The TIC TAC TOE Drop 🎯 VS @mrblack
The TIC TAC TOE Drop 🎯 VS @mrblack

5 Pen And Paper Games That Are Better Than Tic-Tac-Toe

In retrospect, maybe that’s too low of a bar. So instead, let’s find some of the best pen and paper games instead.

These darn kids today with their iDroids don’t know anything about being bored. Back in my day, if you were stuck waiting somewhere, you counted ceiling tiles and we liked it! Pen and paper games aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be, but that doesn’t detract from their fun. Granted, I think most people today are more likely to have a way to charge their phones than have a pad of paper and a pen on them. Regardless, let’s take a look at 5 pen and paper games that are better than tic-tac-toe.

Granted, any game can be a pen and paper game, if given enough time.


Mastermind a decoding game for 2 players. One player writes down a secret 4 digit number. Then the other player has a set number of tries to guess the number.

To aid the guessing player, after each guess, the coding player tells the guessing player two things: how many digits of their guess are the correct digit and in the correct position and how many digits of their guess are the correct digit but in the wrong position.

It’s a fun little brain teaser that’s been used in a lot of other media.

Dots and Boxes

In my mind, this is the most classic pen and paper game. I loved playing it as a kid and I think it still holds up pretty well.

In Dots and Boxes, players draw a grid of dots, but the size doesn’t matter really. Players alternate turns drawing a line between any 2 dots. If a player completes the final line to enclose a box, the write their initial in the box, and take another turn. Once all boxes are claimed, whichever player claimed the most boxes wins!

For such a simple setup, it’s got a lot of depth and strategy.

Oh….well…. Never mind I guess.

Paper Soccer

Paper Soccer is a path building game for 2 players. The board is set up in a grid of dots with 2 ‘goals’ at either end.

The dot in the center of the play area is the ball. Players take turns moving the ball 1 dot, drawing a line as they do, tracing the path of the ball. If the ball hits the edge of the play area, or the path of the ball, it ‘bounces’ and the player takes another turn.

Here, black gets to bound the ball off of the wall, taking 2 moves.

But then white gets to move 3 times, bouncing off of the previous path of the ball.

Physics, causality and geometry don’t mean anything in Paper Soccer!

The first player to get the ball into their opponent’s goal wins the game!

Nested Tic Tac Toe

Or Naughts and Crosses, if you like. I know a lot of our readers come from across the pond. …Does anyone actually use the phrase ‘across the pond’ except Americans vaguely mocking British people?

Anyway, it’s got the same basic gameplay foundation as TTT, but with multiple layers. Nested Tic-Tac-Toe is a 3×3 grid of 3×3 TTT boards. Players alternate placing an X or an O in any of the spaces of one of the small boards. If a player can win that board, they mark that space on the larger board.

Here’s the main catch, though. Your move within the small board, determines on which board the other player will be able to play.

So X played in the upper right space of their small board. Therefore O will have to place anywhere on the upper right small board. Which will, in turn, determine upon which small board X will play. And so on. Such a simple game takes on an actual surprising amount of complexity.

If you only play one of these games, I do actually highly recommend Nested Tic-Tac-Toe.

What’s your favorite pen and paper game?

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