How to Play Categories, a Classic Party Game

The Complete Rules for This Pencil and Paper Party Game

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The game of categories is an excellent party game that can be played with just a few pencils and pieces of paper. Categories is what inspired Scattergories, the board game where players need to name objects within certain categories starting with a particular letter of the alphabet. But you don't need a big box, set of cards, and game board to play. It is simple—and fun—to play categories with just a pencil and piece of paper (for each player) and at least three players, although the game is best with six to eight people.

The goal of the game is to score the most points by choosing legitimate answers that other players don't.

Here are the rules of the game:


Categories is very simple to set up. Make sure each player has a pencil and piece of paper.

  1. To begin the game, each player draws a 5x5-box grid on their piece of paper, leaving enough space in the boxes to be able to write words.
  2. The group of players chooses five categories, and each player writes them down to the left side of the grid (not in the boxes), one category per row. Categories can be almost anything, and as easy or difficult as the players wish to make them. Examples include types of birds, television shows, novelists, cities in Pennsylvania, and U.S. presidents. But the options are endless.
  3. Someone chooses a five-letter keyword and all players write this word across the top of the grid (again, not in the boxes), one letter above each column. Keywords cannot have repeating letters (e.g., PIPES would be an illegal keyword because it has two Ps). Keywords also should not include Q, X or Z, unless the players want a serious challenge.
  1. The categories and keyword may be chosen by any method the players agree to. One option is to roll a die or dice, with the highest roller choosing the keyword and the next five choosing the categories.


Now you are ready to play the game. The players need to agree to a time limit for filling in the entire grid—anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the skill of the players.

Then start the timer and begin.

  1. Each player tries to fill in the grid with words that fit into the categories and start with the letters of the keyword. For example, if the category is "type of birds" and the letter is "C" an entry could be "cardinal."
  2. For proper names, the last name should be used (e.g. George Bush would fit under “B” but not “G”). In cases where a person goes by only a single name (e.g. Shakira or Madonna), that name should be used.


When the time limit expires, players compare their answers, one box at a time. Each player announces the word in the box (if they have one).

  1. One point is scored for each player who does not have the same word as any other player.
  2. If a word is of questionable legitimacy, the players should vote on whether or not to accept it.
  3. After all 25 blocks are scored, players total their points.
  4. The player with the most points wins.