As far as decadent dinners go,
Thanksgiving ranks right up there at the very top. And as one of the most memorable meals of the year, you’d think that everyone would be on their best behavior sitting around the table. Well, you’d be wrong. Family fights are par for the course during this marathon eating sesh, and can occur during any course actually, from starters right down to the dessert. So to ease the tension (and focus on that delish turkey instead), you might need to break out any one of these icebreaker ideas for Thanksgiving dinner. Because having to chug Tums post-meal is so unpleasant.
But you think,
We’re family. Why do we need icebreakers? Chances are, you probably don’t know everyone as well as you think you do. Plus, there might be some new faces ‘round the table this year who are looking for a way to be a part of the conversation without inadvertently fueling a full-on family fight. (It’s a lot of pressure, for sure.) And games are a good way to level the playing field (ha) and encourage everyone to engage with each other in a more agreeable way.
From silly to slapstick, tattoos to toilet paper, there’s something for everyone with these 20 icebreakers for Thanksgiving dinner. There’s even one that involves… murder. (Just don’t get any ideas, though.)
1 Do You Really Know Your Family?
It truly is an age-old question: How well do you really know your family? Well, you’re about to find out when you play Do You Really Know Your Family? The game includes trivia cards that ask questions like, “Where would I want to go to for our next family vacation?” to “How many hours a day do I spend on the phone?” If a player pulls a challenge card, they’ll have to do anything from doing an impression of a family member or telling a funny joke. The first person to collect 15 cards wins, but truly the whole family does as they get to play together and learn more about each other.
2 2-Minute Mixer icebreaker game
If you’ve ever done speed dating, you’re already ahead in this game that helps you get to know your relatives… fast. Pair up your friends and family members so that everyone has a partner. If you have an odd number of guests, designate one person to be the timer and have them set a timer on their phone for two minutes. Get a whistle, airhorn, or something that will serve as a loud signal, and when it goes off, those pairs of people can chat about anything for two minutes. Once two minutes are up, sound the signal, everyone must find a new partner to chat with.
3 Show and Tell
A few days before Thanksgiving, ask each family member to bring something special with them. Before dinner is served, have everyone gather in the living room and, taking turns, talk about their object and why it’s so meaningful to them. The object can be a family heirloom, a photo, or even a tchotchke, but it should hold some significance to the owner. This is one of those icebreaker games that’s guaranteed to tug on a few heartstrings, and might even evoke a tear or two.
4 Watch Ya Mouth
Perfect for the sister-in-law who simply won’t shut up, this game is good to break the ice, get some laughs, and make everyone look completely silly. Each player has to insert the mouthguard (no easy task) and then try to read phrases from playing cards. But the 143 family-safe phrases are tongue twisters all on their own (i.e. “porcupine pooper scooper” and “picking watermelons in the field” to “smorgasboard” and “rubber baby buggy bumpers”). This icebreaker game is good to play before everyone eats their meal — in case anyone has some leftover cranberry sauce stuck in their teeth.
5 Tapping the Table
Just be sure to have plenty of hand sanitizer on hand (ha) when your guests play Tapping the Table. Ideal for playing when everyone is seated (but the stuffing still needs a few more minutes in the oven), have players place their hands on the table in front of them. Then, you’ll slide your hands underneath your neighbor’s hands both to your left and right, forming an X with the people sitting on either side of you. Tap your right hand (and the left hand) of the person sitting to your right, and then that person will do the same for the person next to them, causing a clockwise motion. After tapping your right hand, you’ll tap your left hand to the person left of you (and in turn, tap their right hand). They’ll do the same, and the tapping will continue around the table, but this time counterclockwise. The game goes on until a player taps incorrectly or moves their hands off the table — and you’re all tangled in knots until it’s Turkey Time.
Sometimes the hardest thing about Thanksgiving dinner is finding something to talk about, because what are you supposed to say to someone you haven't seen in a year? That's why you’ll love
TableTopics ($25, Amazon), a deck of cards with over 100 questions to get your dinner table conversation going. The questions are surprisingly probing, and you'll be shocked at how comfortable your guests get after answering a few. They even make a version that's specifically designed to get kids chatting, so you can even get the littles involved or get them a deck for their own table. 7 Who Am I?
Prepare a deck of cards with different celebrities and historical figures, and then have your guests attach a card to either their foreheads or their backs. Chaos and fun will ensue as everyone tries to figure out who they are. Word of warning: Think carefully about your selections. (Think more “Dr. Jekyll” and less “Dr. Fauci.”) You can also play this game using
HeadBanz ($12, Walmart) if you don't want to prepare the cards yourself. Though maybe sort through the cards first, and pull any names that might — eh — be problematic. 8 Camping Trip
The game of patterns never gets old. Whoever is "it" will start the game by saying "I'm going on a camping trip and bringing... " and whatever item they bring will be part of a secret rule they came up with: It could be words that start with a certain letter, words that start with the players’ initials, words with four letters, etc. It's up to the players to figure out what the rule is, and once you figure it out, you're on the camper's side. The game is over once everyone catches onto the pattern. Puzzling it out will keep kids and adults alike entertained for hours.
9 People Bingo
If you want to break the ice by getting to know your family members better, people bingo is perfect for you. All you need to provide your family members with is a people bingo sheet (I like
this one from Icebreaker Ideas) and a pen or pencil, and then they'll be off to fill out the squares as quickly as possible while learning about their relatives in the process. Whoever gets bingo first wins. Pro-tip: Make the bingo cards yourself to include family jokes and stories for extra fun. 10 Scavenger Hunt
A scavenger hunt is a fun option for anyone feeling ambitious in their icebreaker planning or for people who will have a ton of little ones they need to keep entertained at the party. Hide a series of clues around your house that will lead the players to an ultimate prize — perhaps their dessert or a surprise cocktail for the adults? Your guests will warm up to each other in no time as they scour the premises and try to figure out the solution to your clues.
11 Silly Superlatives
I did this with my friends every year in college, and it was hilarious. Give each of your guests a slip of paper with someone's name on it when they arrive, and have them come up with a superlative for whoever they picked and write it down on a piece of paper. At some point in the evening, host an awards ceremony to give them out, and let everyone guess who made their superlative. It's an easy way to remind everyone why they like each other, and it'll make the time pass more quickly.
12 Never Have I Ever
A favorite adult icebreaker, Never Have I Ever's mix of absurd questions and ability to get people to reveal fun facts about themselves will dispel any family tension in seconds. Maybe keep this one PG if there are young kids around.
13 Tattoo Stories
No worries if you're not the most talented artist in the world (in fact, the more artistically-challenged you are, the funnier this game will be). Players take turns being the "customer" by picking cards to inspire their tattoos, then the other players ("tattoo artists") come up with a tattoo, draw it, and pitch the idea. Who knows? Somebody could end up getting one of the designs inked for real, post-party.
14 The Chameleon Board Game
A "social-bluffing" game, the aim of "The Chameleon" is to find the "guilty" player (or to make sure you don't get found if you *are* the guilty player). But the real point of playing is to see how your fast your friends can think under pressure... and how bad (or good, yikes) they are at lying.
15 Fact or Fiction?
You've probably seen a version of this played on
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon: Everybody gets an index card with their name on it, then writes down two true statements and one false statement about themselves. Read the person's name and statements out loud, then have everybody guess which one is false. 16 Toilet Paper Icebreaker
Some of you may know this one from “team building” exercises at work. It’s a little cheesy, but almost always generates some easy laughs. As people sit down, you pass around a roll of toilet paper and tell people to tear off as many squares as they like. Once everyone has their piece of TP, you then have them count the number of squares they selected. However many squares a person has is how many “fun facts” about themselves they now must share with the table!
17 The Awkward Storyteller
I love the idea of this game. It requires people to use their
imaginations and get creative, and is also suitable for kids as well as adults. Basically, one person starts with a story prompt card, that will say something like, “At the store I bought 300 hundreds limes.” The other players then ask questions about why the person did this, slowly building on each other’s questions, and together creating a goofball tale. 18 Kids Create Absurdity
is geared toward the kids, which is great, as sometimes the easiest way to find common, neutral ground is to keep it focused on little ones who have zero opinions on Supreme Court appointees. This game is sort of like Cards Against Humanity, but a much more PG version. Players fill in the blanks on things like: “My school bus driver smells like…” Possible answers are things like "rotten eggs, flip flops, exploding watermelons.” You get the gist. There are also goofy “random cards”, where you can hand someone a card that directs them to cluck like a chicken or something equally silly. 19 Whatever
This game is basically a
series of ridiculous challenges and sounds pretty hilarious. The challenges are things like: “It’s you versus the most responsible player in the room. Both of you must dance like dad for 30 seconds. Group votes on the winner.” There are also funny penalty cards, like: “Show the group the last thing you googled.” There are some cards that get mildly risqué, and that you might not want to ask Great Aunt Helen to do like: “Bring all the boys to the yard with your milkshake.” But you could always cull any inappropriate cards from the deck before playing. 20 Bonfire Of The Insanities
This classic family game involves everyone writing their most fervent, diehard political beliefs down on parchment, then throwing them all into a massive bonfire, around which everyone dances whilst wearing flower crowns and eating canned cranberry sauce. Okay, I may have just made this one up. By why not give your Thanksgiving a little
Midsommar vibe this year? 21 Wink, Murder
Come on, you’ve got to have a crazy cousin you’re not the biggest fan of. Well, now you can (sort of) when you play Wink, Murder. It can’t be more simple: one player is secretly picked to be the murderer. The murderer gets to “off” other players simply by winking at them. It’s up to the survivors to figure out who the murderer is — and, ahem, why a particular player may have been chosen first to be whacked. It’s fun in both small and big groups, and the goal is to off as many people as possible without getting caught.
22 Just One Lie
A good get-to-know you game, guests chat each other up (preferably before the main meal), asking specific questions. You’re supposed to tell two truths, and as the name of the game connotes, one lie. It’s then up to your friends and fam to figure out what was the truth, and what was the tall tale. The big reveal can happen over dinner, when Grandma Beatrice can finally learn about that nipple ring you’ve been keeping under wraps.
23 Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza
Everyone will get a little silly (and a lot slap-happy) when you play
Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza. Cards are distributed evenly amongst all the players, and one by one, cards are revealed as each player says, “Taco,” “Cat,” “Goat,” “Cheese,” or “Pizza.” If the card facing up matches the word being spoken, the players have to slap the pile as quickly as they can. The player with their hand on top gets to claim the cards. It’s more fun when you play faster so that you wind up slapping the cards — and each other. 24 Electric Fence Icebreaker
For an electrifyingly fun game, you can get the gang playing Electric Fence Icebreaker. Players build an imaginary fence and have to cross it without getting zapped. The fence itself can be a long piece of string or rope that can be tied between two stationary objects, like two chairs or tables. Players must try to climb over (and not under) it — and did we mention that the “fence” is waist-high? Also, they have to be touching a teammate with one of their hands at all times, or they lose.
25 So… Cards: A Collection of Questions for Deeper Discussions
So much of our daily conversations barely skim the surface of who we really are and how we feel. That’s why you need the
So…Cards game. It goes beyond your basic icebreaker games, delving deep and allowing you to have more mindful conversations with your kiddos and family. You might not just learn a little bit more about your guests gathered around your Thanksgiving table, but yourself as well. And that’s when you’ll really feel an attitude of gratitude.
Friends and family members young and old can get to know each other better (either excitedly or reluctantly) through bouts of laughter with these fun Thanksgiving icebreaker ideas.
This article was originally published on
November 17, 2018