Our Super Geeky License Plate Game

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Image Sources: alabama.gov, alaska.gov, arizona.gov, arkansas.gov, colorado.gov, Jerry "Woody", Jaycarlcooper, Tontig Fox, Zul32, Mister Upstate, Lieutenant Ramathorn
Image Sources: alabama.gov, alaska.gov, arizona.gov, arkansas.gov, colorado.gov, Jerry “Woody”, Jaycarlcooper, Tontig Fox, Zul32, Mister Upstate, Lieutenant Ramathorn

Do you and your kids play the License Plate game? A while back, GeekMom Lisa Tate wrote about her family’s version of the game in a post about different road trip games.

When my youngest was 4 or 5, we started playing a modified version of the License Plate game. The basic version, of course, is to identify the state that each car or truck’s license plate is from.

My kids can get kinda competitive, so to prevent them from turning on each other, it’s always kids versus grownups. Or, if they like, they can try to beat their previous day’s score. Usually, though, they’re content to beat us.

Our Crazy Convoluted Rules

We’ve integrated a little geography lesson into our game by offering one point for each state border crossed to reach that state (in other words, in Ohio: Ohio plates = 0 points; Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia, and Kentucky = 1 point; New York, Illinois, etc = 2 points; and on and on). In other words, you get more points for cars from further away. NOTE: points are awarded for the minimum number of borders crossed.

Image Credit: Eric Pierce
Image Credit: Eric Pierce

One of my boys once got this Melissa and Doug License Plate Game board, which works well for a two-player competition. Or as a reference map for determining point values.

It shows the image of the license plates, then two different colored sides to keep track of who found each plate first. It doesn’t quite fit into how we play the game, but it can be a useful reference for license plate images.


Even if you’re the first to spot a state’s plate, someone can steal your points by naming the capital. (There are apps that let kids quiz themselves on the capitals.) I remember when we first started this game, and I could keep my eyes on the road and score plenty of points just by naming the capitals (I’d pause long enough to give them a chance, of course, but ultimately, I’ll take them if nobody said anything).

Image Credit: N. Engineer
Image Credit: N. Engineer

Temporary Plate

If you spot a temporary plate, you can claim it to get double points for the next out-of-state license plate you find. Or you can save it for later (when you find that Hawaii plate, which they’ve agreed is worth 50 points since you have to take a flight to reach).

One variation we’ve played with is allowing one kid (used to be the youngest, who wasn’t as quick as his brothers) to be the “chest.” He could store as many temporary plates as he wanted, but he couldn’t use them. Instead, he would hand them out to boost the points of one of his brothers.

A couple days ago, the boys agreed to let our dog be the grown-ups’ chest, since we have fewer players. But then they stipulated that the dog would have to give it to us. Ha ha. Thanks, kids.

International border crossings count for one point, so a car from Ontario (“Toronto!”) spotted in Ohio earns 3 points (Michigan-Border-Ontario). Alaska is great because of the two international points.

Trucks are great, often with multiple trailers each offering different distant license plates.

Point Buggy

We tried introducing my kids to punch buggy (you know, where you get to punch someone in the arm–lightly–if you spot an old-style Volkswagen Beetle) and yell “Punch Buggy” and the color of the car. But the term “lightly” was unfortunately wrought with misinterpretation, so at some point this turned into Point Buggy. Now, the kids can get one point for each Beetle they see (they may or may not include the newer-model Beetle in this). The caveat is, if all your points come from Point Buggies, at the end of the game, they count as negatives. So you have to earn at least one license plate point.

My husband, sadly, isn’t as adept at the license plate game, so I can’t really count on him for much assistance when it’s my turn to drive. I guess I just have to wait to snag our eldest to our team when he turns eighteen…

I’m looking forward to seeing how the rules adapt this summer. Any suggestions?