Cabin fever’s setting in real fast, and while once novel, catch-up sessions and conversations over video calls don’t quite cut it anymore — after all, how many times can you ask ‘how’s stay-at-home life’ without getting the same tired answer? At least we’re living in the 21st century. Animal Crossing, console and mobile games aside, virtual party games are now a reality, thanks to the wonders of technology.
You’ve got a game for every occasion — classic board games now turned digital, hit card games, or casual icebreakers — which are mostly available online for free. We’re at a weird time in our lives; even both extroverts and introverts agree on the virtues of virtual socialising for one’s sanity. So why not give these a try the next time you’re bored on Zoom? Ahead, some of the most popular multiplayer games, and a pros and cons list each for those I’ve personally tried.
You love seeing your friends over FaceTime, but know that if the conversation ever hits a lull moment, there’s now a way to break that awkward silence. Houseparty is a social networking app that features built-in games within the chat window — a great option for those with short attention spans (that’s all of us). All you have to do is hit the dice icon to assess a number of games, including Heads Up!, Trivia, Quick Draw, and Chips and Guac. I’d personally recommend Quick Draw on your mobile phone, which is essentially Pictionary now made easy with a touchscreen, and Trivia, which features many areas of expertise, if you and your friends like getting competitive over general knowledge and pop culture.
The set-up: Each player downloads the app and signs up for a free account. Start a game by inviting friends to a room / group video call, and then tap on the dice icon to choose a game. Up to 8 people in a room.
Pro(s): Fun party games are fun. Not much set-up required, you can easily assess games while in chat. You get to save the really bad drawings to post on your Instagram Stories.
Con(s): Even with 4 game options, they may tire pretty fast due to the repetitive format. Very few free categories for Heads Up!, which is a shame.
Think, updated Pictionary. Instead of busting out old-school pen and paper, skribbl.io lets you select digital tools to draw on a screen instead. Each game consists of a few rounds where you and your friends will be taking turns to draw a selected word, while others try to guess it in order to score points. You guess by typing answers into the chat, and here speed and typing accuracy matters — the faster you guess the word, the more points you’ll get!
The set-up: Start a game by creating a private room, then sharing the link with the other players. You don’t have to do a video call for this, but it’d be fun to discuss answers
shame your friends along the way! Up to 8 players.
Pro(s): It’s easy to get everyone on board when the game is this universal, no lengthy explanation required. There’s a competitive edge due to the points system and fastest-fingers format.
Con(s): You’ll be at a major disadvantage should you be using your laptop’s trackpad… or may get typos while doing this on your mobile device — choose your weapon of choice wisely.
skribbl.io, available online.
3. Jackbox Party Pack 3
Jackbox has been around for a while, best known for their brand of irreverent digital party games that you can play on just about any device. Many of their games rely on wit and intelligence should you want to emerge a winner, and I’d say, try this with a bunch of close friends where you share the same kind of humour, for the best results.
How irreverent you ask? There’s Quiplash, an innocent-sounding game that’s really a fierce battle of wits; players type in their best response to given prompts, and vote on each others’ answers to determine the next stand-up comedian among your pals. Warning: the most inappropriate answers that tap on rude, dirty, or just very dark humour, usually triumphs. Then, there’s Fibbage, where you try to fool your friends by making up the answers to actual but absurd trivia questions.
The set-up: Each player needs a phone or other web-enabled device to use as their controller. To play on Zoom, you can use the share screen function. One person starts a game, and will be given a unique room code on the screen, to share with all players. Each player then goes to Jackbox.tv on your device’s web browser, and enter the room code to play along. Up to 8 players.
Pro(s): Only 1 person needs the game to host, while the other players can play on their own devices. You won’t need to explain the instructions for each game as this will be provided when it starts. Multiple games, each with a high replay value since it relies on user input; prompts hardly repeat. Can be as scandalous as you want it to be.
Con(s): Not free. Not child-friendly. You actually have to use your brains for these, which not everyone enjoys (no shade!).
Jackbox Party Pack 3, USD24.99. Available across platforms such as Steam, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and more.
4. “Cards Against Humanity” / Remote Insensitivity
For fans of Cards Against Humanity, try this free online version, now repackaged as Remote Insensitivity. The same rules apply on the popular game that brands itself as “a party game for horrible people”: each round, one player asks a question from a black card, and everyone else answers with the funniest white card in their hand. The player who poses the question will then select the most appealing answer from the submissions. There’s obviously no way of telling which card goes with which answer, whether someone’s choosing to bank on obvious slapstick, socially inappropriate humour, sarcasm, or meta irony, but that’s why this game is up there in terms of replay value — depending on how funny your group of friends can be.
The set-up: Start a game by creating a private room, then sharing the link with the other players. Video call encouraged. Up to 6 players.
Pro(s): Easy interface and set-up, looks almost like Hearts on the PC. High replay value. Wildly inappropriate.
Con(s): Not child-friendly. Only as funny as your group mates.
Remote Insensitivity, available online.
5. Secret Hitler
I can’t recommend this hit social board game enough. Set in 1930s Germany, this dramatic game secretly divides players into two teams — liberals and fascists — where each faction has to compete to see who can enact the right policies to win the game. Fascists must coordinate to sow distrust and elect their leader, Hitler, as chancellor, while the liberals must find and out the hidden Hitler before it’s too late. Yes, it’s a board game, but the context does set up some interesting backstory to your game. You can also imagine the amount of scheming, lying, sabotage and betrayal that goes into protecting and defending your true identities. All in good fun, of course. While I’m more used to playing the game in-person, the online version‘s worth a shot too — there’s an in-game chat feature to discuss among the players.
The set-up: Start a game by creating a private room, then sharing the link with the other players. Video call’s kind of necessary in order to figure out each others’ motivations and plead your case, but it might get chaotic. Up to 10 players.
Pro(s): Easy set-up. High replay value. Very fun; you’ll be discussing strategies, should-haves, as well as both smart and stupid moves in hindsight, long after the game is over.
Con(s): Requires above average thinking skills if you’d like a worthy game. May take up a long time. Unfortunately, video call isn’t the best platform to raise valid arguments and counter-arguments, which this game requires; some opinions may go unheard, while passive players might prioritise moving the game along rather than logical choices.
Secret Hitler, available online.
Another old-school game gone virtual, this one relies on a free game generator, though the concept still requires you to fire up real-life brain power. Here, you’re given one letter and five categories (things like “band or musician”, “girl’s name”, or “animal”), plus 60 seconds to come up with a word for each category that starts with the chosen letter. You’re even rewarded if your answers are more unusual than most, while the best part, in my opinion, is that you won’t have to manually calculate the points.
The set-up: Start a game by creating a private room, then sharing the link with the other players. Up to 20 players.
Scattergories, available online.
While usually a card game, and one popular enough to feature frequently on Instagram Stories pre-Circuit Breaker, you can now relive the same excitement over video chat. Codenames is a guessing game played with 4 to 8 players, where players are split into two teams, red and blue. On each turn, a each team’s spymaster gives his/her team coded hints so they can correctly choose the right word card on the board. You’ll probably need a keen grasp of language and abstract concepts, but it’s that challenging element and high margin of error that makes this game fun — that and how you’ll absolutely want a rematch after.
To get started: Read the rules of the game before getting started. Start a game by creating a session, then sharing the link with the other players. Accompany this with a video call. Up to 8 players.
Codenames, available online.