Ask one person to volunteer and say one letter of the alphabet, eg Y.
Explain that each successive person will be invited to add a new letter to the end of an ever-expanding string of letters without forming a real word.
However, this rule does not apply to the first three letters, but this string of letters must still form a fragment of a real word, eg Y-O-U is a fully-formed real word, but is permissible because it consists of three letters.
From this point forward, challenge your group to add one letter (at the end of the string) at a time without spelling a fully-formed real word.
When an individual adds a letter that spells a real word, the round concludes and they earn one of the five letters of G-H-O-S-T.
When a person loses five rounds (and earns all five letters) they are eliminated from the game.
At any time, an individual may challenge the player before them to inform the group what possible word could be formed by the string of letters they have just added to with their nominated letter.
If the person being challenged mentions a real word, the challenger loses that round.
If the person being challenged cannot form a real word, ie they were bluffing, they lose the round.
If someone is bluffing and is not challenged, play continues.
New rounds start with the person who lost the previous round.
Play continues until one person in the group remains.
How To Play Narrative
This game is not for everyone, and most often, not young people. A strong command of the language is critical for people to feel success at playing it, win or lose. That said, with the right group, this game is awesome and often infectious.
Start by forming one or more small groups of 2 to 6 people. Ask one of them to volunteer and nominate one of the 26 letters of the alphabet.
Continue around the circle inviting each person to add one letter to the ever-expanding string of letters, as if spelling a word, but without completely forming such word.
The first qualifier to this rule is that it only applies after the first three letters have been mentioned. That is, the first three letters must be able to form a (longer) real word, but are permitted to be a real word on its own, eg Y-O-U.
Taking turns, each person keeps adding a letter. Adding to the example above, the fourth person may add T because it does not form a real word, Y-O-U-T.
At some point, an individual will be stuck for choices and will relent by adding a letter that does, in fact, form a real word, eg Y-O-U-T-H.
So, you may ask what stops someone from just adding any letter that does not, in fact, make a real word? They may be challenged and there’s a hefty penalty.
If the next person believes that it is not possible to form a real word from the string of letters they receive, they may challenge the previous person. If the previous person can offer a real word formed by using that string of letters, the challenger loses that round.
However, if the challenger is correct, and the previous person was bluffing, the latter will lose that round.
It’s worth noting, if someone is bluffing (they have actually formed a real word but no one has noticed) and is not challenged by the next person, they will have successfully navigated their way through that round. Good luck to the next person who now needs to add a new letter to what may be considered an unworkable string of letters.
In short, each person’s goal is not to complete a word with four or more letters.
When a person loses a round, they effectively exhaust one of their five lives by earning a letter, one of the five letters G-H-O-S-T. As soon as they lose five rounds (claiming all five letters of GHOST) they are eliminated from the game.
In all cases, a new round will start with the person who just lost the previous round by nominating a new letter.
The game continues until one person remains with at least one life left, eg G-H-O-S.
Practical Leadership Tips
G-H-O-S-T is ideal as a two-person game, or just as much fun with multiple players. Either way, wordcraft and humour are present.
There’s no magic to the limit of six people. It’s just that you want most people to participate in every round. As most rounds will complete with words of five or six letters before a real word is formed, group sizes of more than six may lead to disengagement.
To govern fair play, do not permit proper nouns, contractions, hyphens, acronyms or abbreviations. These are not considered real words anyway.
Clearly, your group needs a certain depth of vocabulary and cognitive ability to make this game work. To master this game, one must possess an ability to imagine what word any string of letters could form. To this end, the paper and pen version of the game can make this task a little simpler.
If you’re not sure whether a word is actually a word, you may rely on several sources, in both hard-copy and digital format. Typically, each source may vary, so the key to avoiding arguments is to agree on one single source to rely on from the beginning.
If you’re a word-buff, you may have noticed that the word GHOST is a product of the game.
You can learn more about the origins and variants of G-H-O-S-T here.
Pen & Paper: As above, but start with a blank piece of paper which is passed from person to person.
Reverso G-H-O-S-T: Players are allowed to add a letter before the string, instead of after, ie words can be built in either direction. This makes the game a little more magical. For example, Y-O-U may now become A-Y-O-U and then B-A-Y-O-U.
Super-Duper G-H-O-S-T: A player is permitted to add a letter anywhere within the growing string of letters. For example, the fragment E-R-A may be expanded by offering B-E-R-A, E-R-A-D, E-B-R-A, or E-R-M-A. Daniel Asimov is credited with having invented this version. It was played by his circle of mathematics grad student friends at University of California, Berkeley.
Spook: One at a time, individuals add one letter to a pool of letters rather than a specific string of letters. Therefore, no fixed order is assumed. Each player is challenged to add one letter (after the 3rd letter is added) to the pool and avoid completing a letter pool which can be ordered to form a word. For example, with the pool A-B-F-L-S-U, an individual would be unwise to add H because this pool would form the word BASHFUL. However, a person adding B could cite the word FLASHBULB if challenged.
Ghost Hecklers: Individuals who have been eliminated (a GHOST) are permitted to distract or heckle those who are still playing the game. If an active player talks or responds to a GHOST they too will be eliminated from the game. This version will accelerate the pace of the game.
Take a look at Four Letter Word to enjoy a simpler highly-interactive alphabetic game.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Scrabble would have to be one of the most popular and enduring letter and word games in the world. The seemingly endless array of words that can be formed from just 26 letters is quite amazing. Yet, unlike Scrabble, this next exercise will challenge you to keep adding letters and avoid making a word…
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Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this challenging, yet fun language game:
How difficult was this game?
What made the game fun?
Was it more difficult to avoid forming a real word, or thinking of a new letter that could form part of a real word?
What skills do you think are useful in this game?
Do these skills show up for us in other parts of our lives? How?
The inspiration for G-H-O-S-T was sourced from Seth Godin. He did not create it, rather he was simply willing to share it with his network and gave me permission to share with mine.