A great activity for everyone


A Fun and Engaging Hand Game with Two Exciting Variations for Small Groups

By Jon Zajac

What is Thumbs?

The Thumbs icebreaker is a engaging game that I enjoy playing with a small group of people in an indoor setting. This activity is suitable for players of all ages, and it requires no materials, making it a convenient choice for impromptu gatherings. The purpose of the Thumbs icebreaker is to have players guess the total number of thumbs that will be shown by the group on each turn.

At the start of the game, players stand in a circle with their fists held out. On each turn, players take turns guessing how many thumbs will be displayed in total. Then, all players simultaneously show 0, 1, or 2 thumbs, and the player whose turn it is gets one point if they guessed correctly. The game continues with the next player in the circle making a guess.

The Thumbs icebreaker can be played using different rules for correct guesses. In one version, a player who guesses correctly removes one thumb from play until only one player remains, who is declared the winner. In another variation, the winning player gets to gently hit the other players’ forearms the number of times they successfully guessed. This adds a fun and lively element to the game, making it more engaging for players. Overall, the Thumbs icebreaker is an entertaining and easy-to-play game that can help break the ice and bring people together in a social setting.

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Rules for Thumbs

  1. Have a small group of 3-6 players stand in a circle, with arms out and fists closed.
  2. On each turn, every player shows 0, 1, or 2 thumbs repeatedly.
  3. The current player guesses the total number of thumbs shown by all players.
  4. If the guess is correct, they win that round and get the next guess.
  5. If the guess is incorrect, it’s the next player’s turn to guess.
  6. (Optional Rule 1) When a player guesses correctly, they remove one thumb from play. The first person to have zero hands left wins.
  7. (Optional Rule 2) When a player wins a round, they gently hit other players’ forearms the number of times equal to their successful guess. If they guess zero correctly, they can hit the maximum number of times.

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Materials needed for Thumbs

  • Small group of players: The Thumbs Game is best played with 3 to 6 people standing in a circle.
  • Arms and hands: Each player needs their arms and hands to make fists and show 0, 1 or 2 thumbs during the game.
  • Indoor setting: This game can be easily enjoyed in any indoor environment where players can comfortably stand in a circle facing each other.

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Setting up for Thumbs

To set up for the Thumbs icebreaker activity, you will need to ensure that you have a small group of 3-6 players ready to participate. Find a suitable indoor location with enough space for the players to stand in a circle facing each other. Before starting the game, explain the rules and guidelines clearly to all participants. It’s essential to establish the correct guessing procedure, whether it’s removing a thumb or gently hitting others’ forearms, as well as any other variations you would like to incorporate. No materials are required for this activity, so once everyone understands the rules, you can begin playing the Thumbs Game.

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How to play Thumbs

  1. Gather Players: I gather a small group of 3-6 people to play the Thumbs Game. We stand facing each other in a circle, with our arms out and making a fist.
  2. Decide Turn Order: I decide who goes first. This person will be the one guessing how many thumbs will be shown during their turn.
  3. Show Thumbs: On each turn, we all repeatedly show 0, 1 or 2 thumbs. We have a split second to show our thumbs when it’s someone else’s turn to guess.
  4. Guess the Total: The player whose turn it is guesses how many thumbs will be shown in total during that round. They can choose any number from 0 to the maximum possible number of thumbs (e.g., if there are three players, the maximum would be six).
  5. Compare Guess and Total: If our total number of thumbs matches the guess, the guessing player wins that round and gets the next turn. If not, it’s the next person’s turn to guess.
  6. Variation 1 - Remove a Thumb: When I win a round by correctly guessing the number of thumbs, I remove one thumb from play for the rest of the game. The first person to have zero hands left wins the entire game.
  7. Variation 2 - Hit the Others: In this variation, when I win a round, I am allowed to gently hit the other players’ forearms the same number of times as the number I successfully guessed. If I guess zero correctly, I can hit the others the maximum number of times. This version is a bit more lively and interactive but should be played with caution to avoid causing discomfort or injury.

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Benefits of Thumbs

  • Develops Numeracy Skills: Playing the Thumbs Game requires players to quickly add up the number of thumbs being shown, which can help improve their mental arithmetic abilities.
  • Enhances Focus and Concentration: In order to guess correctly, players need to pay close attention to what the other players are doing, which can help improve focus and concentration.
  • Encourages Quick Decision Making: With only a split second to decide how many thumbs to show, players must make quick decisions, which can be a useful skill in many real-world situations.
  • Fosters Social Interaction: Standing in a circle and taking turns guessing numbers encourages social interaction and communication between players.
  • Promotes Fun and Engagement: The Thumbs Game is a simple and engaging activity that can help create a positive and enjoyable atmosphere, especially in indoor settings.
  • Develops Prediction Skills: By trying to guess the number of thumbs that will be shown, players are practicing their prediction skills, which can be useful in many areas of life.
  • Encourages Competitive Spirit: The game’s structure encourages a healthy competitive spirit as players try to outguess each other and win rounds.
  • Provides an Opportunity for Non-Verbal Communication: Players have the opportunity to communicate non-verbally through their thumbs, which can help improve their ability to read body language and interpret signals.

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Skills built with Thumbs

  • Communication Skills: By verbalizing their guesses, players practice articulating their thoughts and predictions clearly.
  • Numeracy Skills: The game requires players to quickly add up the number of thumbs being shown, which can help improve mental arithmetic abilities.
  • Attention to Detail: Players must pay close attention to the actions of others in order to accurately guess the total number of thumbs.
  • Decision Making Skills: In a split second, players must decide how many thumbs to show, forcing them to make quick decisions based on limited information.
  • Reaction Time: The fast-paced nature of the game requires players to react quickly to changing circumstances.
  • Social Awareness: By observing and responding to the actions of others, players can improve their ability to understand and navigate social situations.
  • Hand-Eye Coordination: In the variation where a player is allowed to hit others based on their successful guess, players must accurately aim and time their movements.

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Why I like Thumbs

I appreciate the simplicity and flexibility of the Thumbs icebreaker game. With no required materials and the ability to be played by people of all ages, it’s a convenient and inclusive option for various settings. The small group size encourages close interaction, which can help build relationships and foster teamwork among participants.

What I like most about this game is its blend of strategy, probability, and quick decision-making. These elements create an engaging experience that keeps players on their toes and encourages active participation. Additionally, the two alternative rules for correct guesses – removing a thumb or gently hitting others – add variety and excitement to the game, catering to different preferences and group dynamics.

The Thumbs icebreaker’s low mess factor and indoor suitability make it an ideal choice for various occasions, from casual gatherings to more formal events. Overall, its accessibility, strategic depth, and adaptability make the Thumbs icebreaker a game I enjoy and often recommend.

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Tips for making Thumbs more inclusive

  • Tip: Make sure to explain the rules clearly and give examples. Using clear language can help ensure that all players understand how to play and can participate fully.
  • Tip: Encourage players to guess a range of numbers instead of just one specific number. This can make the game more inclusive by giving players who struggle with quick math a better chance at winning.
  • Tip: Consider implementing a rule where players must give reasons for their guesses. This can help encourage active listening and engagement from all players, making the game more inclusive.
  • Tip: Be mindful of physical abilities and limitations when playing the “Hit the Others” variation. Allow players to opt out of this version or modify it as needed to ensure that everyone can participate comfortably.
  • Tip: Consider using a quiet signal (such as counting down from three) instead of shouting “Go!” to start each round. This can help create a more inclusive and welcoming atmosphere by preventing sudden loud noises that may be uncomfortable for some players.

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Reflection questions for Thumbs

  1. What did you think of the Thumbs game? This question can help facilitators gauge participants’ reactions to the icebreaker and understand what they enjoyed or found challenging about it.
  2. How did you approach making your guesses during the game? This question can encourage participants to reflect on their strategy and decision-making processes, as well as highlight any patterns or trends that emerged during the game.
  3. Did you find it easy or difficult to keep track of the number of thumbs being shown? Why or why not? This question can help facilitators understand how challenging the game was for participants and identify any areas where they may have struggled.
  4. How did it feel to win or lose a round during the game? This question can help participants reflect on their emotions and reactions to success and failure, as well as encourage empathy and understanding towards others’ experiences.
  5. What strategies did you use to try to win the game? Did they change over time? This question can help participants think about how they adapted their approach based on the actions of other players, as well as highlight any successful or unsuccessful tactics.
  6. How did you feel when you correctly guessed the number of thumbs being shown? This question can encourage participants to reflect on the satisfaction and confidence that comes from making a correct guess, as well as how it felt to be recognized for their accuracy.
  7. Did you notice any patterns or trends in the way other players made their guesses? If so, what were they? This question can help participants think about how others approached the game and identify any commonalities or differences in strategy.
  8. How did it feel to be hit on the forearm during the second version of the game? Did you find it motivating or distracting? This question can encourage participants to reflect on the physical sensations and emotions associated with being touched, as well as how it affected their performance in the game.
  9. How did the Thumbs game compare to other icebreakers or games you have played in the past? This question can help participants think about what they enjoy most in group activities and identify any features that make certain games more engaging or memorable.
  10. What insights or takeaways do you have from playing the Thumbs game? How might you apply them to other situations or contexts? This question can encourage participants to reflect on the broader implications of the game and think about how they might use similar strategies or approaches in their personal or professional lives.

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About the author

Jon Zajac

Jon Zajac

Founder & Chief Icebreaker

I started Icebreaker Spot because I truly believe that strong connections are the foundation of successful teams. I wanted to create a platform that would make it easy for people to find and share icebreakers and team building activities, empowering them to build trust, foster collaboration, and ultimately, achieve greatness together.

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