Being trapped at home this year taught us that video chatting is a surprisingly satisfying way to be with people. So whether you still are isolating at home or you simply have loved ones living far away, you can bring back the fun and connection of “game night” using a video-chat app such as Zoom, FaceTime, Google Duo or Google Meet.
There are plenty of online games and apps designed to be played by remote competitors, but many of these lack the social element of an in-person game night, and others are confusing or frustrating when played from different locations. The point of playing games with friends is talking and laughing together, seeing each other’s faces and sharing stories, not just competing. Bottom Line Personal asked games expert Meredith Sinclair to recommend some of the best games for socializing with friends in far-flung locations…
Battleship. You probably already know how to play this classic two-person, child-friendly game—each player tries to locate and sink the other’s hidden fleet by guessing grid coordinates. Battleship works very well through a video-chat app because players don’t need to touch each other’s boards. Both players will need their own copy of the game to play long distance. $19.99. Hasbro.com
You also can find free, printable versions of the Battleship game grid online—enter the terms “printable,” “battleship” and “game” into a search engine to locate these. You could even create your own grid using graph paper, creating the ships by coloring in squares.
Cards Against Humanity. This very adult card game emphasizes scoring laughs, not just scoring victories. Each round, a black card is turned over, exposing a sentence that contains blanks (or that poses a question). Example: “Before I run for president, I must destroy all evidence of my involvement with_____.”
Players then choose from among the white cards they hold in their hand, each of which features a different word or phrase. They earn points if the cards they select are deemed funniest by that round’s judge (the “Card Czar”) when plugged into the blanks. Cards Against Humanity is not at all appropriate for kids—the white cards are loaded with sexually suggestive, politically incorrect and mature terms. It’s generally played by groups of four or more. The judge rotates each round.
Every household taking part in the game will need the set of cards ($25)—or download and print a free deck through the game maker’s website.
Apples to Apples is played in a similar way but has family-friendly editions so you can play with younger children. MattelGames.com
Charades. You no doubt already know how to play this venerable party game—one player silently acts out a word or phrase while the others try to guess it. Charades translates well to video chat because no game board or cards are required. Far-flung players will have to think up their own words to act out rather than use the traditional method of drawing slips of paper written by other participants, however.
Do You Know Me? In this recently released card game, players take turns in the “hot seat” answering yes-or-no questions. Other players score points by predicting their answers. It’s a wonderfully social game with lots of laughter, in part because the questions tend to be silly and personal. Example: “If _____ won the lottery, would he share the money with the other players?”
Do You Know Me? translates well to remote play over a video chat in part because you can play it even if only one player has a copy of the game—that person can do all the question asking. It’s generally played with two to eight players. This game was not created for kids—some of the questions are sexual or otherwise mature in nature—but you could carefully skip over inappropriate questions if you want to include children. $19.99. WhatDoYouMeme.com
Exploding Kittens. Players try to avoid getting knocked out of the game by an exploding kitten card in this fast-paced, easy-to-learn, family-friendly card game. The game designers have developed special modified rules to assist with long-distance play—on ExplodingKittens.com, select “How to Play,” then scroll down to click on “Quarantine Kittens” and download these rules. Every participating household will need its own copy of the game to play long distance. It’s typically played by two to five players. $19.99.
Alternately, players can play together long distance if they each download a copy of the Exploding Kittens mobile app, available for iOS and Android for $1.99.
Family Feud card game. If you’ve ever watched the Family Feud TV game show, you already know how to play—two teams compete to list the top survey responses to a range of topics. Example: “Tell me something people in Florida do a lot more than people in Minnesota.” Top survey responses include “Go to the beach,” “Surf/swim” and “Eat fresh oranges.”
This home version can be played by two teams of any size, plus one participant who serves as host rather than joining a team. The team element makes the game especially social. Only the person acting as host needs to own the game. $9.75 for the Platinum Edition. FamilyFeud.com
Heads Up! This game was popularized by Ellen DeGeneres playing it with celebrities on her talk show. Players take turns holding their smartphone to their forehead with the screen facing outward. The free Heads Up! app then displays a word (or words, such as “dirty dancing”), which the person holding the phone cannot see. The other players provide clues until the one holding the phone figures out the word on his head. Heads Up! is fun for two or more players through a video-chat app—but if your own image is displayed on screen, close this window or cover it with a Post-It note before your turn so you don’t accidentally see the word you’re supposed to guess. The app is free for both Apple and Android. EllenTube.com
Pictionary. In this classic artistic take on charades, participants take turns trying to draw the word or phrase listed on a card as teammates attempt to decipher their drawings. This popular game typically is played by groups of four or more. It translates very well to long-distance playing with the help of Zoom’s whiteboard feature, which lets participants share digital drawings with each other on screen. (In Zoom, click the “Share Screen” button then “Whiteboard.”) It helps if every household involved in the long-distance game has a copy of Pictionary. If they don’t, one participant can serve as host rather than compete and privately text or e-mail the words to be drawn to players. $19.97. MattelGames.com
Or instead of buying the game, players can use the Pictionary Random Word Generator (RandomWordGenerator.com/pictionary.php).
Taboo. Players provide hints intended to help a teammate figure out a “guess word”—without themselves saying any of the “forbidden words.” Example: Try to get your teammate to say “pinball” without saying “arcade,” “tilt,” “game,” “flippers” or “roll.” It’s fun and social either in person or over video chat. Each household participating will need its own copy of Taboo. It is played by two teams, each of two or more players. $19.99. Hasbro.com
In a pinch those who don’t own the game can find unofficial digital Taboo “cards” free online at PlayTaboo.com.
Trivial Pursuit. Trivia games are very social, whether you’re playing at a bar’s trivia night or long-distance with friends over a video-chat app. Ideally every household playing long-distance Trivial Pursuit should have a copy of the game. But if not, one player who owns the game can read all the questions and move all the pieces around the board. The game is designed for two to six players, but larger groups can play by dividing into teams. $24.99. Hasbro.com