The basic play of Scattergories begins quite simply. Each player receives an answer pad, a list of categories and a pencil. The category list to use is decided upon randomly without any of the players looking at the different group listings. The twenty sided letter die is rolled revealing a letter. (The die is rather heavy, best to toss it onto a playing board. It might scratch a bare table).
Once the die is cast, the difficulty factor of the Scattergories game increases. Using the game's timer, the Scattergories players are given only three minutes to list as many words as possible using the letter revealed by the die as the first letter of each word. To make Scattergories even more interesting, each word must fall into one of the categories on the list.
When the sand in the timer runs through all players must stop writing. The players read out the items on their lists, one category at a time. If one player thinks other players are bluffing with some of their words, that player can challenge the words. The players circle the words on their lists so that no other players have and that have also not been challenged by any other players. Words that only one player has and that also survive any challenges score points. After all the words in all the categories have been checked, the die is rolled again to reveal a new letter and the play begins again. The Scattergories game is completed when three rounds have been played.
A few rules to remember: Roll the die again if the same letter appears twice in one game. Also, a word may be used in only one category. For instance, "ivy" could not be used both as a plant and as a woman's name. When a word is challenged, the decision as to whether it is acceptable is made by a vote of all the players. If the vote results in a tie, the word is thrown out. If two or more players are tied after playing three rounds, there is a one round playoff for all the tied players.
In long games or when the game has been played several times, allowing the Scattergories players to make up their own lists of categories can add to the entertainment.
At first, Scattergories may appear to be a game for which there are no specific winning strategies; however, there are ways to play which can improve a player's score. One of the best ways to raise a player's score when playing Scattergories is to think of very specific words. This is particularly useful in a category like "Colors". If the letter is "i", a color might be "ice blue" or "indigo". Try also to think of a more descriptive term that few players are likely to come up with. If the category is "Language" and the letter is "c", many Scattergories players may come up with Chinese. How many will come up with Cantonese? What if the next "c" category is "Toy"? Lots of people playing the Scattergories game might come up with "cap gun". Will more than one write down "choo choo train"?
The truly good Scattergories player will always be searching for the truly unusual and highly descriptive word that will set his list apart from all of his fellow players and give him the highest score.