How to Play Cranium: A Quick Guide for Beginners

Updated September 7, 2021
Cranium Board Game

Get ready to get silly with Cranium, Inc. and Hasbro's famous interactive board game, Cranium. All the rage of parties and end-of-school-year celebrations, this colorful board game has lost some of its massive popularity in the wake of newer card games like Cards Against Humanity, meaning you might not know how to play Cranium. Thankfully, the set-up is super easy to follow and the activities you're expect to perform (such as singing, acting, and so on) are appropriate for both kids and adults. So, crack out that big brain of yours and take on Cranium.

The Origins of Cranium

Founded by Richard Tait and Whit Alexander, two former Microsoft employees, the new board game developer entitled Cranium, Inc. released their flagship game, Cranium in 1998. As the 20th century turned into the Millenium, Cranium quickly gained popularity as a new and fun party game, which was a sillier alternative to the other team-oriented adult party games that were popular at the same time such as Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, and charades. By 2001, the game had received such acclaim that it won Toy of the Year award from the Toy Industry Association and went on to win the Vuoden Ajkuistenpeli award, the Finnish Adult Game of the Year Award, in 2003. Now, with several other Cranium iterations, the 20+ year-old board game still draws in new players every year.

Pieces Included in the Game

The board game itself comes stocked with multiple different pieces that allow up to four teams of players all of the things that they'll need to conquer the challenges that the game throws their way. Included in the original Cranium board game is:

  • 1 game board
  • 600 cards covering 30 subjects
  • 1 ten-sided die
  • 1 tub of clay
  • 1 timer
  • Pads and pencils
  • 4 play pieces

How to Set up Cranium

To begin a game of Cranium, players need to divide themselves into teams of two to four players. Since there's a wide variety of tasks, Cranium asks teams to complete. It's a good idea to assign team members to each team so that a broad variety of personalities and skills are in every group. Once teams have been decided, each team picks their color token and places it on the start space. Make sure that each of the four card boxes have been placed in their color-coded corners of the board and that each team has a pad and pencil/pen to complete challenges with before beginning play. Whichever team has the player with the next closest birthday gets to go first, and the turns proceed in a clockwise manner.

How to Play Cranium

To play Cranium, teams must use the die to move around the spaces on the board. Opposing team members are tasked with reading a card to the team who's turn it is that corresponds to the color of square that the team has landed on. If the team successfully completes the task on the card within the timed-limit (using the game's timer), they'll be permitted to roll the die and move to the next space on the board on their next turn. If the team is unsuccessful, then they'll have to try to complete a new card on their next turn in order to proceed forward. Keep in mind that every turn is finished after one card. These cards all come from one of the game's four sections:

  • Red - A team member is chosen to answer a variety of trivia questions in Q&A and true/false-style challenges.
  • Yellow - These challenges are completed by a team member who is chosen to complete word-oriented challenges such as words to unscramble, difficult words to spell, definitions to guess, guessing words with missing letters, and spelling words backwards.
  • Blue - A team member gives clues to their team members by pantomiming, whistling a song, or impersonating a celebrity.
  • Green - A team member gives clues to their team members by drawing, sculpting in clay, or drawing with their closed eyes.

If the team lands on a Brain Space, the team gets to choose the type of challenge that they want to work on. As the challenges are completed either successfully or unsuccessfully, teams will move around one of the two tracks on the boards. The "Normal Track" is the standard track that has more spaces to move across and is taken by teams who fail to successfully complete the first challenge presented to them on a Brain Space. Thus, to get on the "Fast Track," a team must successfully complete the first challenge while on a Brain Space. Teams on the "Fast Track" get to stay on that track until they come upon the next Brain Space. Both tracks lead to the eventual End Zone at the center of the board, where teams will compete to win the game.

Special Rules in Cranium

Although the game is incredibly intuitive, there are a few special rules that you should know before you start playing:

  • Rolling Purple - If you roll purple on the die, your team can move to the nearest purple Cranium space on the board.
  • Club Cranium Cards - Some cards will have a Club Cranium logo printed on the bottom corner. This means that all teams will play the card at the same time, and the first team to successfully complete it will be given an immediate extra roll.

How to Win Cranium

The winning team is the first team to complete one of each type of challenge in the center of the board and reach the End Zone. Once you've come to the center of the board, you'll roll the die to see which type of activity card your team will start with. If your team successfully completes the first corner of the circle, you can immediately move clockwise to complete the next one. Do this until your team either completes all four of the categories and moves to the center brain or you all fail one and finish your turn. If you're at the center brain, you have to complete one last card that the other teams decide upon, and if you do so first, you win the game.

Other Versions of the Game

The success of the game has resulted in the release of several variations of the game. Yet, Cranium, Inc. didn't stop by just building on the original game; rather, the company expanded upon the Cranium universe and has a whole host of fun, interactive games perfect for small and large get-togethers with family, friends, and everyone in-between. Some of the other titles in the Cranium universe include:

  • Cranium WOW - Geared towards serious Cranium fans, this game boasts 15 activities, 600 all-new cards, and collectible, customizable movers with hats.
  • Cranium Booster Box 1 - This booster box adds 800 all-new cards to the original game.
  • Cranium Booster Box 2 - This booster box adds 800 all-new cards and four tubs of clay to the original game.
  • Cranium Family Edition - A revision of the original game, this version is better suited for younger players.
  • Cranium Turbo Edition - This version adds six new activities to the original game for even more fun.
  • Hoopla - This cross between a card game and board game resembles Taboo and charades with its fun gameplay.

Master Cranium by Picking Your Brain

If you often find yourself bored to tears with the regimented way classic board games were devised, Cranium is definitely the game for you. Let your hair down and get ready to get silly because there's no shame in Cranium, as there's truly no limit to the things that the game will ask you to do. Yet, with a quick primer on the game's rules, you'll be ready to conquer planet Cranium in no time at all.

How to Play Cranium: A Quick Guide for Beginners