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Football games are fun, no doubt about that, but tailgating before a big game might be even more fun. And to ensure a successful tailgate, there are a few musts to pack: camp chairs, a portable grill, and a cooler full of food and beverages. And don’t forget about the tailgating games, a sure-fire way to rev up a little friendly competition before the actual game, either in the parking lot or your backyard.
From nostalgic games (Jenga, anyone?) to new popular ones (let us introduce you to Spikeball), we’ve gathered a few of our favorites that’ll bring your whole crew together and amp up the excitement on game day.
To get ready for the big game, scroll on for the best tailgating games.
Best Cornhole Boards: Tailgate Toss 2’ x 4’ NFL Cornhole Board
Cornhole is the quintessential tailgate game, and there’s no better way to play than by supporting your favorite team in the process. You can get the logo and colors of all 32 NFL franchises emblazoned on these boards, making them great gift options and ways to showcase team pride at barbecues, weddings, and grad parties, on top of Sunday tailgates.
This item has received highly positive reviews, with most cornholers giving it five stars. While a small number of customers note that their boards were damaged upon arrival, the purchase does include a 30-day return policy should any issues arise. Overall, however, these solid wood boards can withstand anything from a Green Bay winter to a scorching afternoon kickoff in Miami.
The price varies depending on which team you select, but every option is relatively affordable considering that the boards are both regulation size—measuring 2 x 4 inches—and personalized. You also get eight cloth bean bags with this item. The only other thing you’ll need is a trusty cornhole partner to take on rival fans.
Best KanJam Set: Kan Jam Ultimate Disc Game Set
Combining teamwork, agility, and deadly accuracy, KanJam is one of the most dynamic and enjoyable lawn games you can find. It’s especially great if you’re looking for a more active game to play at the tailgate (maybe just keep an eye out for surrounding cars).
This set includes everything you need to play: two KanJam goals and an official KanJam flying disc. That’s it. And it all comes at a great price. The product costs roughly the same as other popular tailgate games, like Spikeball and ladder ball, and is typically cheaper than a set of cornhole boards.
Along with KanJam’s signature black-and-yellow colorway, you can also purchase this set in a USA-themed design or a glow-in-the-dark option, both of which come at a slightly higher price. The game is easy to find in-store and online at major retailers, and there’s even a line of sports-themed KanJam sets that cover everything from NHL, NFL, MLB, and NCAA teams.
Best Drinking Game: Derek Dahl & Sam Buss Mini Flip Cup Game
Even seasoned flip cup veterans will have a bit of a challenge with this game, as mini flip cup utilizes plastic launchers to upend those signature red cups. It puts a new spin on a drinking game you’ve been playing since college, plus it’s easy to carry, fairly priced, and just as fun as the real thing.
Along with the 22 x 7.25 inch birch playing board, you also get 20 mini cups and a mesh carrying bag for the cups. The cups hold 2 ounces, as opposed to the traditional 12-ounce Solo cup, so it’s especially enjoyable to play with a sampling of craft beers. The game has highly positive reviews online, with customers saying it makes a great gift option and a wonderful travel companion. You also get the option to play in teams or one-on-one for an intense mini flip cup showdown.
Best Spikeball Kit: Spikeball Standard 3-Ball Kit
Originating in 2008, Spikeball rapidly became a lawn game sensation. The sport’s official website describes it as a cross between volleyball and foursquare, as the objective is to serve, set, or spike the ball off a small trampoline.
Spikeball, also known is roundnet, will keep you more active than games like cornhole or ladder ball, and the convenient drawstring bag included with this kit makes it easy to carry from home to car to the parking lot.
The Standard 3-Ball Kit is one of the cheapest Spikeball kits on the market, making it great for beginners, as well as those who don’t want to pay for the frills of deluxe kits. The product includes an adjustable net, measuring 36 inches in circumference, and three official spike balls. It also comes with a lifetime guarantee, so any broken parts will be replaced for free.
Best Ladder Ball Set: GoSports Premium Metal Ladder Toss Game Set
Ladder ball goes by many names, some as wacky as bolo toss, monkey ball, and Norwegian golf, but no matter what you call the game, it’s perfect for a relaxed afternoon tailgate. It’s so laid-back, you can toss the bolas with one hand and hold a drink in the other.
This ladder ball set from GoSports tops our list thanks to its sturdiness, easy transport and assembly, and its great price. Most ladder ball sets are made of plastic, which often leads to wobbly play and broken parts, but this one is crafted from solid steel. Along with the two metal ladders, you get six bolas—three in red, three in blue—and a handy carrying case.
Some customers say the bolas are prone to leaking sand after a number of uses, but overall the reviews indicate that this is one of the strongest and most reliable ladder ball sets you can buy, especially when compared to plastic sets.
Best Horseshoe Set: Champion Sports Rubber Horseshoe Set
Horseshoes is another classic lawn game, but since it usually requires a sandbox and metal stakes you more often find it at barbeques than tailgate parties. Now you can bring the game to the parking lot, however, as all the pieces in Champion Sports’ horseshoe set are made from rubber and are easy to transport.
The set, which can be found in-store and online at multiple retailers, includes four rubber horseshoes—two blue, two red—and two different target options: you can use rubber mats when playing on hard surfaces, like an asphalt parking lot, or the plastic dowels when playing on grass surfaces.
While Champion Sports Rubber Horseshoe Set has received widespread praise, some customers were disappointed with the weight of the horseshoes, saying that they don’t have the same satisfying heft as their traditional metal counterparts. But for those primarily interested in playing at tailgate parties, this horseshoe set, with its portability, cheap price, and relative safety in crowded areas, is a perfect choice.
Best Jenga Set: YardGames Giant Tumbling Timbers
A game that you’ve been playing since you were a little kid probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking tailgate parties, but Jenga can be just as exciting and competitive today as it was way back when at the family dinner table.
To make the decade-old game even more enjoyable and suitable for large groups, YardGames Giant Tumbling Towers uses extra-large blocks for a tower that can stack over 5 feet high. The set even comes with two additional blocks, which you can place at the bottom of the tower for a little extra height. While your purchase also includes a carrying case that can fit all 56 blocks, this may still be one of the more difficult tailgate games to transport for the house to the parking lot.
Keep in mind that jumbo Jenga sets can also get pricey. They typically cost more than other games on this list, like ladder ball, KanJam, and horseshoes, but Giant Tumbling Towers is one of the most affordable options on the market, as well as one the most highly reviewed. Whether it’s for cookouts, house parties, or tailgates, customers say this set provides endless entertainment.
Best Frisbee: Discraft Ultra-Star Sport Disc
Frisbee might not be the most competitive game on the list (unless you’re looking to start a full-fledged game of Ultimate in the parking lot), but it’s still a great way to spend time before the night’s main event. And this is the best Frisbee to do it with, as Discraft’s Ultra-Star is one of the most purchased and highest rated frisbees on the market.
The item has thousands of positive reviews, with praise ranging from its dependable accuracy to its even weight distribution to its sleek design. You can find it in numerous colors, like classic black or florescent yellow, and even purchase a glow-in-the-dark option, perfect for tailgating night games or late concerts.
The disc measures 10.75 inches in diameter and weighs 175 grams, which is the official weight for USA Ultimate tournaments. It’s designed with flight rings on the outer edge to improve your grip, even in rainy conditions.
And the best part? The Discraft Ultra-Star is around the same price as one beer at an NFL game.
What to Look for In a Tailgate Game
While we love a backyard party, you’ll most likely be tailgating elsewhere, so make sure your tailgating games are easy to take with you. Chances are, your trunk will already be packed with a grill, cooler, and camp chairs, so you’ll want a tailgating game that is compact. If it’s heavy, difficult to assemble or disassemble, or simply too big, you’re less likely to want to load it in and out of your car each game day.
No boring tailgating games allowed. Before a big game, you’ll want to amp up the excitement, so select a tailgate game that will induce hoots, hollers, and lots of laughs. Some (friendly!) competition never hurt anyone. There’s no need for a serious strategy game; instead, look for ones that are mildly physical, which will help keep your energy up if you’re indulging in tailgating food and beverages.
How many people do you usually tailgate with? One-on-one games are great, but if you tend to tailgate with a handful of friends, the more players, the better. That way everyone who wants to play can, and no one feels left out.
What do you need for a football game tailgate?
In addition to a tailgate game, there are a few musts to pack up for a successful tailgate. Here, a checklist:
- Grilling must-haves: lighter fluid, utensils, bottle opener, condiments, disposable plates
- To get comfortable: camp chairs, folding table, layers of team apparel
- Items to help clean up: paper towels, wet wipes, garbage bags
- Weather-related essentials: sunscreen, rain gear, blankets
How do you make your own tailgate games?
If your skills include simple woodworking, you could create your own cornhole boards (painted with your teams colors!) or ladder toss pretty easily. Otherwise, think about how you could take everyday games and recreate them yourself. How about outdoor Twister using chalk-drawn circles? Or bowling with empty two-liter bottles and a soccer ball?
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was written and researched by Derek Rose, Brooklyn, a New York-based writer and teacher. His work has appeared in Atwood Magazine and the Albany Times Union. Additional research was done by Megan McCarty, a writer for The Spruce and MyDomaine with over 13 years of experience in both print and digital media. She regularly contributes to design-focused outlets such as Architectural Digest, Domino, House & Home, and Hunker.