The Game
1. "The Game" 2.  Dirty Santa 3.  Chinese Exchange 4.  Yankee Exchange 5.  Yankee Swap 6.  The Present Game 7.  The White Elephant Exchange 8.  Stealing Santa 9.  Chinese Christmas 10. Rob Your Neighbor 11. Dirty Christmas 12. Screw Your Buddy 13. Cajun Christmas 14. Backward Auction 15. Chinese Auction 16. California Swap 17. Steal-A-Thon 18. Cut-Throat Christmas 19. Red Neck Santa 20. Rob A Santa 21. Scotch Auction 22. The Grinch Game 23. Indian Bingo 24. The Pirate Game 25. Screw Your Neighbor 26. Chinese Ladder 27. Dirty Bingo 28. Eskimo Bingo

This web page was last updated

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Some background:  We have been playing a game at Christmas parties, annual functions, and other events with large groups of people. It is something we really enjoy and have gotten pretty good at skill wise. We shop a year in advance for the gifts that are exchanged in this game to help make it more fun. A few years ago we played the game and the rules were not followed the way we are going to suggest, and the game was a disappointment. Also, many folks can't seem to remember the rules and want to change them in the heat of the game. We had never seen the rules in print. So we decided to put them here in the hope that others will discover the game and hopefully enjoy it as much as we do. And, that the "rules" will be here before we go to our next party so we can't be accused of changing the rules or making them up as we go along. <G> If you are reading this web page for the rules mostly; please read One closing comment from the peanut gallery. <g> at the bottom of this page as this is most important.

We have played this game with as few as 6 people and as many as 50. It doesn't seem to really matter how many except it takes longer with more people obviously. How long also depends on the gifts your party guests bring and how much they are into playing the game. If you get really good at playing this game and explaining it to the new folks you could find yourself being invited to even more games as the one who introduces the game and explains the rules to everyone else.

The game consists of everyone bringing a gift (some hosts set up a dollar amount that the gifts should not exceed) and everyone ends up at the end of the night taking a gift home. What kind of gift works well?  Something fun, different yet unique, and not embarrassing (in good taste).  It isn't a matter of money usually that makes a particular gift a hit. The importance of the selection of gift each player brings to the game cannot be stressed enough. This is the key to the game in our opinion. For example, I remember the year I brought a pair of Mallard Duck Slippers as a gift for the game. I found them NEW and highly discounted for two dollars. But, I had a hunch they might be a hit at the game. They were exchanged and owned by practically everyone until they were finally retired. Some gifts you might not want, but if others want the item you can use the item to help you get what you do want. Another gift I brought one year I found at Barnes and Noble seven months earlier. It was a book titled Soiled Doves by Anne Seagraves.  A historical text about prostitutes of the Old West. Paperback - 175 pages (February 1994) Wesanne Pubns; ISBN: 096190884X ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.56 x 9.04 x 6.05  It was fun because the one who took it home (finally) was a Grandmotherly type woman. Try to keep the cost about $10 to $15; or, whatever the hosts have set as the dollar limit for gifts. Shopping in advance all year long can help cut the cost if you play the game with large families groups and you, as parents, are responsible for providing gifts for your family members to play the game.

Gift wrapping should be first class as it helps folks decide which gift to select. If it is a gift best for a man or woman it can be labeled as such, but it is not necessary to label the gifts. If everyone brings a well thought out gift the game can become a really memorable evening. Couples learn to work as a team.  I have seen singles, who have never met before the game started, team up to help each other get what gift they each wanted (AND, this is done without even talking to each other directly).
Let's get started. 

So how do we play the game? The wrapped gifts are put in the center of the room or on a table where everyone can get to easily to pick-up, shake, inspect and select. (Late arriving game players simply add their gift to the pile of gifts and they are automatically in the game.) Most folks draw numbers to determine who plays first, second, third, etc. And, Erik wrote that, "We play a shortened game of Bingo to determine the order of gift receipt instead of drawing #s. (Thus the origin of Erik's name for the game, "Indian Bingo".)

We played the game once where the hostess stood up and explained the rules before we started. The last thing she said was, "So we will start with the first person to my right unless we have a volunteer." We had no volunteer so the person to the right went first and after the first person selected a gift, unwrapped it and showed it around. The hostess asked, "OK, who brought that gift because YOU are the next player." And so it went for the rest of the game. Whoever brought the last gift that was opened was the next player. Everyone finds out who brought each gift. So if you saw something you liked, you can go to that person later and ask where they found that item. It is also a great way to meet someone new perhaps and gives you something to talk about if you needed an excuse to strike up a conversation. A player cannot open the gift he or she brought because that leaves no one to follow him or her. Also, the big advantage to having the next player be the person who brought the previous gift is it lets people know the gifts they bring will be shown to others and they will be given credit for their choice of gift brought to the game, the wrapping job they did on the gift they brought will be acknowledged and they will be exposed if they brought a dud gift, re-gift a gift, or bring a dud gift from last year's game.  This keeps the quality and interest of the gifts high by using this method of playing sequence.

Player #1 picks a gift and opens it. #1 shows it around, models it, reads it or demos it depending on what it is of course. Food and drink gifts are generally left sealed after unwrapping. The person who brought the first gift becomes the second player. That person can select another unopened gift (and open it, show it around, model it, read it or demo it) or take the gift #1 had opened. If #2 takes #1's gift, #1 must select another unwrapped gift. Whoever brought the gift that #2 opened is next as player #3. #3 has two choices. #3 could select a new unopened gift, or take an already opened gift (#1's gift or #2's gift). Then, if #3 were to select #2's gift, #2 has two choices. #2 could select another unopened gift or select #1's unwrapped gift. However, #2 cannot select #3's unwrapped gift because it was just previously taken from #2. A gift cannot bounce back and forth between two players without someone else taking possession of the gift in between. 

Player #1 did bring a gift to the game and it is usual during a normal game for player #1's gift to ultimately be chosen by another player which would normally lead to player #1 being the next player (unless the last gift opened in the game happens to be player #1's gift). When this happens simply go the first person to the right of the first player who still has the gift they brought to the game still in the pile of unwrapped gifts. This situation only comes up once during each game and needs to be dealt with because player #1 went first without his or her gift having been opened at the time. If you don't understand this paragraph don't worry about it. Just play the game. When this situation comes up it will trigger this paragraph and all you have to remember is take the first person (who has not played in the game yet) to the right of the first player as the next player.

Yes, we know most folks have played this game by drawing numbers to so see who goes first. While this is the most common method, it doesn't let you know who brought which gifts. 

So each player (after the first player) has two choices. When it is your turn, you take a new unopened gift from the table or you take someone else's opened gift that you already know what it is. When someone takes your gift (let's say the "Mallard Duck Slippers") from you, you CANNOT immediately turn around and take the "Mallard Duck Slippers" back from the same person who just took them from you. You either select a new unopened gift or take a third party's already opened gift. And, let's say you ended up with a "music CD". Later someone takes your "music CD" so NOW you can go back to the person who previously took your "Mallard Duck Slippers" and take them back. When you take them back this is the second time you have had possession of the "Mallard Duck Slippers".

Sooner or later someone else takes your "Mallard Duck Slippers" away from you again. This time you take someone else's gift, a bottle of rare Scotch. Then yet another person takes your bottle of rare Scotch from you and now you can go back and get your "Mallard Duck Slippers" again. By this time, since the "Mallard Duck Slippers" were taken from you last, they might have been "owned" by several other players and in some cases more than once. Now this is the third time you have owned your "Mallard Duck Slippers" and this time they are yours to keep. The "Mallard Duck Slippers" are retired and you are now out of the game. The BIG confusion for some folks seems to be the third time the "Mallard Duck Slippers" are exchanged that the third owner gets to keep them. Not so. The third time you get the same gift back into YOUR possession the gift is retired. Using the 10 player game in our example, each player could take temporary possession of the "Mallard Duck Slippers" twice for a total of 20 exchanges. But, if you played by the 3rd owner rule you would only have 3 exchanges. The third time-same owner rule allows more players to have a chance at the "Mallard Duck Slippers". This also has a hidden purpose in forcing everyone to keep track of who has had possession of what gifts and how many times. This makes for more active involvement rather than passive involvement and is one of the keys to the games popularity. Make sure everyone at the start of the game understands the difference between the third time-same owner rule vs. the third time rule. We guarantee <G> the third time-same owner rule will be challenged the first time a gift is exchanged for the third time. As a matter of clarification it is possible for a gift to be stolen from enough players during one round of play to retire it.

The fun begins when folks begin to work as teams to get what they want. Let's say Jackie knows I want those "Mallard Duck Slippers". And, someone just took them away from me for the second time. And, I just ended up with a store bought fruit cake so there isn't much chance of my getting another chance at the slippers unless I can get someone to take my fruit cake. Several turns later it is Jackie's turn because someone just took her gift from her.  If she takes the "Mallard Duck Slippers" (with the intention to give them to me later because she saw that I wanted them) from the person who owns them now, someone else will just turn around and take them away from her. So she does the following. Jackie takes the fruit cake from me which allows me to take the "Mallard Duck Slippers" from the current owner...........only this time, this is my third time of owning the slippers, I get to keep them, the slippers are retired, and I get what I wanted (thanks to Jackie).

As each person has their turn you will find those with the fruit cakes waving them wildly in the air in the hopes you will select their "prize" so they can play again and get a better gift. And, the folks with the bottle of rare Scotch hide the bottle under the armrest of the chair in the hopes that folks will forget about it and they will get to take their "prize" home. We have heard of one person actually taking their gift out to their car before the game was even over (this is a no-no of course).  So before the game starts it is usually necessary to remind everyone that all gifts must stay in the room and all gifts must remain in sight for all players to view in order to help them each determine how they will play their turn out. It goes without saying that retired gifts are the exception to this rule.

It is really a hoot when someone opens a fruit cake and everyone immediately recognizes it from last year's game; or someone brings a bottle of rare Scotch, that had been given to them and they don't drink Scotch, so the bottle makes a perfect gift for the game.

So when does the game end? Using the 10 player game in our example, when it gets down to the last player there will be one wrapped gift left in the center of the room or on the table. Player #10 has the same two choices that everyone else did (except Player #1). Player #10 can take the last unopened gift on the table, show it around, model it, read it or demo it etc. and the game is over. OR, player #10 can take someone's unwrapped gift (except retired gifts) and that starts a final round of stealing ................. ending when one of the players who has their unwrapped gift taken from them decides to open the last wrapped gift on the table thus ending the game.

In conclusion, I'm sure this game has a name, but we have never heard it called anything other than "The Game". If you know anything about the origin of the game or have a name for the game (and possibly the origin of the name) or have any strategies for the game or other rules that might work even better we would appreciate hearing from you. You can email us below or from any web page on our web site. We hope you enjoy playing the game. We would appreciate hearing about your experiences. We have email links to both of us at the bottom of this page.

Jeff and Jackie

Most of you know "The Game" by a different name. Here is a list of other names for "The Game". If you know "The Game" by a name that is not listed below, please take a moment and email us with the name you use and any information you might have on its origin. We are particularly interested in learning anything we can about the origin of the game itself. Where might it have originated? When might it have started? If you have any information along these lines we would like to hear from you.

1.  "The Game"
2.  Dirty Santa
3.  Chinese Exchange
4.  Yankee Exchange
5.  Yankee Swap
6.  The Present Game
7.  The White Elephant Exchange
8.  Stealing Santa
9.  Chinese Christmas
10. Rob Your Neighbor
11. Dirty Christmas 
12. Screw Your Buddy
13. Cajun Christmas
14. Backward Auction
15. Chinese Auction
16. California Swap
17. Steal-A-Thon
18. Cut-Throat Christmas
19. Red Neck Santa
20. Rob A Santa
21. Scotch Auction
22. The Grinch Game
23. Indian Bingo
24. Pirate Game
25. Screw Your Neighbor
26. Chinese Ladder
27. Dirty Bingo
28. Eskimo Bingo

We realize that some of these names for the game are not politically correct, nor accurate representations of the spirit of the game, nor necessarily in good taste. We have them here because folks usually find this web page via search engines after typing in the name of the game as they know it to be. If you are offended by these names simply call it something you ARE comfortable with. As for us we like the name "The Game". As the years have gone by we have come to the conclusion that "Dirty Santa" seems to be the second most popular name for "The Game" based on your emails over the years.


We had the opportunity to play the game twice in December 2006. One time the rule followed was the third time-same owner rule to retire a gift. The second time we played the game a week later with a different group the third owner was all that was needed to retire a gift.  There was much more stealing and strategy in the third time-same owner game and in my opinion it gave players the opportunity to have more control over their final gift as well as having more opened gifts to chose from at any one time. The third owner method retires gifts sooner and the game takes less clock time.

If you open a really nice gift and you play by the third owner rule to retire a gift, there is very little chance you will be able to leave at the end of the evening with that gift. It will be stolen from you during the game, and it will be retired before you get the opportunity to own it again. However, if you play by the third time-same owner rule you stand a chance of getting the gift you want if you pay attention to what other people want and you help them get the gift they want. The strategy and working with other players to get what you each want while on the fly during the game is what it is all about. This is where the challenge comes into play.

If you are in hurry, just put the gifts in a pile and everyone who brought one takes a different one home at the end of the evening. But, if you want to PLAY the game the third time-same owner rule is the way to go.

Unless you have personal experience playing the game both ways with both sets of rules I strongly suggest you use the Third Time-Same Owner rule to retire a gift. It makes a big difference in the success of the game. That having been said, if you are playing with several generations of family and have players from young children who can't appreciate the strategy involved or have seniors who perhaps are just doing the best they can by being there, then I CAN see where the third owner rule might be preferable. 

One closing comment from the peanut gallery. <g>  Over the years our largest amount of email has been centered around the first player only having one choice. The first player only gets to open a gift and if that gift is a dud, the first player is out of the game as to possible further participation. But, folks don't seem to realize that this can happen to any player who opens an unopened gift and finds that it is a dud. That player is also out of the game as to possible further participation.

As a result of this pity for the first player a whole bunch of special rules, swaps at the end of the game, extra gifts added to the pile at the start of the game or added at the end of the game have been suggested. This gets complicated, involved and has its own set of problems, misunderstandings, hard feelings and surprises.

The person who goes first is a volunteer usually. There is no shortage of volunteers to go first usually for one main reason. The first player gets to play first and is then FREE to do other things the rest of the game. Sometimes someone has a previous commitment and needs to leave early and this is another good person to be the first player. Cooks make good first players as they want to be back in the kitchen as soon as they can.

The first person has the pick of the litter of all the gifts. NO OTHER PLAYER HAS THIS ADVANTAGE. In all the games I have played in we have never had the first player feel cheated. I usually volunteer to go first since I usually use myself as a way of explaining the rules to the new folks. Any player could select a dud gift whether they are the first or last player. This is the reason the gifts should be well thought out. They need to have broad appeal to most people and be something worth stealing (playing the game for).

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This web site was last updated

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Changes: Thanks to Ramona for sending in "Dirty Bingo"
Thanks to Sandee for sending in "Chinese Ladder".
Thanks to Jenny for sending in "Screw Your Neighbor"
Thanks to Kerrianne for sending in "The Pirate Game"
Kerrianne belongs to a boat club where the members steal from each other during the game ...thus the name Pirate.