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Southern Stories
Gift Games: Dirty Santa or White Elephant?
Nov 23/16

Gift Games: Dirty Santa or White Elephant? Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments

So how do we play the game? Let's assume we have 10 players. Someone writes the numbers 1 through 10 on ten little pieces of paper, places the 10 little pieces of paper into a bowl, and everyone draws a number. Before the game begins, if you and another player agree, you may exchange numbers if you wish. There is no need to keep who has which numbers a secret. In fact, it might help the game move faster if everyone knows who is next in sequence; and, it gives the players a chance to plan their strategies. Whoever is next is usually ready to jump in and start playing the game so it is usually not a problem with folks forgetting their numbers. A hidden advantage of knowing the sequence of the players is it gives those later in the sequence time to make a bathroom stop, get a drink refill or get seconds on desserts.

  • The 10 gifts are put in the center of the room or on a table where everyone can easily pick-up, shake, inspect and select a package.
  • Late arriving game players can add their gift to the pile of gifts when they come in and become number 11 and so on.
  • Player #1 picks a gift and opens it, shows it around, models it, reads it or demos it (depending on what it is of course).
  • The person with slip of paper #2 is next. That person can either select another unopened gift or take the gift #1 had opened.
  • If #2 takes #1's gift, #1 must select another unwrapped gift.
  • Next it is #3's turn. #3 has two choices. #3 could select a new unopened gift, or take an already opened gift (#1's gift or #2's gift).
  • Then, if #3 were to select #2's gift, #2 has two choices. #2 could select another unopened gift or select #1's unwrapped gift. However, a gift cannot bounce back and forth between two players without someone else taking possession of the gift in between. So, #2 cannot select #3's unwrapped gift because it was just previously taken from #2.

In its most basic form, the game rules are as follows: Each participant supplies one wrapped gift. The gifts are placed in a central location, and participants determine in which order they will take turns selecting them. The first person opens a wrapped gift, and the turn ends. On subsequent turns, each person can open a new present or gets the choice to "steal" another person's gift. When a person's gift is stolen, that person can either choose another wrapped gift to open or can steal from another player. The game is over when the last person goes. Generally, it is recommended to have at least six participants for the gift exchange party. With a larger group, game play may be more protracted.

White elephant parties have been known to result in playful rivalries between players trying to get sought-after items. Sometimes white elephant gift swaps turn into the trade of spirits.

Since the process of stealing can prolong the game and can confer distinct disadvantages to certain places in the order of play, multiple variations have arisen.

To speed up the multiple steals variant, there is often a certain number of steals allowed per turn. For example, after the third gift on a turn is stolen, the fourth player may be required to open a wrapped gift. An exception may be made for the last round (after all gifts have been opened), allowing an indefinite amount of swapping (see below). Most of the time, variants that allow multiple steals end without completing the game since it becomes too difficult to track the game context.

A certain gift may be particularly sought after, prolonging the game (almost indefinitely). To address this, two related variations have been widely adopted: First, no gift may be stolen more than once per turn. However, this gives a distinct advantage to the final participant. Because of this, a second common variation states that after a gift has been stolen a certain number of times (usually three) it is "frozen" (or "dead" or "safe") and cannot be stolen again.

Another popular variant no longer places a limit on the number of times a gift can be stolen but instead limits the number of times a person can be stolen from. Once the person reaches that number, the last gift they choose is automatically frozen to them. The frozen person can no longer be stolen from or steal from anyone else. The gifts themselves can circulate as often as possible unless frozen to someone, but a person cannot steal back the gift that was just taken from them.

Since the first player is the only one without the option of seeing any unwrapped gifts, some variations allow this player to take one final turn after all gifts have been opened and swap with any "unfrozen" gift.

One variation (usually only for games with serious gifts) is to mark gifts as suitable for males, females, or both, to guide people into selecting a more appropriate gift.

Another variation is to leave all the gifts wrapped until the end. Stealing is still allowed (up to a predefined number of times) but must be done while the gifts are still wrapped. In this case, there is no stealing after the wrapping comes off.

Another option is to keep the gifts anonymous. In this case, standard-sized boxes may be used, or gifts may at least be wrapped inside-out (the white portion of wrapping paper showing) in order to help maintain the anonymity.

Since only desirable gifts will be stolen, people with less desirable gifts may be essentially out of the game after opening one. One variation to rectify this is to allow no stealing during the opening of gifts but to have a subsequent stealing round in which the host secretly sets a timer, and everyone in the group takes turns trading their gifts with those of another. (Players may pass their turn.) This continues until the timer rings, at which time each player keeps what is in their hand. - wikipedia



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