Text away: 14 free messaging games you can play with your friends

This article was original published on Oct. 6, 2013, and updated on Dec. 15, 2014.

Words With Friends and  weren’t always the smartphone powerhouses they are today. In fact, believe it or not, there was a time SMS games were all the rage. For me it was middle school, those puberty-pivotal two years of existence my mind refuses to forget, but for many that time is now. Whether it’s because of finances, availability or stubbornness, many people have chosen to forgo the commonplace smartphone in favor of a more traditional offerings from major retailers. However, just because you possess a so-called “dumb phone” doesn’t mean you can’t tap into social gaming on the go. Even less-advanced devices come equipped with text messaging.

Here are our picks for the best texting games so you relive your adolescent youth or simply enjoy the underwhelming simplicity of SMS messages. We can’t guarantee any of them will spur that incredible satisfaction that comes from playing “luminescent” for 102 points, but they’ll likely rack your brain nonetheless.

Related: Our favorite iPhone games and picks for the best Android games

20 Questions

Twenty questions was a 19th-century, spoken parlor game well before the radio and television show hit American airwaves in the late ’40s. It’s a classic game of deductive reasoning and quick-hit creativity, requiring no more than two people and as little or as much time as the players set. The premise is simple: one person chooses an object or person while the other attempts to guess it in 20 questions or less. Once the subject is chosen, the opposite player sends a series of questions via text, ideally narrowing down the subject through the responding yes-or-no answers.

Example — Say you’ve chosen Morgan Freeman as your subject. The player opposite you may ask, “are you an animal?” You would respond negatively and they would move on to another question, such as “are you a human being?” Considering you’re Morgan Freeman, you would reply with “yes.” The game continues in a similar manner until the player guesses the correct answer or surpasses 20 questions, whichever comes first. Morgan Freeman is far too easy. Pick something harder.

Would You Rather

Would You Rather may not be a game built on the moral and ethical quandaries we’re forced to face on a day-to-day basis — at least I hope not — but it will certainly reveal the nature of your character. The basic premise is this: one person asks “would you rather…” followed by two differing hypothetical scenarios. The options can be as interrelated or as distant as you want them to be, but the two scenarios should carry equal weight if possible. Try to be creative in your questioning and avoid clarifying questions. Also, remember the best questions are the ones usually depicting two, uncomfortable and equally-terrible scenarios.

Examples: The WYR possibilities are virtually endless, allowing users to make the game a simple or harrowing as they want it to be. We’ve presented a few potential conundrums below, but Redditors have taken the game to an entirely new level. Pssh, and I thought I was creative.

“Would you rather fight a hundred duck-sized horses, or one horse-sized duck?” (Here’s the right answer.)

“Would you rather talk like Jar Jar Binks, or look like Jar Jar Binks?”

“Would you rather change gender every time you sneeze, or not be able to tell the difference between a muffin and a baby?”

Never Have I Ever

Never Have I Ever, sometimes known as 10 Fingers, is that borderline inappropriate game you drunkenly played in hot tub once with your prospective boyfriend or girlfriend. It usually involves several players and drinking copious amounts of alcohol, but you can just as easily play it sober with two people via text. Begin by setting a specific number of lives, often represented by fingers when played in person, and any other additional rules you’d like to include. Afterward, the players take turns making statements of things they’ve never done before, hence the title of the game. The opposite player loses a point whenever a statement is made that contradicts his or her own experiences.

Though uncommon, some rules specify the person who loses a point must provide a detailed account of why he or she is doing so. According to one American college student quoted on Wikipedia, NHIE and similar games “reveal interesting things about the participants and help build friendships.” The attribution is questionable, but the game does often reveal deep-seated secrets about your friends that you may, or may not, want to know. Somehow I’ve found the game always manages to don an overly-sexual tone, but I’d advise you from taking gender-oriented cheap shots. A guy shouldn’t lose a point just because he’s kissed a girl — just saying.

Example: Assuming it’s your turn, you might say “Never have I ever been skinny dipping.” If the opposite person opposite you has gone skinny dipping, they would lose a point and then proceed in making a statement of his or her own. The game continues in a similar fashion until one player loses all of his or her points.

Name Game

The Name Game is rather tedious in the long run, but I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the biggest time-wasters of all time. Played in elementary school classrooms and road-tripping minivans across the United States, it’s a simple spelling game derived from words in a particular topic. Players choose a topic, such as famous actors and actresses, and then select which player will go first. Once chosen, the first player chooses and says a word. Following in suite, the second player says a word that begins with the last letter of the opposite player’s previous word. The game can carry on indefinitely depending on player knowledge, so it’s often best to set a few ground rules prior to initiating the game. We suggest setting a specific time limit in which players can respond or narrowing the chosen topic to make the game difficult.

Example: Say your opponent and you have chosen the topic of famous actors who have been featured in superhero movies. You might begin by saying “Gary Oldman” — an obvious nod to the Christopher Nolan’s recent Batman trilogy — while your opponent might follow with “Ned Beatty,” the character who played Otis in Richard Donner’s 1978 rendition of Superman. The game continues in the same vein until one of the players can no longer name a followup person or subject word.

Story Time

They often say two heads are better than one, and though I don’t always agree, collaborative writing can be one of the most intriguing and inventive forms of writing in existence. With Story Time, one person begins by texting the beginning word, phrase or sentence to his or her collaborative partner. Once done, the other player reciprocates with another word, phrase or sentence that directly builds off the narrative begun in by the first player. Whether the resulting story is terrific or horrendous, a shotgun of a story or an epic, the back-and-forth prose eventually builds a potentially-cohesive plot line via a series of text message. The flow and style is never as eloquent or seamless as it would be if crafted by a single writer, but the capacity for unforeseen twists and the shroud of mystery surrounding the next phrase or sentence is often compelling enough to keep it going. Feel free to add restrictions, such as a specified word count per text or other structural elements hindering people from spouting off the first thing that comes to mind. I mean, have you read any self-published ebooks recently? I think you catch my drift.

Example: Let’s take the classic fairy-tale route for example. You might send a text with one of the most cliche lines of literature lore,”Once upon a time.” Building upon what you said, the other player might follow with “there lived a lonely typist who never spoke.” I admit it’s probably not the most exhilarating or enticing story introduction you’ve ever heard, but it’s a start. Afterward, you would respond with another phrase, then your partner, then you… and so on and so forth.


Abbreviations may very well be the most difficult game on our entire list. The series of letters essentially serve as acronyms, formed of the initial components in a particular phrase or word using the individual letters that begin each word. With Abbreviations, you first choose a phrase summarizing your current activity or simply a phrase you’d like to utilize for the game. Then you take the first letter from each word in the phrase and combine them to form an acronym, which you then tell to your opponent before letting them try to guess what the newly-minted abbreviation stands for. Hints and variations on the game, such as offering more than just the first letter of each word, are often welcome given how hard it can be. Furthermore, the winner is whoever can stump their opponent.

Example: If you’re “grabbing a beer downtown,” for instance, you would present your opponent with the abbreviation “GABD.” They would then attempt to guess what the acronym stands for, and if they fail to do so in an acceptable amount of time, you’re the winner. Again, you may want to offer up hints considering how open-ended an acronym such as “GABD” is. “Giggling about barking dalmatians,” anyone?

Kiss, Marry, Kill

Let’s be honest, most of us use an alternate name for Kiss, Marry, Kill — one not as family-friendly and less suitable for the Digital Trends pages. However, no matter what word you replace “kiss” with, the premise remains roughly the same. The games involves naming which of three people, celebrities or otherwise, you would kiss, marry, or kill. The game only requires two people, one to present the list of options and one to answer in response, with rounds that are often short and (not so) sweet. Although not necessary, I would advise playing the game with someone who has a sense of humor or is difficult to offend. Since the game is based on personal preference, there’s also no distinct winner or loser like many on our roundup. And believe me, people will surprise you.

Example: Suppose you were presented with a few fictional options from AMC’s Breaking Bad: Walter White, Jesse Pinkman and Hank Schrader. You may choose to kill White (obviously), kiss Schrader, and marry Pinkman. To quote a coworker, Pinkman has the soul of angel and merely made a few bad decisions somewhere along the way (i.e. crystal meth production, stone-cold murder).

Next page: Six more of our favorite texting games.

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