Classic charades parlor game


The game of charades was a popular Victorian parlor game and is one of the many ‘private theater’ types of activities that enabled people to ‘make their own amusement’. This style of game, where the guests entertain each other by performing skits, songs, magic tricks etc. pre-dates radio (let alone TV). In order to ‘make their own amusement’ the Victorians would have some skills in mime, recitation and dancing, Also the party guests would typically all ‘join in’ as the success of these type of parties is based on active participation.

The classic charades parlor game is one of the simplest forms of a ‘mime’ style game. It is an ideal game to be played today, by kids of all ages, as it will encourage all to participate in a highly entertaining and innovative form of communication using just gestures.

The basic game of Charades is played as follows.

The game is essentially a guessing game, in that members of the party have to guess a word or phrase that is being ‘acted out’ by another party guest. The party guest acting out the word or phrase cannot speak or utter a sound, only using gestures to convey the meaning of the word; also they cannot point to objects in the room.

The party is divided into two teams, it doesn’t matter about the size of these teams unless you are hosting a ball or very large party, as this game works well with teams up to 12 in number.

One team begins by secretly meeting and coming up with a phrase or word that will be the subject to be guessed. It is important, especially for younger guests, to limit the type of words or phrases that can be used. The simplest version would be to only select words from animal names (dog, cat, rabbit etc.) but book, movies, song titles will also make good categories from which to choose a word or phrase.

Having selected a suitable word or phrase the first team writes this on a small piece of paper. A member of the opposite team then joins the first team and he (or she) is handed the paper. The person with the paper then has to ‘act out’ the word or phrase to his own team so that they can correctly guess the word or phrase.

The person acting out cannot speak or point to objects in the room but they can make certain ‘agreed’ gestures to assist the guessing team. The team guessing is able to shout out questions, such as ‘Is it an item found in the bathroom?’ and the actor can nod his head. The team guessing can shout out any question at any time but it is better to have the word conveyed by ‘acting out’ and then leading the direction of the questions with other gestures. If you have a younger guest that gets stuck for ideas you might help them out with some suggestions of suitable gestures they can make.

There is a time limit placed on how long the guessing team has to guess the word, if the team guesses the word within the time allowed they get a ‘point’ otherwise the opposite team gets the point.

At the end of this ‘round’ the team that was trying to guess becomes the team that comes up with a word and the other team selects a player to go and get the word then act it out for them.

The idea is that the word is acted out to your fellow team members (with a word selected from the opposing team) and each takes turns in acting out. 

The game usually concludes when everyone in the party has had a chance to play the ‘acting out’ role. 

If you are hosting a young kids party you should consider having all the party guests guessing (that is everyone is on the same team) and taking one guest out, in turn, and giving them a word to act out to the group. The advantage of this is that you can have prepared lists of suitable words and you can assist the performers as required.  Also, with this variation, all of the party guests are actively ‘guessing’ whereas in the previous version one team is always looking on.

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