Updated by Dave Parrack on June 26, 2017.
It wasn’t too long ago when we argued there were legitimate reasons not to buy a smartphone. However, that horse has bolted, and smartphones are here to stay. Feature phones such as the Nokia 3310 are just novelty relics of a bygone age.
The rise of smartphones has turned mobile gaming into an unstoppable force of nature. Everyone knows the big names such as Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga, and Pokemon GO. And even Sega is using the power of the platform to keep its legacy alive with a service called Sega Forever.
But wait. What if you don’t want to download another new app? Or you’re sick of seeing ads? What if the endless lure of in-app purchases has left you broke and frustrated? Thankfully there are a host of texting games you can play instead of all those modern mobile games.
Most of these phone texting games are simple in nature. And they can provide free fun for family and friends alike regardless of age or interests. What follows are 10+ of the best texting games you can play right now without needing to download or install anything.
1. Story Builder
As a writer (stop snickering in the back) I tell stories for fun. But even non-writers who find it difficult to create worlds, characters, and plots by themselves could gain enjoyment from this simple texting game.
With Story Builder, one of you begins the story by texting a sentence to the other. The other person then texts the second sentence in the story back to the first person. Slowly but surely, the two of you build a story over the course of several texts.
Variations include sentences containing a certain number of words or characters, or even sentences of exactly 160 characters. Although the latter is extremely tough to tackle, as anyone who uses Twitter will attest.
2. 20 Questions
This is the classic 20 Questions that originated in the U.S. and spawned both radio and television shows. The concept of this game is elegantly simple yet it requires a degree of intelligence to succeed at it.
One of you thinks of an object or person, while the other fires questions at them via text message. Your Yes/No responses help the guesser narrow down the possibilities until they can make an educated guess as to exactly you were thinking of.
Variations include limiting the object being thought of to a particular genre. Or, you can increase/decrease the number of questions the guesser can ask.
3. I Spy
This is the classic I Spy, a game that has been a favorite of families for generations. I whiled away many a long car journey as a child playing endless rounds of this. And the version played by text message is just as much fun.
I spy with my little eye pic.twitter.com/5ge1P2rIcB
— hannah banana (@hannahlswartz) June 16, 2017
Begin by telling your opponent where you are to at least give them a fighting chance. Then look around your environment until your mind’s eye fixes on something in particular. Your opponent then has to guess what it is you have spied, with only the first letter of the object to guess from.
Variations include giving clues after each negative response to a wrong guess, or limiting the number of guesses allowed.
4. Song Lyrics
Assuming you’re not exclusively interested in instrumental music, you’ll know certain lines from certain songs. Whether because of an emotional attachment or simply because they sound good together, most people have been affected by song lyrics in some way.
The Song Lyrics game plays on that by having one person quote lines from a song to the other via text. The other person then has to guess the song the lyrics are from. It helps if this is played with someone you’re close to or who you share similar music tastes with.
Variations include classic lines from movies or plots from games. Failure to guess correctly could mean having to phone up and sing the chorus of the song to your opponent.
Abbreviations are everywhere, from company names to phrases shortened for ease of use. It’s even possible to abbreviate your entire life by describing what you are up to with just the first letters of each word in that description.
Half of my time on the internet is spent Googling the meanings of various acronyms and abbreviations I see on twitter.
— John Cheese (@johncheese) June 26, 2017
To play Abbreviations, one of you abbreviates what you’re up to. For example: “In a coffee shop in town” becomes “IACSIT” — and the other sets about trying to un-abbreviate your short sentence back to its original form. Be prepared for some rude replies.
Variations include giving more than just the first letter of each word, and abbreviating something other than your current activity. Such as what you truly think of the person you are playing against.
6. List Builder
We all build lists. They detail everything from our chores for the day to our overall aims in life; from what groceries we need to the gadgets we want to buy in the future. When turned into a game, building lists can be a lot of fun, especially by text.
List Builder is a competitive game in which each player takes a turn to name something belonging to a particular genre. This could include capital cities, actors from a certain series of movies, or anything else your mind can conjure up. The winner is the last person to successfully add to the list.
Variations include going through the alphabet one letter at a time, or requiring the next answer to start with the same letter the last answer ended with.
7. Where Am I?
The reason we all carry smartphones is because we’re not always at home. Which makes this game a perfect one to play using mobile devices.
With Where Am I?, each player takes it in turn to describe one feature of their surroundings, while the other tries to guess where they are. You can make it as easy or as hard as you like by varying the level of detail you give to your opponent.
Variations include limiting it to a house, with the room you’re in being the correct answer, or asking which shop in town you are in. You could also change it to Who Am I With? and describe the person or people who are there with you instead.
8. Kiss, Marry, Kill
You may know Kiss, Marry, Kill as something else. The Kiss, for instance, may be a little more intense than just a peck on the cheek. However, the basic concept is the same, and is fun as long as no offense is taken by the answers given.
One person names three people, be they celebrities or individuals you both know, and asks the question, “Kiss, Marry, Kill?” The other then has to determine which of the three they would kiss, which they would marry, and which they would kill. All in jest, you understand.
Variations include dropping certain names into the mix you know will upset your friend. Or changing the question entirely. As long as there are three choices and three names in the mix, the sky’s the limit with this one.
9. What If…?
I sometimes daydream, especially in the shower. It’s during these quiet moments that What If? scenarios can pop into my brain, and I spend the next few minutes working out which option I would choose in that scenario. Which is perfect fodder for a texting game.
One of you texts the other a What If? scenario and asks what they would do in that situation. There are no right or wrong answers. It’s not only fun to see the responses given, it can also give you an insight into your friend or family member’s outlook on life.
Variations include leaving the question open-ended with any answer possible, or giving multiple choice answers and forcing the other person to choose from one of those.
10. Simple Quiz
Quizzes of any kind can be fun, even if they’re supposedly testing your IQ. I’m especially partial to pub quizzes though. Partly because of the company, partly because of the consumption of alcohol, and partly because it’s nice to show off my knowledge of certain subjects.
In the form of a texting game, Simple Quiz requires one of you to text the other a general knowledge question. The other person then has to try to give the correct answer, or, if they’re a little too dumb for that, the funniest joke answer imaginable.
Variations include switching this to a test of web browsing skills (for those with smartphones) as they try to find the answer online in the shortest time possible.
What Texting Games Do You Enjoy?
These texting games range from the simple to the more complex. But they’re all supremely playable between any two people with phones in their hands. And it doesn’t matter whether that’s a smartphone or a feature phone. With 160 characters at a time, you can have a fun back-and-forth between you and a friend or family member. Even your old nan with her original Nokia 3310 can join the fun.
These are 10 texting games you can play with friends, but I know for sure there are more out there just waiting to be discovered. If you have devised a texting game that has provided you with hours (or even minutes) of entertainment, then please let us know in the comments section below.