August Larson
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'Tis the season for poorly-planned parties with family and friends or awkward office acquaintances! Many of us will undoubtedly be roped into a white elephant gift exchange whether we like it or not. Since there is no listing for the traditional "game" of a White elephant Gift Exchange, I decided to post my thoughts here to help any who may want to improve their holiday experience. Let me know your thoughts or suggestions on this variant, thanks!


As a child I enjoyed the White Elephant gift exchange that would occur at family Christmas parties. As an adult, I have had more than a few bad experiences and disappointments with this "game". Who knows what caused this change. Maybe maturity got the best of me. Maybe as I child I was wrapped up in the social aspect of the game more than the actual gameplay. Maybe because I'm a hobby gamer now, I don't find as much enjoyment out of the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the game. Maybe I'm just wrong.

Regardless of what changed between childhood and adulthood (I'm not talking about puberty) I don't currently enjoy White Elephant exchanges very much. The social aspect and gathering with family is fun, but there are two main things I don't find fun about this game:
1) Player elimination - you get a bad gift that no one wants and you're essentially out of the game.
2) Bad gifts in general - no one actually wants a sack of moldy onions or a broken home phone set (both are gifts I've actually seen at White Elephant gift exchanges). But nothing in the game stops people from bringing things that no one wants and making no one want to participate in the fun part of the game - trading.

So here is my fix:
Instead of entering the white elephant game as yourself, each player is given a unique and wacky persona which they roleplay throughout the game. These personas could be anything from Crazy Cat Lady to Depression-era farmer, Macabre Antique Collector, or Hoarder. Throughout the game you search for and trade for the gift you think best suits your character, not YOU. This would give place for that bag of onions to the farmer and broken phone to the hoarder if someone was still inclined (and enough a jerk) to bring those. No actual in-character roleplaying is required, just making decisions you think that character would make by stepping into a pair of very strange shoes.

Additionally, when shopping for a gift, you are assigned a to get something for a persona (this will have to not be your own persona). This rule can be left out to accommodate last minute entrants or to simplify.

At the end of the game, players are scored similarly to that for Telestrations (a loose, player-directed scoring), seeing how close they got to the gift they were actually intended to receive or that the group thinks suits that particular character. Ties are resolved (maybe through arbitration or rock-paper-scissors). In order of whichever player scored the most points, everyone gets to choose a gift from all available to keep (not for their character this time, but for their own personal self). Any "locked" gifts if you play that way are not honored now in this prize awarding phase. Or in the case that all gifts brought are absolute crap, maybe have some candy bars or other gifts as prizes to award.

Happy holidays, and I hope this variant brightens your white elephant experiences!
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Sam Phillips Beckerman
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colmustard21 wrote:
'Tis the season for poorly-planned parties with family and friends or awkward office acquaintances! Many of us will undoubtedly be roped into a white elephant gift exchange whether we like it or not. Since there is no listing for the traditional "game" of a White elephant Gift Exchange, I decided to post my thoughts here to help any who may want to improve their holiday experience. Let me know your thoughts or suggestions on this variant, thanks!


As a child I enjoyed the White Elephant gift exchange that would occur at family Christmas parties. As an adult, I have had more than a few bad experiences and disappointments with this "game". Who knows what caused this change. Maybe maturity got the best of me. Maybe as I child I was wrapped up in the social aspect of the game more than the actual gameplay. Maybe because I'm a hobby gamer now, I don't find as much enjoyment out of the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the game. Maybe I'm just wrong.

Regardless of what changed between childhood and adulthood (I'm not talking about puberty) I don't currently enjoy White Elephant exchanges very much. The social aspect and gathering with family is fun, but there are two main things I don't find fun about this game:
1) Player elimination - you get a bad gift that no one wants and you're essentially out of the game.
2) Bad gifts in general - no one actually wants a sack of moldy onions or a broken home phone set (both are gifts I've actually seen at White Elephant gift exchanges). But nothing in the game stops people from bringing things that no one wants and making no one want to participate in the fun part of the game - trading.

So here is my fix:
Instead of entering the white elephant game as yourself, each player is given a unique and wacky persona which they roleplay throughout the game. These personas could be anything from Crazy Cat Lady to Depression-era farmer, Macabre Antique Collector, or Hoarder. Throughout the game you search for and trade for the gift you think best suits your character, not YOU. This would give place for that bag of onions to the farmer and broken phone to the hoarder if someone was still inclined (and enough a jerk) to bring those. No actual in-character roleplaying is required, just making decisions you think that character would make by stepping into a pair of very strange shoes.

Additionally, when shopping for a gift, you are assigned a to get something for a persona (this will have to not be your own persona). This rule can be left out to accommodate last minute entrants or to simplify.

At the end of the game, players are scored similarly to that for Telestrations (a loose, player-directed scoring), seeing how close they got to the gift they were actually intended to receive or that the group thinks suits that particular character. Ties are resolved (maybe through arbitration or rock-paper-scissors). In order of whichever player scored the most points, everyone gets to choose a gift from all available to keep (not for their character this time, but for their own personal self). Any "locked" gifts if you play that way are not honored now in this prize awarding phase. Or in the case that all gifts brought are absolute crap, maybe have some candy bars or other gifts as prizes to award.

Happy holidays, and I hope this variant brightens your white elephant experiences!


I'm going to one this weekend as part of a larger party. I thrift games, so I have many I can contribute. I'm going to bring 5 extra gifts and tell the person running the event that at the end when everyone has been drawn there will be 5 Last Chance drawings, where if the person drawn is happy with the gift they already have, they may gift that draw to someone standing close to them that would rather trade.
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