How to Play Pictionary

By James Holloway

A picture is supposedly worth a thousand words, but in a game of Pictionary players can struggle to turn a picture into just one word. Although the rules are simple, the challenge of sketching under pressure makes Pictionary a tense experience for both adults and children.

Getting Started

To play Pictionary, you'll need two to four teams, each of two to four players. The game set consists of a gameboard, word cards, category cards, playing pieces, a set of drawing pads and pencils, a one-minute timer, and a die. Each team takes a drawing pad and pencil, places a playing piece in the Start square on the board, and chooses a player to be the first "picturist." The picturist will be the first player to draw for the team. The team can also take a category card to remind them which color on the board corresponds to which category. Once setup is complete, the teams roll a die to see which will go first.

The First Turn

The first team to move in Pictionary does not actually move its playing piece; instead, the team's picturist draws the first card but leaves the piece on the Start square. Because the Start square is an "All Play" square, each team's picturist gets to look at the starting card. Once each picturist has looked at the card for five seconds, start the timer. Each picturist now tries to draw the word listed in the All Play entry on the word card. The picturist may not use any words or gestures while drawing, and may not write anything on the drawing pad. The first team to have one of its players guess the word correctly wins the round.

Continuing the Game

The winning team now rolls the die and moves its playing piece the number of spaces indicated by the roll. When the move ends, the team draws a card and chooses the word indicated by the color of the square they landed on. A new picturist takes over and draws while the rest of the team tries to guess the word. If the team fails to guess the word within the time limit, play passes to the left and a new team draws a card and continues the game; otherwise, the team rolls and moves again. The active team can also change when an All Play word comes up; the team that wins the All Play takes over. If no team identifies an All Play, play proceeds to the left as if the active team had failed to guess the word.

Winning the Game

Once a team has reached the final square, it still has to guess the word on the last card. If it does so, the game ends; if not, play passes to the left. This gives other teams a chance to catch up even if someone has already reached the final square.

Variants and Other Versions

Official electronic versions of Pictionary include a version of the game released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990. A version of Pictionary for the Wii requires the console's uDraw art tablet peripheral. Pictionary has also inspired other games, including the popular two-player mobile app "Draw Something." The board game has appeared in several different versions, including "Junior" editions with more kid-friendly clues, editions with mixed clue types and licensed versions such as Disney Pictionary.

About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.