Fun for nearly all ages
Easy to learn and no setup
Can play as little or as long as you like
Won’t work for less than 4 players
Cards can be simplistic
Dry-erase pens run out
Telestrations sounds like some sort of dry engineering term, but it’s actually a hugely popular game that purports to leave its players crying with laughter. Created by The OP, or USAopoly, the Southern California company that got its start by coming up with creative riffs on Monopoly, this silly family-friendly game is named for the portmanteau of “telephone” and “illustration.” Like the old-school whispering game of Telephone, Telestrations works best in large groups and requires virtually no setup. It’s also fast to learn and doesn’t keep score. We decided to try out it out firsthand to see if it’s as “LOL funny” as the company says it is. We gathered a mix of people, aged 9 to 50, and played several rounds over the course of two weeks. Read on to find out if it was a winner or destined to gather dust.
How it Works: Draw and guess
Every player gets a laminated sketchbook and a dry-erase pen. One player rolls the dice, and each player draws a card and sketches a picture of the secret word on their card that matches the number on the die. Then players pass their sketchbooks to the person on their left, and that person must write in words what they think the picture is. Players pass the sketchbooks to the person on their left and that person must draw a picture of whatever the guess was. The books continue getting passed as players either sketch or guess until the books end up back with the original player. Then everyone takes turns revealing their secret word and all the crazy ways it got interpreted.
The rounds go by fast, and since there’s no scoring, you can play for as long as you want.
The object of the game is to have fun, so there’s no score-keeping. But there are ways to generate scores if that’s how you want to play. The instructions suggest giving one point to the player with the favorite sketch or the favorite guess, or giving yourself one point if the last guess matches the secret word.
There’s no board to move players around on, but the components of Telestrations are all really smart. The game comes with either eight or 12 laminated sketchbooks, depending on if you get the “original” eight-person game or the larger 12-person. The books have a spot for each player’s name, and the spiral bindings are color-coded. We found this was really handy for knowing when our book had come back to us after making its rounds through the players. The numbered tabs are helpful too, so we knew what page to flip to when it was our turn to guess or draw.
The dry-erase pens have a versatile medium-sized tip, but they can dry out quickly. Luckily, the books will work with any dry-erase pens. The game also comes with a sand timer to give everyone a limit when it comes to sketching. At first, we didn’t think we’d need this, but we quickly found the artists in the group couldn’t resist going overboard with their drawings. Plus, it helped keep the younger players on track.
Entertainment Value: Gets everyone laughing
Telestrations is very simple to understand, so even when playing with the uninitiated it only takes a minute or two to explain it and start playing. Also, the rounds go by fast, and since there’s no scoring, you can play for as long as you want, and players can opt in or out of play whenever a round is over. This is great when you’re playing with restless kids or just trying to squeeze in a little fun before dinner is ready. We can see Telestrations being a great game for holiday gatherings because it’s so flexible.
No one could resist laughing when they’d see everyone else’s silly sketches and how far from the original word the guesses would get.
For as simple as this game is, it really provides a ton of laughs—especially when playing with larger groups. It’s very easy for a sketch to get misinterpreted, which then sends things in an unpredictable direction. For example, during one of our rounds, the secret word “coffee break” somehow morphed into “cup of noodles with chopsticks”, and then into “bad French fries.” No one could resist laughing when they’d see everyone else’s silly sketches and how far from the original word the guesses would get.
There were times when some of us couldn’t speak because we were laughing so hard; it was hilarious to see how everyone’s minds worked as they tried to interpret the words and pictures. There were some really ridiculous pictures and far-out guesses.
We played in groups of four, five, and six and found that the more people playing, the more fun it is because there are more opportunities for misinterpretation. When we played with four people, which is the minimum, we would sometimes end up with answers not that far from the original (for example, “eye patch” became “pirate”). Though this didn’t inspire peals of laughter, it was still fun to chuckle at everyone’s attempt at drawing. But if this kept happening, it would get old really fast. We found (thanks to one of the kids) it was actually better to be a little subversive rather than painstakingly accurate in our drawings.
We found that the more people playing the more fun it is because there are more opportunities for misinterpretation.
Sometimes the secret words on the cards were challenging to draw, like “hold your tongue,” but sometimes they were almost too simple, like “bulls-eye.” The words that are easy to draw are easy to guess and not as prone to veering off-track by the end. We found it helps to have bad artists in the group or younger kids who either can’t draw well or relish throwing curveballs at people by adding unexpected details.
Age Range: Almost any age can play
Though the box says ages 12 and up, younger kids can definitely play Telestrations. We played with adults, elementary-aged kids, tween, and teens—and everyone had a blast. The only limit seems to be whether or not the kids can read. There are some concepts on the secret word cards that might be tricky for the youngest players to understand (like “identity theft”) but those are mostly few and far between. When we played and the youngster in the group got one of those, we simply rolled the dice and picked new words. Pre-reading age kids can also team up with an adult player, like a grandparent, and work together, in which case no one needs to be left out. Another reason why it’s great for young kids? There’s no waiting for your turn. Everyone is drawing or guessing at the same time.
We played with adults, elementary-aged kids, tween, and teens—and everyone had a blast.
Ease of Cleaning: Just a quick wipe
The dry-erase sketchbooks are easy to clean with the enclosed silky cloths. There’s a cloth for each player to use. The instructions emphasize how important it is to wipe the books clean before storage because the dry erase ink can eventually stain them if left on.
Some games rely so heavily on their tiny bits and pieces that they become nearly unusable if anything gets lost. Telestrations doesn’t rely on such things. The die and the pens are totally replaceable. If you lose a pen or it dries out, any other medium-tip dry erase pen will work. You just don’t want to lose the sketchbooks and secret word cards.
Price: Affordable fun
Telestrations costs around $30, which is a bargain for a game that can accommodate a large group of players. Granted, the components of the game aren’t expensive to produce—some pens, some sketchbooks, a deck of word cards—but the price is in line with other card-based party games, like Double Ditto, and cheaper than more adult card-based games like Cards Against Humanity and What Do You Meme? And considering how easy it is to play, how well it works with a range of ages and schedules, and how much we laughed while playing, it’s really a small price to pay for a lot of fun.
Telestrations vs. Double Ditto
Both Telestrations and Double Ditto are award-winning card-oriented games aimed at families or groups with young players around 8 and up. Both cost around $20, both are more concerned with having fun than keeping score, and both can be played for as little or as long as you like, with most rounds lasting just 20 minutes. Double Ditto is more of a word association game, prompting players to come up with a list of items in response to a prompt in just 15 seconds, and then see if anyone else in the group thinks the way they do. Telestrations is more of a guessing game combined with a drawing game. The promise of wacky drawings and bizarre guesses gives it the edge in our opinion.
Yes, it’s a must-have!
Telestrations is the kind of back-pocket party game everyone should have around. You can pull it out when you’ve got a little downtime before dinner and want to keep the kids off their phones, or set it out on a coffee table during a party to let guests come and go, playing for as little or as long as they like. It appeals to all ages and is guaranteed to get everyone laughing.
- Product Name Telestrations
- Product Brand The OP (USAopoly)
- UPC 700304045973
- Price $29.95
- Weight 2 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 10 x 10 x 3 in.
- Manufacturer Recommended Age Range 8 years and up
- What’s Included Instructions, dry-erase markers, dry-erase boards, word card box, cloth erasers, dice, sand timer