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gallows hanging the word PRISONER
No. of Players: 2+
Type of Game: written
What you need: pen and paper


To guess a word before one is figuratively hanged.

How to play

One player (the hangman) thinks of a secret word, or short phrase, and draws dashes on a piece of paper for each letter of that word or phrase. A second player, the condemned, guesses letters one at a time; if more than two people are playing, the condemned take turns guessing letters. The hangman writes any correctly guessed letter on the appropriate dash or dashes. If the letter is not in the word, the hangman begins to draw the gallows, which is slowly built up every time a wrong letter is guessed. The condemned must guess the word before the gallows is completely built with a stick figure hanging from it. If the condemned fails to guess the word, he is hanged and loses that round. Players should agree beforehand on how many individual lines it will take to draw the gallows and stick figure. In other words, they must decide on how many guesses will be permitted.


Alec and Bella agree that the gallows and stick figure will be drawn with 11 strokes of the pen (i.e., the condemned will have 11 guesses before being hanged) in this order:

drawing hangman in 11 steps

For the first round, Alec is the hangman and Bella is the condemned. Alec tells Bella that the secret word has 6 letters and he draws 6 dashes on a piece of paper. Bella guesses the letter E and Alec writes E on the last dash. Bella next guesses A and Alec draws the base of the gallows because that letter is not in the secret word. The next three guesses (O, I, and S) are also not in the word, so Alec draws three more parts of the gallows. After nine more guesses, there is almost a complete stick figure hanging from the gallows, as in drawing #10 above, and the dashed line looks like this:

hangman dashes with letters

One more incorrect guess and Bella loses the round. Luckily, she guesses P, spelling the secret word PURPLE. The roles now reverse for the next round, with Bella becoming the hangman and Alec the condemned.

Note that for shorter, more challenging games, you can omit the base of the gallows (#1), the corner piece first drawn in #4, the arms of the stick figure, etc. Or you can enhance the drawing to ease gameplay.

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