The Fishbowl Game: Rules & Best Way to Play

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Tired of losing Charades because of your bad acting skills but the rest wants to play something similar? The fishbowl game is the perfect alternative! Here, we will describe the complete set of Fishbowl game rules and gameplay so that you can start playing right away.

In the Fishbowl game, also known as the Salad Bowl game, you and your teammates score points by correctly guessing words. This makes it somewhat similar to Charades. However, in Charades you only use gestures. The Fishbowl game consists of four rounds each with their own way of describing the same word.

The first two rounds evolve around describing the words, the last two rounds of acting them out. Therefore, if you’re bad at acting out, you can always shine in the other rounds.

Your Game Information

Number of Players: 4+

Equipment: salad bowl, pieces of paper & pens

Duration: 30-60 minutes

Area: indoor

Tabletop: no

Drinking: no

How to Play the Fishbowl Game?

Before you start playing, there are some preparations to be taken. Instead of using ready-to-play words from the internet, all players write down five words that they think everyone knows.

Although this does require ten minutes of preparation, it really does add to the uniqueness of every single game.

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to setup the Fishbowl game:


  • Determine the teams. We advise to have at least three players per team.
  • For each player, cut or take 5 equally sized pieces of paper and a pen.
  • Each player writes down 5 words, one on each piece of paper.
  • All papers are folded twice and put together into a salad bowl or anything similar.
  • One player sets a one-minute timer.

That’s all! Of course, it’s always nice to have a drink for everyone and to put on some music in the background to create a good atmosphere.


fishbowl game rules infographic. Round 1 = describing, round 2 = describing with one word, round 3 = acting out, round 4 = acting out with one move.

Before starting the game, you determine the starting team. If you have some papers left, it’s most effective to draw numbers for the playing order.

The game is divided into four different rounds. Each round lasts until all cards have been guessed.

After each round, the teams count their points. At the end of the fourth round, all points are summed up and the team with the highest overall score wins the game.

Round 1: Freely describing

The first round, the describing round, is usually the easiest. Players pick a word from the salad bowl and describe it to their teammates. If the team guesses the word correctly, they receive that card and continue with the next one. This continues until the timer goes off.

After that, the turn goes to the next team.

There is one important rule: while describing, you cannot use that specific word, or parts from that word.

For example: the word is Finland. In this case, you cannot say ”it’s surrounded by water where those big fish with large fins live”. Similarly, you cannot say: “It lies above Poland.”

For the rest, you can be as creative as you like; just ensure that your teammates can guess the words!

After all words have been guessed, the teams count their number of successfully guessed words. One person then writes down the scores for all teams.

Subsequently, all cards are collected in the salad bowl and the next round begins.

Round 2: One-word describing

In the second round, you can only use one word to describe the word on your card. This means that everyone should pay close attention to the words that come by.

Tip: use a word that was used to describe the word in the first round. In this way, there’s a higher chance of your teammates remembering what it was.

After all words have been guessed, all teams count their cards and collect them in the salad bowl.

Round 3: Acting out

This round is very similar to Charades because you can only act out your word. You’re not allowed to make any sound. What’s different from Charades is that you generally don’t use the set of common Charades gestures; you just try to find a movement that properly displays the target word.

As with the previous rounds, this continues until all words have been guessed.

Round 4: One-movement acting out

This is the last and possibly the most difficult round. In this round, you can only use one single movement to act out your word. This means that you must freeze after making that movement, until your teammates guess it right.

Again, all cards are collected and counted after all words have been guessed.

The winner

After all four rounds, the teams sum up the scores from each round. The team with the highest total score wins the game!

Fishbowl Game Rules

To prevent players from having discussions on whether a word was described or acted out fairly, there are some general Fishbowl game rules to be followed:

  • Players take turns in describing or acting out. If, let’s say, the third player of your team finishes the first round, then the fourth player starts the second round.
  • You must write down words that most players are familiar with. If it appears that the majority of players don’t know your word, it can be excluded from the game.
  • If someone breaks a rule while it’s their turn of describing or acting, the turn of that team is either over, or the specific word doesn’t count. The outcome depends on the severity of the fault:
    • Round 1: using a word that contains part of the target word as described in the section ‘Round 1’ can happen while the team doesn’t notice this.
      • If this happens, the other teams can bring this up AFTER the minute has passed. In this way, you don’t interfere with the other team’s gameplay.
    • Round 2: if a player uses more than one word, their turn ends immediately.
    • Round 3: If a player makes a sound while acting out, their turn ends.
    • Round 4: If a player does not stick to the ‘one movement’ rule, their turn ends.
  • However, there are situations where the breaking of rules becomes a grey area. There is always room for discussion, and the eventual decision should be determined by the majority.

Useful Tips

  • Pay close attention to the words that come by, because this will increase your chances of success in future rounds.
  • Build upon the moves and descriptions of previous rounds, so that your teammates are more likely to recall the word.
  • Don’t be too strict when discussing the breaking of a rule. In some situations it can be difficult to determine whether a rule was broken or not. A good atmosphere is worth more than winning.

Wrap Up

To sum it up, the Fishbowl game is all about having a blast with your friends and family. Here, we’ve covered all the Fishbowl game rules you need to start playing right away.

This game stimulates social interaction and creates long lasting memories for all parties involved. Every single game is unique due to each player’s contribution of guessing words.

Game tip: Are you looking for other good, free-to-play conversation starters? You should try the Werewolves game! It’s a completely different kind of game, but very fun to play with larger groups. In this game, players find themselves in a mysterious village where some residents are innocent villagers, while others are cunning werewolves in disguise. The catch? The werewolves are trying to secretly eliminate the villagers, who, in turn, must figure out who among them is the hidden threat.

In case you want to keep things more simple, you can always go for a classic round of Charades, which only involves acting out words.

Do you have anything to add to this Fishbowl game rules guide? Let us know in the comments!

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