Illustrations by Joe Oesterle

We’re a strange breed. Anticipating natural and manmade disasters, we own a serious bug-out bag and actively hone every imaginable survival skill. Restless discontents? Nope. Guardians of the human race.

Our families are lucky to have us. Problem is our families don’t always feel that way when we’re in the zone. They’ll ask, “What’s up with this 25-pound bag of rice? These shelves of water, batteries, and knives? Why are you so worried about getting more guns and ammo? Can’t we just live like normal people?”

Actually, no. We can’t, because we know at some point in time the S will hit the fan. What we don’t know is when or how exactly. So, we prepare and practice. Ever wished there was a way to get the idea across without defaulting to the perilous preaching mode?

Guess what? There is! Games. Everyone loves to have fun, undertake challenges, meet goals, and win prizes. The best games require physical and mental strategies powered by a ruthless need to win. They teach hard-core truths about survival and integrity in the race for the prize and leave lasting impressions. They have a clear structure pointing to a tangible goal, like crossing a finish line or accruing the most points, while allowing room for innovative solutions.


You can choose any one of several themes from the list in our accompanying sidebar, and plug it into a template I call “Dispatch the Enemy and Head for Home.” Or, insert your own disaster scenario, line up the challenges at the various stations, and define the “home” goal. Major caveat: always end with prizes. We are a reward-driven species who revere medals, ribbons, and booty as proof of victory.

Setting Up the Game

“Dispatch the Enemy and Head for Home” can be played in spacious locations like a state park, your neighborhood, a campground, or a multi-level indoor stadium. The goal in this race is for each player is to hit prearranged stations, perform certain tasks, and make it “home.” However, the first to finish is not necessarily the winner of the grand prize, as the decisions made along the way and the supplies obtained play a factor. Here’s how to set it up.

Gather the Following Supplies:

  • Nametags for each player, attached to a single colored ribbon labeled with their name
  • Folding chairs or boxes to mark stations
  • Placards with that station’s task printed clearly
  • A poster (see “Starting the Game” section) outlining the goal of the game
  • Plastic grocery bags of varying supplies, one for each contestant, which vary greatly in value and quantity
  • A helper or two (or yourself) to play thugs who’ll waylay contestants near station five
  • A whistle or bell
  • The script
  • Optional (but way fun): “Unadvertised” water pistols loaded with water tinted by food coloring. Use various colors to identify who made the hits. Label them “free” and disperse them in random locations. Extra points awarded to players who claim a pistol and use it against thugs. Safe for all ages.

Set Up the Stations

Scope out a safe location and identify where you will set up roughly half a dozen stations, preferably 100 yards apart, with obscured views of each other. Six stations allow slow starters to catch up to sprinters as the challenges require increased levels of decision making.

Verify you have all your supplies packed and prepared, then assemble your stations on location. Ideally, you’ll do a walkthrough to confirm all is ready.

Each station should have a placard reminding the players what specific task they must complete before moving on. If they remember the instructions posted at station one, they will have an advantage and be able to complete their task quickly. In essence this is a race, but failure to complete a task “kills” them.

Don’t let any of the contestants see you shaping the game or they will have an unfair advantage.


Starting the Game

Once everything is ready, gather the contestants. Say, “This is a race and involves six stations. Each station has specific instructions describing the task you must complete before moving on to the next station. Make good decisions. The first to arrive home is not necessarily the winner of the grand prize. Don’t begin until I blow the whistle. The entire course is summed up here.”
Point to your previously prepared poster that reads:

  1. This is station one, “the Office.” Run to station two, “the Locker.”
  2. At the Locker, gather nametags with ribbons from the Locker. Run to station three, “the Parking Garage.”
  3. At the Parking Garage, drop nametag in box but keep the ribbon. The ribbon symbolizes cash. Run to station four, “the Store.”
  4. At the Store, select a plastic bag by determining its value and the value of its contents. Pay for a bag by depositing ribbon in box. Run to station five, “the Well.”
  5. At the Well, obtain jug of water. Race to station six, “Home.”
  6. Arrive safely Home.

This particular game begins at the Office, but you can switch up the scenario based on your preferences. Now, read the game script aloud. Sound serious. Straight, stern face. Here’s an example:
“Pay attention, employees. As your manager, I’ve been instructed to inform you of the nature of our situation. After I’m finished, you can ask questions.

“As you know, we’ve been without power for three hours. The computers have crashed and the phones are down. Now, we could sit in the dark and wait it out together but, due to health and safety regulations, I’ve been ordered to shut this place down. The National Guard is being deployed to maintain order and a curfew has been issued.

“You are to go home and remain there until further notice. So, gather your things from the Locker. Just a heads up: If you need a few things at the store, I suggest you get them sooner rather than later. However, it’ll only accept cash. Any questions?”

If not, say the following for added effect, “Before you leave, I want to thank everyone for your years of service. If I never see you again, it’s been a pleasure working with you. May God be with us all.”

Then blow the whistle and stand back. If you’ve decided to play the thug, don a mask and run to station five without being seen.

Game On!

Prepper games survival training competition emergency disaster scenario 6

Station two has a box holding nametags and ribbons, now intermingled to form a bit of chaos. Contestants should elbow in to snag theirs then sprint off to station three. At the Parking Garage, they must remove and retain the ribbon, then feed their nametag through a slot in a sealed box and race to station four. If they hastily forgot to remove the ribbon, they are now without “cash” and cannot “buy” supplies at the Store.

Maybe a loaded water pistol hidden in plain sight en route catches their attention?

At the Store, the ribbon is exchanged for one of several plastic grocery bags loaded with supplies. Careful! Players are allowed to peek before choosing a bag. Are the supplies useful? Is the bag solid? Extra points awarded to the one who chooses the best bag, yet doesn’t dally as thug(s) move in to prevent access to the Well.

Obstacles abound. Through water and mud, contestants hustle, jumping over logs and firing claimed water pistols. Clutching their solitary bag of supplies, each must grab a jug of water before the final stretch. Station six looms. The safe spot.

Have the participants wait with their bags intact until everyone completes the course. Then high five and gather in a circle. Thank them for playing and ask for feedback.

Check and evaluate the supplies in the grocery bags. How long would that last them? Did they feel frustrated, angry, confused?

Appoint a winner and bestow the grand prize. Remember, you can use this as a template for other disaster scenarios and make it more or less difficult based on the participants. You can award bug-out backpacks as consolation prizes for second and third place. These emergency backpacks will become the foundation for future games as your family and friends build skills and conspire to win the next round. Over time, you’ll find that you’ll convert more people to the prepper cause with fun and games than you ever could with preaching and lecturing.

Why It's a Good Game

  • Involves decision making, both critical and spontaneous
  • Urgency amid competition
  • Equal opportunity to win (you may have to insert a handicap to stronger players)
  • Achievable, defined tasks
  • A definite goal
  • Prizes
  • Ideally, self-learning moments that can be shared in a relaxed fashion immediately after the game. This is when you listen for the message you hope to have conveyed.

Issues to Avoid

  • Preaching, ranting, or overselling your personal convictions: No one likes being talked at.
  • Making the tasks too easy: This can lead to boredom and indifference to the ultimate goal of encouraging prepping.
  • Letting everyone win: Don’t hand out participation ribbons or last place trophies. It defeats any sense of reality.

Disaster Scenarios to Consider

The “Dispatch the Enemy and Head for Home” game we explain in the main feature is a template that can be tweaked based on your preferences and circumstances. Here are just a few of the many situations you can build on:

Prepper games survival training competition emergency disaster building collapse earthquake 7

Earthquake: A terrific rumble and a vibrating smartphone alert you to a giant earthquake. As the city disintegrates, you must collect your family, avoid looters, and rendezvous at the designated location.

Prepper games survival training competition emergency disaster city street night 8

Electromagnetic Pulse: While on vacation, the power goes out, the skies blacken and it’s every man and woman for themselves. Your paradise has been hit with an EMP attack. Make your way past road blocks, thugs, and car crashes to the safe zone. Collect extra points for finding cached food and water supplies by correctly using a tourist map to shopping districts.

Prepper games survival training competition emergency disaster fire 9

Invasion: News flash — the baddies are coming. You must pack a bug-out bag, head to the woods, and build a stealth shelter. Within the hour, the enemy will attempt to find you. Extra points will be awarded to contestants who brought food and water or have caches.

Burnt airplane wreckage at end of runway in Uruyen, Auyantepuy, Venezuela

Burnt airplane wreckage at end of runway in Uruyen, Auyantepuy, Venezuela

Plane Crash: Miraculously, you survive after an emergency landing in the middle of nowhere. Prepare a shelter, comfort the injured, and plan to signal for rescue. (Or play a variation by walking out with only the supplies you packed in preparation for a game entitled “On My Own.”) Hold this game in a semi-remote location where phone service may not exist. Extra points awarded for anyone who builds a fire or finds edible plants. Major points awarded for players who use a compass, show leadership, and maintain a calm comportment.

Cinematic Survival: An Indoor Game

Short on space, money, or manpower? Not enough time to plan an elaborate outdoor survival game? Try this.

Choose one of the many end-of-the-world movies to watch with the entire family. Inform them that a trivia contest will follow. Whoever supplies the most correct answers wins a juicy prize. As you watch, your job is to formulate at least 20 secret questions with corresponding answers in a private notebook. During the viewing, refrain from saying anything and outlaw any quips or wisecracks from all viewers. This no-comments rule keeps the game fair.

Family watching movie.

Here are some sample trivia questions: What color was the hero’s shirt? How often did the main female protagonist change clothes? What did they eat in the car? Over what span of time did the drama transpire?

Aim for fun questions with simple answers. Once the game is over and the prize awarded, cement the main themes of the grid-down apocalyptic drama by asking each member for their input. For instance, ask your son what he might have done differently. Ask your daughter if it was believable. There is no right or wrong answers.

Bottom line, don’t let movie night turn into an argument. The beauty of this indoor game is it can be played often with no overhead other than prizes, popcorn and drinks, and the purchase/rental of said movie. Plus, memory can be one of your most important tools to develop in a survival scenario. There won’t always be smart devices on hand or operable to save you from forgetfulness.

About the Author

Prepper games survival training competition emergency disaster scenario 5

A survival enthusiast for more than 20 years, Carol Wellman utilizes her passion for long-distance hiking on America’s most rugged trails to hone her wilderness skills and build mental, physical, and emotional stamina. Author, innovator, and backpacking guru, she designs much of her own equipment. Her latest accomplishments include an unsupported hike of the entire Appalachian trail in 133 days, and a 79-hour circumvention of Mount Rainier using the brutal Wonderland Trail. Her inspiration comes from the firm belief that women are masters of their own destiny, coupled with the fact that swift, stealthy migration is often the key to surviving a multitude of disasters.

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