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What is the 21 Drinking Game?

If you’re looking for a simple drinking game where you don’t need additional materials such as cards, dice or a ping pong ball, the 21 drinking game is a classic party game that you can play at once without any additional set up. All you need are players and your drink of choice. 21 is great to play with two people or as groups!

21 is a counting game where players need to count from 1 to 21. The player who calls out “21” must drink before the next round starts! The great thing about 21 is that it is simple, and the rules are easy to customize if you want to make your game more challenging.

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How to play 21

Ready to play the 21 drinking game? First, you need to gather 2 or more people in a circle and prepare your drink of choice (beer, tequila, etc.). Make sure there’s enough alcohol for refills! Preferably the players sit down in a circle and everyone should be able to look into each other’s eyes. The more players, the better!

Playing 21 is actually pretty easy. The youngest player starts to count then all the players start counting aloud in a clockwise direction from 1 to 21. Every player says one number and the first one who says the number 21 drinks and makes up the first rule.

21 drinking game basic mechanics

As mentioned earlier, the main premise of the 21 drinking game is to avoid calling out the number 21. Sounds easy enough, right? It gets more complicated when players start adding in rules to make the game more exciting!

The game can end up with so many rules that players will end up breaking the rules or even forgetting them! Either way, players will be drinking throughout the game!

Here are the basic mechanics when you start playing 21:

  1. All the players need to gather in a circle.

  2. Players will need to count from 1 to 21 in a sequence.

  3. The first player in the circle starts by calling out number 1. Then the player to their right says, 2. The next player says 3 until the number 21 is reached.

  4. Once 21 is called out, everyone must drink and the player who called out 21 must make a rule about one of the numbers (aside from 21) for the next round.

For example:

  • When a player reaches 4, they need to dance without music instead of calling out the number 4. If they don’t follow this rule, they must drink.
  • For the next round, if a player does not dance when they reach the number 4, they have to take a drink and the count must start over. The next player will start from number 1 instead of 5.

Note: These are the most basic rules to the 21 drinking game if only single numbers are called out in sequence.

Additional rules on how to call out numbers

There are many ways to tweak a game of 21. One way is to add special mechanics on how players call out the numbers. The usual way is to call out the numbers from 1-21 in sequence, but players can call out different combinations to make the game more unpredictable!

If a player calls out:

  • A single number on its own (e.g. “7”) – play continues in the current direction
  • Two numbers in succession (e.g. “7, 8”) – the direction of play is reversed
  • Three numbers in succession (e.g. “7, 8, 9”) – the next player is skipped out

21 Drinking Game Rules

Since 21 is also a counting game, adding rules for numbers 1-21 is an easy way to make the game more interesting. You can assign rules for single numbers, rules based on odd or even numbers or even rules for numbers in a multiplication table!

You’ll be surprised how simple math skills disappear when people are drunk which makes the whole thing funnier!

Check out some of these 21 drinking game rules to get you started!

1. Instead of saying number 1, raise your hand.

Everyone must follow along. The last one to do it must drink.

2. Scream number 2 rather than staying it normally.

Double the volume for number two!

3. Instead of saying number 3, you say “tres”!

Switch up the language!

4. Whisper number 4 instead of saying it normally.

Don’t shout!

N e w !
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5. Everyone must clap at every even number.

The last one to clap must drink. Make sure to know what’s the difference between odd and even numbers!

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6. Everyone must stand up at 7, 14 and 21.

The last one to stand up must drink. Remember your 7 times table!

7. Switch the numbers 8 and 16.

If a player reaches the number 8, they need to call out 16 instead and vice-versa. The player who messes up drinks!

9. Replace the number 9 with the word “psycatgames”.

Just think that a cat has 9 lives. If you don’t call out “psycatgames” when you reach number 9, you must take a drink!

10. When you reach the number 12, you must clap 12 times.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands! If fail to clap 12 times, you must take a drink!

11. When you reach the number 21, choose a drinking partner and make up a new rule.

Share a toast with your best bud!

Additional 21 Drinking Game Rules

Aside from adding rules to numbers 1-21 in the 21 drinking game, you can also come up with special rules for just about anything! The more rounds you play, the more rules you will have to keep track off which will make it more chaotic for all the players!

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Here are additional 21 drinking game rules to make your game more exciting!

1. Nobody is allowed to call somebody with their name.

Anyone who does must drink. Just think that we’re all strangers.

2. Nobody is allowed to grab their phone.

Anyone who grabs their phone while the game is ongoing must drink! Keep your head on the game first!

3. The witch glass

Everyone who says a number which is divisible with 6 the player adds some of his/her drink to the witch glass which is in the middle of the circle. The player who makes the next counting error drinks all of it.

4. Nobody can point to another player.

If at any point the game you point at another player, you must take a drink.

21 Drinking Game Rule Ideas

There are many ways to come up with new rules for 21. There’s no right or wrong rule! That’s the beauty of it!

If you are looking for inspiration, here are some ideas on how you can come up with new 21 drinking game rules.

1. Switch a number to another number.

This can get confusing! When a player reaches a specific number, they have to say another number.

For example: When a player reaches number 3, they must say 4. If they don’t, they must take a drink.

2. Switch a number to any word.

This is pretty simple if you remember it! When a player reaches a specific number, they have to say a word assigned to that number instead.

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For example: When a player reaches number 4, they must say “bore”. If they don’t, they must take a drink.

3. Switch a number to a word in a specific category.

You’ll have to do a bit more thinking for this. When a player reaches a specific number, they have to say a word in a specific category such as capital cities, car brands, food, etc.

For example: When a player reaches number 13, the category is capital cities in the world. Instead of saying the number 13, the player must say a capital city like Copenhagen (capital of Denmark). If they fail to do so, they must take a drink.

4. Illegal actions, words, gestures

Come up with rules based on actions or words that players should not do or say. For example, if you say that the word “drink” is an illegal word, players who say “drink” during the game must take a drink.

5. Thumb Master

This is similar to a Kings Cup rule. The player who reaches 21 becomes the Thumb Muster. For the next round, every time the Thumb Master puts their thumb on the edge of the table, the other players must do so as well. The last player to put their thumb on the edge of the table must take a drink.

6. Question Master

The player who reaches 21 can become the Question Master. For the next round, the Question Master can ask questions to the other players. The other player that is asked a question needs to reply with another question. If the player answers the question, that person must take a drink.

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For example: If the Question Master asks Player Anna, “How are you?” and Anna answers, “I’m good.”, then Anna must take a drink! Anna should have replied to the Question Master with another question like, “What did you last eat?” to avoid getting the penalty drink.

7. Let’s get physical

When a player reaches a specific number, the player needs to perform an action instead of saying the number. If they say the number, they must take a drink.

For example: When a player reaches number 5, they need to do 5 jumping jacks!

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