50 classic games you can play without equipment

Written by:
August 11, 2021
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50 classic games you can play without equipment

Video game consoles cost hundreds of dollars. Online gaming subscriptions come with a monthly fee. Organized sports like hockey and football require mountains of expensive equipment. Many other games can only be played with game-specific sets like board games, jigsaw puzzles, or classic backyard games like bocce ball, croquet, tetherball, and badminton. Then there are the countless games that require just basic equipment like a ball—but equipment nonetheless.

What if a bored group of kids or adults don't have anything—no ball, no jump rope, no bike, no playing cards? The answer is that they'd still have plenty of options.

Using a variety of sources including game-focused websites, parent/children-dedicated blogs, and historical entertainment sites, Stacker came up with a list of 50 classic games that just about anyone can play with virtually no equipment. The list omits the many games that require even the most basic items like previously mentioned balls or jump ropes. Occasionally, however, the list includes games that require easy-access objects like rocks, sticks, or any interchangeable item—one, for example, technically calls for a button, but any small object will do.

Some are played inside, and others require vast amounts of space outdoors. Some are for teams, and others involve head-to-head matchups. Many are competitions that end with clear winners and losers, while others are played just for the sake of playing them. Some require music, and some are clapping games. Some are physical, while others are games driven by imagination. Some are famous favorites that are universally known to nearly everyone, while others might be brand new to some readers.

All, however, can be used to pass the time on rainy days by just about every adult and child looking for something to do. Keep reading to learn about the classic games that just about anyone can enjoy with no equipment at all.

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Tag

Tag might just be the most familiar, famous, and universal no-tech game of all time. It's hard to imagine anyone who hasn't at one point or another run from the person who is "it" before being tagged and becoming "it" themselves. Although it's impossible to confirm, there's an old internet rumor that says "tag" is an acronym for "touch and go."

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Jarek Tuszyński // Wikimedia Commons

Red light, green light

This tag variation requires whoever is "it" to function as a traffic light, shouting "green light" to a group of kids that begin the game at a pre-chosen starting line a good distance away. The "it" person can stop all the players by yelling "red light"—anyone caught moving returns to the starting line, and play continues until a traffic violator is caught and becomes "it." Some variations involve a yellow light.

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Mother, may I?

This classic game can be played between parents and children down to toddler age or between pairs or groups of kids who are much older. The child asks the person playing the role of mother for permission to do something by using the game's title phrase. Mother either grants permission or suggests an alternative.

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Truth or dare?

Whether it's played innocently among children, as an embarrassment-based party game for straitlaced adults, or as a raunchy excuse for older teens or college kids to have a licentious good time, truth or dare requires both imagination and courage. Players take turns in order, with one asking "truth or dare?" and another choosing to reveal something honestly or take their inquisitor up on a physical challenge.

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Jailbreak

Jailbreak is a sprawling outdoor game that requires a lot of space and enough players for two teams. One team hides and the other pursues them, and when members of the hunting party find a hidden opponent, they grab them and yell "one, two, three, you're my man" or something similar, and escort them to a predetermined spot designated as the jail. Someone guards the jail, but if an opponent can slip past the jailor and yell "jailbreak!" then their comrade is freed. When everyone is locked up, the teams switch roles.

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Charades

Charades technically requires a pencil and paper to keep score and a watch or timer, but it can be played without. Broken up into two teams, one player acts out a charade that represents a pre-selected word or phrase, and their teammates have to guess the word correctly before time runs out to score a point. It's a game that both adults and children can play together.

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Captain’s coming

In this childhood classic, a group of kids pretends to be on a ship with one designated as the captain and the rest as subservient crew members who must obey the captain's orders, which could include anything from swabbing the deck to avoiding sharks. Whoever finishes an assignment last is out. When the captain boards the ship, a designated yeller shouts "captain's coming!" to saluting crew members, who the captain tries to trick into prematurely lowering their salutes.

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Freeze tag

In this popular variation of tag, the "it" person chases a scattering group until grabbing someone and yelling, "freeze!" That person remains frozen until a teammate unfreezes them by tagging them—or until the game ends when everyone in the group is successfully immobilized.

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Red rover

This outdoor game also takes a lot of space and enough kids to form into two teams, which line up parallel to each other some distance apart. One team, designated "red rover," links their arms and yells, "Red rover, red rover send (opposing team member's name) on over!" That kid then runs at the human chain and tries to break it—if successful, the runner captures two red rover members and, if not, joins the red rover team.

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Duck, duck, goose

In the ultimate schoolyard recess game that is duck, duck, goose, a group of kids sits in a circle except for one who is it. The "it" person circles the perimeter while tapping each player on the head and saying, "duck" with each tap. When the "it" person touches a person and yells "goose" instead of "duck," the chosen goose gets up and tries to chase the "it" person, who, in turn, tries to make it to the open seat first.

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Throwing rocks

The only things required to throw rocks at inanimate targets as a challenge between friends are rocks. They don't count as equipment, however, because anyone can find them anywhere. This game requires space and a little planning to make sure no windows, cars, animals, and most of all, people, are situated behind the target.

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Skipping rocks

This version requires a body of water and rocks that are flat on one side. Like the target practice variation, it can be played alone or in groups by kids or adults. Once new players get the wrist-flicking action down, they enjoy the satisfying experience of watching their rocks appear to defy the laws of physics as they bounce across the surface of the water until they lose their momentum and run out of skips.

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Memory moves

If music doesn't count as equipment, several dance games deserve a place on this list—none more than memory dance. Kids, adults, or both form a circle, and one person is chosen to do a dance in the middle. Next, a person is chosen to enter the circle and mimic the dance, then another, then another, and so on.

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Dance switch

In dance switch, the group dances independently, and one yeller is designated to call out new dance styles—like the robot, ballet, or break dancing—at random intervals. When the yeller announces a new dance, everyone in the group switches their styles.

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Dance hat

Dance hat is kind of like the rhythmic opposite of hot potato. A group dances independently while passing around a hat, and whoever is wearing the hat when the music stops wins.

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Dance creation

This one's simple. A group of people gathers in a circle and takes turns dancing in the center with brand new dance moves that they invent on the spot.

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Partner switch

In this final dance game, partners compete in pairs inside circles or other predetermined areas, which get smaller as the game goes on. When either partner steps outside their circle or area, the duo is out. In the end, the only remaining pair wins.

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Patty cake

Just like dance games, clapping games require only human bodies—and the most famous of them all is patty cake, also called pat-a-cake. Everyone knows the words ("pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man..."), which are pantomimed by two players clapping their hands together and then high-fiving with one hand to the other person's opposing hand.

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Say, say, oh playmate

This clap game is played to rhyming lyrics that are more comprehensive than patty cake and too long to list here. It also switches things up with a number-counting interlude that causes players to change their clapping patterns.

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Long-legged sailor

Long-legged sailor is a clapping game with fairly basic lyrics but a much more complex clapping pattern. It introduces palms up/palms down clapping and a cadence that changes claps with every single word.

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Miss Susie

Although its lyrics involve violence against medical professionals and a boy eating an entire bathtub, Miss Susie is a classic nonetheless. With clapping patterns that are nearly the same as patty cake, it's easy to learn and involves a behind-the-back clap to mix things up.

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Miss Mary Mack

Miss Mary Mack is one of the most famous clap games for a reason. It's fun, it's easy to learn, and its hallmark three-word repetition gives it a classic old-school recess playground feel.

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Ring-around-the-rosy

Ring-around-the-rosy is more than just a nearly universally known nursery rhyme. Although the first known use of the phrase was in 1878, it's believed to be referencing the bubonic plague of the 14th century. It's a game that involves dancing in a circle while holding hands, singing the morbid tune, and falling to the ground when it ends. Posies are flowers that medieval superstition said could ward off disease, "ring around the rosy" signifies round rashes that come with the plague, and "ashes, ashes, we all fall down" signifies dying of the plague and being cremated—now go have fun.

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Jump the cracks

This game requires only two feet, a keen eye, and a sidewalk or any surface with cracks. The object of the game is to get from point A to point B without stepping on a crack. Some versions require players to chant a primitive superstition that rivals ring-around-the-rosy in terms of creepiness that in a perfect world wouldn't be involved in children's games: step on a crack, break your mother's back.

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Hide and seek

Perhaps the most famous no-tech game in history, hide and seek involves one person shielding their eyes and counting while another person or group of people scramble to find a good hiding spot. When the countdown expires, the seeker yells "ready or not, here I come," and the hunt begins.

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Kick the can

Although a can is the standard central object of the game, kids can play kick the can with just about anything—the game was popularized during the Great Depression when money for toys was tight. After the object is given a home base location, a group of kids hides, and one designated person looks for them. When a hider is spotted, the "it" person yells "kick the can," and they both run to see who can kick the object first.

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The floor is lava

This game can be played indoors and out, and requires no actual molten rock or metal. One kid yells out, "the floor is lava," and the rest of the group scrambles to get off the floor and onto a couch, a fire hydrant, or any other safe perch before the yeller counts to five.

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King of the hill

Achieving power is one thing—but defending and maintaining it is the real challenge. This is the lesson learned in king of the hill. A group of children scrambles to the top of the hill, and whoever claws and scratches to the top first has to fend off the onslaught of a mob bent on regime change.

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Capture the flag

Similar to king of the hill, capture the flag is all about gaining and defending turf, but it's a team game. A group of kids is divided into two teams spread across an even amount of ground outside with a flag—or any object—placed in each team's space. Starting from a neutral location, the kids then use cunning, deception, and brawn to get the other team's flag and return it to their space before the other team does the same to them.

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Hopscotch

Hopscotch technically requires chalk to draw a geometric pattern on the pavement, but any visible markers will do. In a series of essentially infinite combinations, children hop with one foot or two in predetermined sequences, sometimes picking up markers as they go.

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Simon says

Simon says requires kids to follow basic instructions like raise your hands or stand on one foot at the direction of a designated yeller—but only if the yeller first says, "Simon says." If someone acts without hearing that prompt, they're out.

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Shadow tag

In this game, the same rules from regular tag apply. In this case, however, the "it" person has to tag the shadow of another kid to make that kid "it."

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TV tag

TV tag, too, follows the same rules as tag, but it offers players a unique defense mechanism. To avoid being tagged, a kid can yell out the title of a previously unmentioned television show just before the touch is made.

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Whisper down the lane

Often called telephone, whisper down the lane starts with one person whispering a phrase to the person next to them, who then whispers the same phrase—or their interpretation of it—to the next person, and so on. Hilarity ensues at the end when the mangled remnants of the phrase are compared to the original.

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Hot potato

Both kids and adults can play hot potato with or without an actual spud—any tossable and catchable object will do. The object is tossed from one person to the next as the music plays, and when the music stops, whoever is stuck holding the object is out, and the process repeats until only the winner remains.

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Musical chairs

This game, too, weeds out players via music. The group stands up and walks around a perimeter of chairs with one chair missing, and when the music stops, whoever is standing at the empty spot is out. Then another chair is removed, and the game is repeated until the winner is left standing.

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Crack the whip

In crack the whip, a group of kids joins hands and follows the leader, who zigs and zags and runs and turns. The rest of the group does its best to keep up and, in doing so, looks like a whip cracking as it goes.

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Button, button, who's got the button?

This game requires a button, but any object small enough to hide in a child's hand—like a coin—will suffice. The "it" person touches the outstretched hand of each child in a group and puts the object in the hand of only one. No one but the "it" person and the button-holder knows who really has it, and the other children have to guess.

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Heads up 7-up

This classroom favorite is led by one "it" person who touches the heads of six people in the class while every student has their heads down on their desks. When six have been touched, the teacher calls out "heads up 7-up," and the players try to guess who among them was "it."

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Blind man's bluff

An ancient game dating to at least 2,000 years ago in Greece, blind man's bluff is kind of like tag with a twist. The "it" person is blindfolded and spun around until disoriented and dizzy. The others then call out "blind man" as the "it" person tries to tag them by the sound of their voices.

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Marco Polo

The greatest pool game in history, Marco Polo, also deals with an "it" person whose eyes are closed and chasing the voices of the others. In this case, however, the "it" person calls out "Marco," and the others respond with "Polo." If someone illegally exits the pool and the "it" person hears, he or she calls out "fish out of water," and that person becomes "it."

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Johnny on a pony

Also called buck-buck, Johnny on a pony has several variations, all of which involve one group of riders jumping on the backs of another group who line up to mimic a pony. In one version, the pony team tries to buck the riders. In another, the riders try to break the pony.

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Steal the bacon

This game requires a good amount of space outside and enough kids to form two teams separated into two opposing areas with a piece of imaginary bacon (which could be any object) in the middle. Each team member is assigned a number, and when a teacher, parent, or neutral kid calls a number, the corresponding kid on each team races to snag the bacon.

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Arm wrestling

This one-on-one competition of strength, timing, technique, and endurance pits one arm wrestler against another. All it takes is two chairs, a hard surface like a table, and a pair of dueling arms.

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Sardines

Hide and seek flipped backward, sardines involves a group of kids hiding their eyes, counting, and finally searching for one hiding child. As they find the hiding kid, they join that kid in the hiding spot, lying close together like sardines.

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Staring contest

In this age-old battle of wills and retinas, two players face off by staring into each other's eyes. Whoever blinks or looks away first loses.

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Monkey in the middle

Monkey in the middle is a keep-away game played with a small group of children. As the name implies, the monkey stands in the middle and tries to snag a ball or other object out of the air as the other kids pass the ball to each other over the monkey's head.

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I spy

Generations of parents have passed the time during long car trips with I spy. One player uses phrases like "I spy with my eye" and then give a descriptive statement, like "something red." The other player then looks for red things and guesses what player one was seeing.

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License plate game

Another road trip classic is the license plate game. The object is simple—participants keep an eye out for state license plates they haven't seen yet and keep track of how many different ones they spot.

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Slap hands

Sometimes called hot hands, red hands, or slapsies, this two-player game is not for the timid. One player places their hands palms up, and the other player puts their hands over the first person's hands palms down. The under person tries to flip their hands and slap the top of the second player's hands before they can pull them away.

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