Board games have a history of bringing people together during tough times — so much so that tabletop gaming became a cultural mainstay during the Great Depression. But being stuck at home in the age of the internet has undoubtedly advanced our ability to game for distraction. Not only can you call family and friends over Skype or Zoom, you can aim to maintain your winning streak while on the call too. Virtual gaming may feel a bit different from your monthly board game night, but it’s still one of the best ways to connect with loved ones, wherever they are. Thanks to the wonderful world wide web, there are a ton of options to get a friendly competition going.
Cards Against Humanity
If creating hilariously horrible phrases and scenarios can ease a bit of isolation misery, Cards Against Humanity is your game. While the official card game doesn’t offer an online multiplayer experience, there are knockoff versions that allow you to play with friends (just, probably not when you're catching up with grandma and grandpa). Playingcards.io’s own version, Remote Insensitivity, is fully interactive for up to six players. To start a private game, one user begins the game and shares a unique URL to all players. Remote Insensitivity’s game interface is easy to use, so there’s minimal downtime in getting the game going.
If you never quite understood the Catan craze, now could be the time to pick up on this strategy game. Catan Universe is the online and mobile app version of the board game, and it lets you build a settlement on an uninhabited island, all while trying to push out your friend’s developing colonies. Building roads, trading resources, and creating are all at the heart of this cult-classic game. The online version is free to play, but of course there are some in-game upgrades and expansion packs for those who really want to step up their gameplay.
Sometimes the best games for group game night are the simple ones — like trivia. Instead of breaking out the Trivial Pursuit, find an online trivia bank to provide the topics. This one from Random Trivia Generator tosses six questions on the screen at a time, which have to be clicked to reveal the answers, meaning everyone can participate in each round. With six categories, you’ll have a lot of trivia questions to sift through (though, if you have a few tidbits of your own, you can submit them to the site’s trivia database).
Codenames requires at least four players, so if you’ve got a larger group, this simple-to-play game is great for a virtual game night. Competing teams of players (spies) work to pick specific keywords from a board of words, all based on a one-word clue given by their team leader (the spymaster). Conceived as a spy-versus-spy game, Codenames is quick to pick up on and fast-paced. And while the official Codenames game doesn’t offer an online version, this digital dupe lets you set up a private game with options for a timer, adding custom words, and playing in multiple languages.
Jackbox Games offers bundles of online games (called “party packs”) that are easy to play while video chatting. The most popular are Drawful 2, a drawing-based game where friends have to guess a word or phrase based on your art skills, and Fibbage, a game that encourages you to trip up friends with fake trivia. Jackbox Games requires one friend to purchase the party pack (or in some cases, individual games are available), but it does offer the ability to add up to eight players for most games.
Not all games have to be strategy-driven; sometimes it’s nice to share something simple to do instead of just staring at a friend’s face on Skype. Jigsaw puzzles are currently seeing a bump in popularity, but if you don’t want to buy duplicate puzzles and send one to a friend (not the worst idea!), you can team up to complete one online. Jigsawpuzzles.io lets you choose from a variety of puzzle designs and difficulty levels and work together with a friend to complete the image.
After you've found an online activity, all that’s left to do is rally a few friends and plan a socially distant game night! Grab some snacks, slip into your sweats, and skip any frantic cleaning you might have normally done before guests arrived. And don't forget to grab a tally sheet, just in case you want to save your high scores for posterity.