How to Play the License Plate Game in the Car

Alleviate Road Trip Boredom With This Challenge

Traffic on FDR Drive, Manhattan, New York, USA
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Do you remember long road trips as a kid, riding along in the backseat of the family car, being bored out of your mind? You might recall a game your parents used to alleviate that boredom—an old standby called the license plate game. It can be played either competitively or cooperatively with one or more players. And, you can even fly solo on this one.

What You Need

Have a piece of paper and a pen or pencil ready for each player or team. If you are playing the license plate game in the United States, you might want to print a list of the 50 states as a starting point. You can simply cross off each state as you see it.


The goal of the game is to score points by seeing license plates from as many states (or countries) as possible.


First, if you are playing with other players, you must decide how long the game will last. You can choose whether it is for one part of a road trip, the entire round trip, or a set period of time, such as a week, month, the entire summer, or even a full year.

As you ride in a car, take note of the license plates you see on other cars. Mark down each state (or country).


The game can be a competitive or cooperative game. For a competitive game, choose one of the following two ways of scoring: 

  • License plates from any state or country are worth one point each. 
  • License plates from the state or country you are in and any adjacent state or country are worth one point each, and plates from any non-adjacent state or country are worth two points each. (This requires some knowledge of geography.)

For example, when using the second scoring system in the United States, a license plate from Canada would be worth two points unless you are in a state that borders Canada when you see the license plate. (If the players know Canadian geography, you might consider adjusting scoring so that adjacent provinces are relevant instead of the entire country.)

Some people prefer to award points only to the first player to see a particular license plate. Be warned: This makes the game much more competitive.

For a cooperative game, everyone works together to find as many different license plates as possible.


In a competitive game, the player who has scored the most points when the game over is the winner. In a cooperative game, keep track of the total number of points you score so that you can try to improve your score in a future game. If you are playing alone, compare your score to previous ones.