This is my favorite game.
It doesn’t involve a board, there are no cards and it’s free to play. It works for two to six players. You can do it in a car or a plane, it works great for two, and if you’re kind, you can play it with someone less skilled than you. The more you play, the deeper and more fun the strategies go.
I thought I’d share the rules here, because more g-h-o-s-t is good g-h-o-s-t.
Summary: Go around the circle of players and each person adds a letter to a spoken string, striving to not be the person who actually makes the string of letters into a word.
Players go one at a time, in order. Of course, you can sit anywhere you like. When each player has taken his or her turn, begin again with the first player.
To play a round, someone says a letter. The next person in the order has to add a letter to the first, beginning a word. For example, the first person might begin by saying, “y” and then, the next person could say, “o”. The third could say “u” because three letters don’t count as a word.
Beginning with the fourth letter, the goal is to not complete the word. So, if the letters are y-o-u from the first three players, the fourth player shouldn’t say “r” because that would make a word. But it’s fine to say “t”.
If, on your turn, you are stuck and there’s no choice but to say a letter that completes a word (in this case, “h”), you lose the round. Every time you lose a round, you get stuck with another letter in the word ‘ghost’, hence the name of the game. If you lose five rounds, you’re out of the game. The last person left, wins.
If you lose a round, it’s your turn to start the next round by picking a new letter.
Okay, three simple complications:
- The letter you say has to create a possible word. So if the string is, “y-o-u”, you can’t say, “x”. (Unless you’re bluffing, see rule 2).
- If the person before you says a letter that you believe is impossible, you can challenge their play. If they can respond with a legal word, you lose the round. If they can’t, because they were bluffing or in error, they lose the round.
- No proper nouns, no contractions, no hyphens, no acronyms, no abbreviations. These words don’t exist in the game.
And the big complication, the one that changes everything and makes this a game for the ages:
Once you get the hang of it, the group can play reverso. This means that when it’s your turn, you’re allowed to add a letter before the string, if you choose, instead of after. So now, words can be built in either direction, and game becomes magical.
‘y-o-u’ can now become ‘a-y-o-u’ and then ‘b-a-y-o-u’.
‘r-d-s-c-r’ for example, isn’t worth challenging, because ‘hardscrabble’ is a word.
If you want to play reverso g-h-o-s-t as a finite game, with thrown elbows and strategy, it makes a terrific two-player game.
If you want to play it as an infinite game, setting up friends and family to do ever better, a game that never ends and has wordcraft and humor to it, you can do that as well. PS Olivia has a new version that uses cards.
[A suggestion from Jim F.: “I would offer an amendment to the game of Ghost as we play it in my family. When a player receives their fifth letter, they are no longer part of the spelling, but they remain in the game by becoming a “ghost”. Any active player who speaks to a Ghost receives an additional letter each time they speak to a Ghost. Ghosts are motivated to get active players to speak to them, and thus are not eliminated but adopt a new role.”]