How to Play Categories

Maritsa Patrinos / The Spruce

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 10 - 20 mins
  • Skill Level: Kid-friendly

The game of Categories is an excellent party game that can be played with just a few pencils and pieces of paper and can be adapted to fit all ages. The game of Categories inspired Scattergories, the board game where players need to name objects within certain categories starting with a particular letter of the alphabet.

But you don't need a big box, a set of cards, and a game board to play. It is simple—and fun—​to play Categories with just a pencil and piece of paper (for each player). It takes about five minutes to set up before setting the timer to play. You'll want at least three players, although the game is best with six to eight people. The goal of the game is to score the most points by choosing unique and legitimate answers that other players did not use.​​​

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Timer
  • 1 to 2 dice


  • 3 to 8 pencils
  • 3 to 8 pieces of paper



  1. Draw a Grid

    To begin the game, each player draws a 5-by-5 grid box (five columns and five rows) on their piece of paper, leaving enough space in the boxes to be able to write words.

  2. Pick a Method for Choosing Categories and Keywords

    The categories and keyword may be chosen by any method the players agree to. One option is to roll a die or dice. The player rolling the highest number chooses the keyword. The next five players choose the various categories.

  3. Choose Categories

    Players choose five categories. Each player writes the categories down the left side of the grid (not in the boxes), one category per row.

    Categories can be almost anything and as easy or difficult as the players wish to make them. The options are endless for all ages. Examples include:

    • Types of birds
    • Television shows
    • Novelists
    • Cities in Pennsylvania
    • U.S. presidents
  4. Choose a Keyword

    Another player chooses a five-letter keyword. Each player writes this word across the top of the grid (again, not in the boxes), one letter above each column.

    Keywords cannot have repeating letters (e.g., PIPES would be an illegal keyword because it has two Ps). Keywords also should not include Q, X, or Z, unless the players want a serious challenge.


  1. Set a Time Limit

    The players need to agree to a time limit for filling in the entire grid—anywhere from five to 10 minutes, depending on the skill of the players.

  2. Start the Timer

    Now you are ready to play the game. Start the timer and begin.

  3. Begin Filling in the Grid

    Each player tries to fill in the grid with words that fit into the categories and start with the letters of the keyword. For example, if the category is "type of birds" and the letter is "C," an entry could be "cardinal."


    For proper names, the last name should be used (e.g., George Bush would fit under “B” but not “G”). In cases where a person goes by only a single name (e.g., Shakira or Madonna), that name should be used.


  1. Read Answers

    When the time limit is up, players stop filling in the grid. Players compare their answers, one box at a time. Each player announces the word in the box (if they have one).

  2. Apply Points

    One point is given to a player who has a unique word that none of the other players have written in their grids.


    If a word is of questionable legitimacy, the players should vote on whether or not to accept it.

  3. Tally Points

    After all 25 blocks are scored, players total their points.

  4. Declare a Winner

    The player with the most points wins.