Rules for Chinese Grab Bags

By Robert Preston

Chinese grab bag is a party game for giving mystery gifts, also known as white elephant gift exchange or Yankee swap. The game can be played in two primary ways: Each person can keep the gift he chooses from the pile, or players can be given the choice of selecting a wrapped gift or stealing one someone else has already opened.

Basic Play

Everyone participating in a game of Chinese grab bag brings a gift to be put in a communal pool. Players then draw numbers to determine the order in which they will choose gifts. Each player selects one gift from the pile and opens it in front of the other participants.

Budget

Setting an appropriate budget is important to ensure that no one feels as if they were ripped off and ended up with a gift worth much less than the one they contributed to the party. Select a spending cap that allows each participant to comfortably afford a gift.

Wrapping

Wrapping your gift provides a chance to add some deception and excitement to the game. Players could package a great gift with rather mundane wrapping. One popular trick is to make a small item seem much larger by placing it inside a larger, otherwise empty box. Including uncooked macaroni or rice inside a gift box helps disguise any sound-based or tactile information a player could garner from shaking.

Drawing Numbers

Once all the gifts are put into the communal pool, players draw numbers to determine the picking order. An early pick in a no-stealing game assures you first choice at wrapped gifts. In a game in which stealing is allowed, it is better to pick last, when you know which gifts are available.

No-stealing Play

In the simplest version of the game, each player selects a gift and keeps it. The person who drew number one goes first, choosing a gift, unwrapping it, and showing it to everyone at the party. Number two follows, and so on until all the gifts have been distributed.

Stealing

In a game that allows stealing, the first player still goes as described above, but each subsequent player can either choose from the pile of wrapped gifts or steal a gift that already has been opened. A player whose gift is stolen then chooses another gift from the communal pile to replace the stolen one. Some parties elect to allow a a player whose gift has been stolen to then steal from a new player.