanks to one of our readers allowing us to collect their memories about playing it in Central Texas years ago. It’s a summoning ritual — but it’s also an information-gathering ritual — and in some ways, it’s a ritual similar to Concentrate, in that the information you gather through it has to do in part with your own future death. In fact, you might think of it as complementary to Concentrate: Concentrate tells you how you die, while Mother Midnight tells you when you die.
Two primary players are required for this one — a principal and an assistant — but bystanders are permitted to watch the proceedings.
The Dumb Supper Ritual
Do you like parties? The Dumb Supper Ritual is basically a dinner party — just one in which all of the guests aren’t necessarily alive.
Depending on what the host of the Dumb Supper hopes to accomplish, living guests only have to arrive on time, stay silent, and enjoy the meal the host has prepared. These guests may participate in a letter-writing activity, should the host’s goal be to pass a message onto the dead; however, this activity is optional, and need not be undertaken by all guests.
This one is a bit of a commitment, though — it isn’t a “stop by for five minutes and then leave” kind of party — so any guests present should plan on attending for the entire gathering, or at least until the meal has concluded.
Games For A Crowd
These are the ragers of the bunch — the games that require not just two or three players, or which permit but do not require additional players to observe the proceedings, but games which are best played with large groups. Admittedly, “rager” is a relative term; these games aren’t raucous, per se. But if you have lots of friends, and they’re all willing to treat these things with the proper amount of care, then you should be able to enact these fairly easily.
Remember, though: “Easy” doesn’t mean “safe.”
True, you only need a minimum of three players in order to play tag with the dead — but Deadman’s Tag is best played with larger groups. Similarly to the thrilling but decidedly un-supernatural game Manhunt, this one is part tag and part hide-and-seek; the thing is, It isn’t necessarily one of the human players. Or at least, It isn’t to start—but it might be as the game goes on.
Treat every warily.
And don’t assume there’s only one It.
The Picture Game
Want to take a photo of ghost, but have more than one pal who wants to help do it? Bypass the Synchronization Game and head directly to the Picture Game. With this one, the more, the… well, maybe not “merrier,” but you know what I mean. The more people you can get to participate — the more folks there are to pass the camera around the circle to as you play — the better.
Remember, though: If any of those players starts displaying what’s identified in the rules as red flag behavior, do not allow them to use the camera. As such, you’ll have to pay extra careful attention if you play with a large group; the more people there are to keep track of, the more likely it is that you might miss something.
Keep those eyes peeled and those ears open.
The Answer Man
Unlike the previous two games, the Answer Man requires a precise number of players: 10 — no more, no less. It also requires 10 mobile phones that you’ll have to destroy by the end of the game, so you may want to acquire some cheap pay-as-you-go burner phones before you play.
Once you’ve gotten all 10 players together, though — each with their own phone—you can try giving the Answer Man a call. Only one of you will be able to speak with him, assuming your call is successful; still, though — 10 of you must be present and accounted for if you wish to have any hope of reaching him at all.
Just make sure you don’t stay on the line after you’ve told him it’s time to go. He’s a tricky one, he is.
Want to give something a little older a shot? Try Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, which dates back to Japan’s Edo period (the oldest mention of it we have stretches back to the 17th century). The premise is simple: A group of people gathers together and takes turns telling weird and spooky tales to each other until they’ve told 100 stories. After the 100th tale is complete, something is supposed to happen — although reports vary precisely as to what.
The game is quite adaptable; you can play it according to tradition, you can update it, or you can even shorten it to 10 stories instead of 100. Just be sure you’re prepared for what happens after you’re finished; you should, as it’s said, expected the unexpected.
Hide-And-Seek Alone, Multi-Player Edition
If you’re ready for a real challenge, try this one. The name “Hide-And-Seek Alone, Multi-Player Edition” sounds a bit of a contradiction, it’s true; how does one play hide-and-seek alone, but also with multiple other players? It’s best if you just sort of roll with it and accept that this game, although involving multiple human players, bears its name due to the fact that it’s a variation on a game that does involve playing hide-and-seek with only one player.
But even in that game — Hitori Kakurenbo (ひとりかくれんぼ) — you’re not really alone; even though there’s only one human player, that player still has an opponent. So, y’know, it’s all sort of just semantics, right?
In any event, this alternate version of Hide And Seek Alone, translated from the Japanese by Saya Yomino of Saya In Underworld, involves similar steps to the original; this time, though, everyone has to cycle through being It before the doll gets its chance.
If you do choose to play this one in a large group, make sure the location you’ve chosen to as your playing space is big enough to allow you all to hide, and that the home base/safe space is spacious enough to hold all of you comfortably.
On your marks…
Follow The Ghost In My Machine on Twitter @GhostMachine13 and on Facebook @TheGhostInMyMachine. And for more games, don’t forget to check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available now from Chronicle Books!
[Photos via jodylehigh, Marvinton (remixed by Lucia Peters), tookapic, scholty1970; EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA (remixed by Lucia Peters)/Pexels; Indi Samarajiva/Flickr, available under a CC BY 2.0 Creative Commons license.]