Sometimes, the best games are those you can play absolutely anywhere without any preparation. This is one of those games. This game becomes particularly useful when trying to assuage the unbearable boredom of kids on a long car ride.
Number of Players
As few as 2, and as many as you like. Best with 4-8.
A good vocabulary. It might also be a good idea to have a dictionary handy to help settle disputes…assuming you are not involved in a spur-of-the-moment game on top of a mountain somewhere.
A sequence of play is determined (by whatever means you prefer) amongst the players. The first player in the sequence names any random letter they choose. It is now up to the next player in the sequence to add a letter to the first one…the goal being to build up to a specific word longer than 4 letters (for example, if the first player said “b,” the second player might say “e,” thinking of the word “beach”). The third player must then add a letter to the first two…again building to a specific word (for example, they may say the letter “t,” thinking of the word “better”).
Each player in turn adds their own letter, building a word as they go…however, a player does not necessarily have to have a word in mind when adding a letter. Instead, they may decide to add any random letter in an attempt to make things difficult for another player. Play continues in sequence until one of two things happen: a player adds a letter that completes a word of more than 4 letters, or a player issues a challenge. Any player may challenge a player who just added a letter onto the sequence. When a player is challenged, they must immediately name a word that can be made out of all the letters used thus far (for example, if the letters are “b, e, t, r” and the player who added the “r” is challenged, that player might say the word “betray”). The round ends when either a word is completed, or a challenge issued.
This is one of those games where accumulating a score is a bad thing. Each player has 3 “lives” or “thirds.” Whenever a player adds a letter to create a word of 5 or more letters, they lose a life…or become “one-third of a ghost” (so, in the above example, if play had continued until one player had added the “y” to complete the word “betray,” that player would lose a life). A player also loses a life if they are challenged and cannot come up with a valid word, or they are the one issuing the challenge and the other player does come up with a valid word. As soon as a player loses all 3 lives (or becomes a “whole ghost”) that player is out.
To be the last player remaining after all other players have been turned into ghosts. Your reward for winning is symbolically being the only one still alive.
The most common variations to the game exist in how it is scored. In early versions of the game, a player would not lose a life (or become a third of a ghost) but instead would earn one of the letters to the word “ghosts” (for example, they would receive a “g” for the first point, an “h” for the second, and so on). The player would be out as soon as they spelled the whole word “ghosts.”
Another variation in scoring is to give players an extra chance by giving them “quarters” of a ghost instead of thirds.
In a more challenging variation of the game, the round does not end when a player completes a word. Instead, play passes to the next player in sequence who must name another letter (attempting to stretch the existing word into an even longer one). In the example used above, play would not end with the player who completed the word “betray,” but with the next player. That player must either be good enough to come up with a valid letter (like “a” leading to the word “betrayal”), or they have to be really good at bluffing (and call out any old letter…but with extreme confidence, as if they knew exactly what word they were trying to spell). In this version, the round will always end with a challenge.