I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There’s more than one way to play White Elephant. For that matter, there’s more than one name for White Elephant. Depending on where you live, you might call it Dirty Santa, Yankee Swap, or who-knows-what.
But that’s a subject for another article. In this article, I want to talk about how you can spice up your next White Elephant gift exchange by switching up the rules. If you’re a gift exchange veteran – or you’re just looking for the coolest version of the game – then these ideas are just for you.
Some of these White Elephant spinoffs vary from the standard game in minor ways, while others are wildly different. In other words, they’re all White Elephant with a twist, but some of the twists are bigger than others. Now, without further ado, here are some fun variations on everyone’s favorite gift exchange game.
1. Pick a Card
This game is just like regular White Elephant except for a couple of wrinkles. One is that the game starts with each player picking a gift from the pile and opening it (take turns so everyone can see what the gifts are). Next, players take turns drawing a card that tells them what action they can (or must) take. Once each player has drawn a card and completed the action, the game ends and players keep the gifts they’re holding.
Obviously, this game requires the organizer to have some special cards on hand. I’ve come up with my own set of cards you can print and cut out. Click the image below to download and print the PDF file.
2. Flip a Coin
The first player chooses a gift from the pile and unwraps it. Then, when the second player takes a turn, the twist comes into play. The second and each subsequent player flips a coin to determine what they must do:
Heads = Pick a gift from the pile and unwrap it.
Tails = Steal a gift from someone else.
The game ends when all the gifts have been opened. Note that this could involve going around the circle more than once. However, unless you’re using a trick coin, the game can only go on for so long before heads comes up enough times.
Here’s a printable you can use for the Heads or Tails game (click the image to view the PDF file):
3. Rock Paper Scissors
Rock Paper Scissors has long been a favorite method of settling disputes and alleviating boredom. In this version of White Elephant, any player attempting to steal another player’s gift must beat that player in “hand-to-hand” combat (if you catch my drift).
If the challenger loses, they don’t get the gift and the winning player can then challenge someone else. The turn is over when a gift is swapped or a winning player decides to stand pat. The game ends after you’ve gone around the circle and everyone has had a turn.
4. Hot Potato
Now we’re getting a little farther away from traditional White Elephant. In this gift-passing game, players simply pass a gift around the circle until a timer dings or a Christmas song stops. The player holding the gift then opens it and leaves the circle with the gift.
The nice thing about this game is that it’s very flexible. Depending on the size of the group and how much time you have, you can send one gift around the circle at a time, or multiple gifts. If you really want to speed things up, you can send all the gifts around at once.
5. Musical Chairs
This is much like the Hot Potato gift exchange, except the presents stay put underneath the seats and it’s the players who move around the circle. When the music stops, players take a seat and get to keep the gift underneath it.
If you want to stretch things out a bit, you can divide up the presents for multiple rounds. Players who sit in a chair with a gift are out of the game (keeping that gift). The other players continue to the next round. To add to the fun, you could hold out one gag gift for the player who’s last out.
There are various ways to add trivia questions to a White Elephant exchange. One option is to simply ask the questions and give the first person who answers the question correctly the opportunity to pick a gift or steal from someone else. However, this isn’t ideal for various reasons, including the fact that trivia pros can dominate the proceedings while others get left out.
A better approach is to require people to answer a question correctly before they can steal a gift from someone else. If they answer incorrectly, the person they’re challenging can then take a crack at it. If they answer correctly, their gift is “frozen” for the next turn (it can’t be stolen).
There are a few other options that are too involved to fully discuss here. One is a version of White Elephant using dice, which I cover in a separate article. Another is White Elephant with a gift theme, which itself opens up lots of different possibilities. Finally, there’s the Left-Right Game, which definitely deserves it’s own writeup.
I’d like to say that this covers all the different White Elephant spinoffs, but the truth is, there are many other ways to play. I hope you found a fun and interesting idea here. Best of luck with your gift swap – and Happy Holidays!