Just Don’t Panic: A Retrospective on Catch Phrase


A simple concept sometimes goes a long way.

I’m a fan of good party games. You’ve caught on to this already being the intellectual readers that you are. I’m ready to talk about yet another fantastic game to break out when friends and family come to visit. Time for Catch Phrase.

You ever played Catch Phrase before? I’d be shocked if you hadn’t, since Catch Phrase is a fairly popular game among the masses as it’s simple to grasp, fun to play, and can require zero set-up if you have the electronic edition, as I’m about to recommend. If you choose to buy Catch Phrase, I recommend getting the electronic version (see, what did I just say?). Either way though, you’ll find yourself having a lot of fun, but there are a few catches (oh puns!). I’ll get into those later. For now, rule time.

How To Play The Fair Way

The rules are brutally simple: Teams are designated, usually no more than two, and the game starts once someone sets the timer from “Safe” to “OMG I Lost!” The first player grabs either the word disc (in the non-electronic version), or the whole Catch Phrase game (in the electronic version), and sees a word/phrase. This is the word he needs to get his teammates to guess. He’s allowed to use anything to get his teammates to say the word, including gestures and impressions and such, though using any part of the word is forbidden (no saying “It contains peanuts” if the word is “Peanut Butter”), as well as giving the first letter of the word, the number of syllables, or a word that rhymes with the word. I mean, come on, you have to have some challenge to the game, right?

Once the player gets his team to figure out the word without cheating, he passes it to a player on the other team where they are tasked with figuring out a new word. Play continues like this until the timer runs out and someone throws the Catch Phrase disc in terrified surprise. Whichever team isn’t holding the disc when the timer goes off gets a point. You can play to whatever you like, but 10 seems to be a fairly standard number even though I’d recommend taking the less-conformist path and playing ‘til 17, just because.

When playing Catch Phrase, you have got to remain cool and collected, otherwise you’ll look like a goober and no one will like you. Or maybe you’ll just flub through your turn and cost your team a point, but the important thing is that you look cool to other people, so take a deep breath and picture everyone in their underwear if that sort of things helps you to relax. If that doesn’t work, you might as well get down to your underpants to relieve the tension.

Don’t Lose Your Cool

If you aren’t remaining cool and collected, you’ll have a hard time getting your brain to think of the perfect connection to help your team guess that your ramblings are actually pointing them toward saying “Richard Nixon.” If you happen to be a teammate guessing, you have an equally important job to manage since you need to be synced up perfectly with the guy trying to get you to say the Catch Phrase. Do not, and I repeat DO NOT keep guessing the same thing if it was incorrect. It doesn’t matter how much you THINK the other player meant to be saying “Rutabaga,” it matters that he was actually trying to say “Jimmy Stewart.” You’ve got to keep calm as well, and in fact, you’ve got to be the one insuring that your teammate holding the Catch Phrase disc is relaxed, so throw in a joke here and there and generally be encouraging.

Chances are you're probably more familiar with this version, of which I recommend.

Now we get to the seedier part of my article here: Cheating, also known as Advanced Strategies, though some will probably call you on cheating unless you have the quick comeback of, “No YOUR face is dumb.” No one can recover from that one.

Childish insults aside, you need to be synced up with your teammates on a level deeper than I may have implied earlier. You guys need to basically have a mind-meld, otherwise you’ll have to rely on pure skill, and who has time to attain that in today’s age? You have got to know the exact thing that gets your teammates to guess the proper word or phrase. If your friends have an inside joke about Jell-O pudding and the word happens to get brought up, bust out your inside joke. Your group will instantly know what to guess, plus the connection adds to team morale and that in turn makes everyone play better while simultaneously making the other team wish they were as good of friends as you guys are. If you have more time than you need, go through the game with your friends and develop code words for each word or phrase so you already know that if “Circus Tent” shows up your first clue is to say “Elephant Surprise.” Is this cheating? That’s for the other team to decide.

So as I also mentioned, there’s some hiccups in playing the game to it’s fullest, and they come as a result of the people you’re playing with. I’ve been attacking this article from the angle that the people playing are all close friend, but in the very likely situation that you are forced to play the game with unknowns for one reason or another, you may find yourself and the others in dangerous risk of losing. Why? Because someone who’s afraid to take risks in front of strangers is going to have a very tough time when they’re up to bat. They stumble over words more, they can’t think of connections with phrases, and they spend too much time bypassing words or phrases they don’t think they can do, ultimately resulting in the timer flipping out from the awkwardness.

I can’t quite do much to advise in these situations as I typically have no problem making a fool of myself, but I’m not everyone. Public speaking can be straight up horrifying for some people and the only advice I can give is to, once again, take a deep breath and try to relax. Besides, it’s just a game. What’s the worst that could happen, other than people thinking you’re a goober? I rest my case.


About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.


  1. I lost the instructions to my game and it is different from the one on the screen. there is a 2 at the top and a clock a 1 at the bottom an arrow. A very small hole on the left side.

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