Here are the rules for one of the favorite party games known as "associations" or "magic bowl."

This game is so fun that oftentimes all I need to do to get people playing is just say out loud: "Hey, there's an even number of us!" And soon, a bowl, pencils and paper are taken out and the game can begin!

  • Number of players: 4 is a minimum number. There must be an even number of players, though an odd player can measure time.
  • Playing time: Around 20 minutes for the most basic variant. Can last longer or shorter depending on the number of words used and the success rate of descriptions.
  • Required items: One bowl or hat, paper slips (around 5 per player), a stopwatch.

Basic Otline of the Game

Every player writes five terms (they don't have to be nouns) on five separate slips of paper. The slips are folded and put in the bowl. Then players are divided into pairs, and players take turns describing the terms written on the paper to their teammates. The goal is to guess the most terms as possible within time limit (one minute) and to have as many paper slips as possible by the end of the game.


More Detailed Rules

  • Words used. For maximum fun, words that everyone knows but which are tad difficult to describe are the best (gown; offering; glare); words that are easily described (pencil; eye; chair) as well as professional terminology (perichoresis; tonsillectomy) are best avoided.
  • Teammate selection. It is better to determine pairs by random, as it is the best way to prevent one team using knowledge of one another for word-guessing ("The thing you wore yesterday?" "Sunshades!").
  • Sitting arrangement. Teammates generally sit opposite to one another – the bowl simply goes in circles and the person who's describing is the one who receives the bowl. Alternatively, teammates may be seated next to each other, and bowl is passed on by team-to-team basis; teammates themselves describe interchangeably. 
  • Time. Other players should measure the time for the team whose turn it is. It is usually a minute, but can be even a minute and half or 45 seconds, for added/reduced difficulty.
  • Descriptions. As a rule, foreign languages cannot be used to describe ("It is 'chien' in French") as well as any root words, or prefixes or suffixes (like describing 'nail polish' by saying: "The thing you put on nails"). 
  • Unknown words. If a teammate has difficulty describing the word or simply doesn't know what it means, he can simply put the word aside and draw a new word. He can only do this once per turn. He can always return to the previous word if the new word is more difficult than the last.
  • Endgame. The game ends when there are no more words left in the bowl. 


Rule variants

  • Three-tiered associations. This is definitely the most fun option. Here, associations are played as normal. Then they are played again (with same words), but this time, the teammates can only use one word for description (the point of this tier is to pay close attention to all the words used in previous tier for best recollection). And lastly, in the third tier, and also using the same words, people can only use mime and hand movements, but not a single word. 
  • Celebrities. Instead of putting terms, you can opt for celebrity names instead, or names of historical personae and fictional characters.
  • Unknown words. For very easy difficulty, people may be allowed to endlessly replace the words they don't want to describe (though this quickly empties the bowl of easy words). For extreme difficulty, players are simply not allowed to take new words until they describe the previous one. 

Give this game a try, and if you feel like you're on a winning streak, visit this page. It just might be the decision of a lifetime!