The coronavirus pandemic and social distancing recommendations may have put a damper on some of your usual fall plans with family and friends this year. But one social activity that you can still engage in with pals is playing online games together, even from far away.
Whether you’re looking for old-school favorites, party games, escape rooms or hard-core board game options, there’s likely a virtual online game option, as people turn to tech for creative socializing during social distancing. Watching movies and shows together through extensions such as Netflix Party, Amazon Prime Video Watch Party and Airtime for YouTube has also become a popular way to hang out virtually.
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Here are some of the best online games to play with friends that are available, no matter what type of experience you’re seeking. We’ll update this list regularly as we find new games you might like.
Read more: Video games we’re playing during the coronavirus
For me, Jackbox Games is the holy grail of social distance gaming: The party multiplayer party game options are incredibly simple to learn but are still very entertaining to play and it’s also easy to stream or screen-share games from one device to a group for a virtual game night. Everyone plays through a web browser on their phones, so no apps or consoles are needed. You can even mirror your Android or iOS device to your TV.
Here’s how the Jackbox party pack works: One person has to purchase either one of six Jackbox Party Packs, or one or more individual games, on Steam (for PC, Mac and Linux). The packs contain five games and usually cost $25 each, but are currently on sale for $12. The packs are also available on PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and other devices.
After purchasing, you can hop on a video chat through a Zoom call, Skype, Google Hangouts or wherever you prefer for a video call, start the game on your laptop and use the screen-share option so that all the other players on the call can see the screen too. As mentioned, everyone plays along on their mobile device by using a browser and going to Jackbox.tv, where you’ll be asked to enter a room code.
Other options include using Steam Remote Play Together, Discord screen sharing, sharing through your gaming console, or just setting up a webcam in front of your TV. Jackbox provides information on how to stream its games, too.
Each pack includes a variety of different games that might ask you to answer trivia questions, draw weird doodles or write the best joke. The games are light, humorous and include clear instructions, so they’re easy for the most novice players to pick up.
Read more: 11 things to do in quarantine when you’ve already made 3 loaves of banana bread
The Escape Game
Put your puzzle-solving skills to the test with a virtual escape room. Try to solve all of the puzzles and follow the clues to escape the computerized room before time is up, as you would when you play the real-world version.
One option for ages 12 and up is TEG Unlocked: The Heist from The Escape Game. In the two-part game for one to four players, you’ll work as a secret agent trying to thwart a suspected art thief. Each part costs $10, or $17 for the bundle.
If you’re looking for a more kid-friendly choice, there’s a free Harry Potter-themed escape room created by Peters Township Public Library in McMurray, Pennsylvania, using Google Docs.
Read more: Dating during coronavirus: 7 ideas for virtual dates while social distancing
Tabletopia/Screenshot by Alison DeNisco Rayome/CNET
If you’re looking to play traditional tabletop board games online, check out Tabletopia, which calls itself an “online arena” for playing more than 900 board games the same way you would in real life. You can play on a desktop browser for Mac or Windows, or download the platform on Steam, the App Store or the Google Play Store.
You’ll find fun classics like chess and Texas Hold ‘Em, or more in-depth options like Scythe and Clans of Caledonia to play. Start your own game with friends, or join a game in progress with open seats.
You can play some fun game options for free with the bronze package, or upgrade to the silver ($5 a month) or gold ($10 a month) package to access premium games.
Another similar option is Tabletop Simulator, which includes classic game options like chess, poker, dominoes, Mahjong and jigsaw puzzles. Create your own original games on the platform, as well as play ones that were created by others.
You’ll see some familiar titles in here, but note that most of those were created by other users, as opposed to actual game developers. You can buy Tabletop Simulator on Steam for Windows and Mac for $20 and can then share your screen to play with friends.
Houseparty is a video chat app owned by Fortnite developer Epic Games that lets you play popular games like a trivia game and Heads Up with friends online. While the app is free to download, you do have to pay for some of the games, typically $1-$3. Up to eight people can join a video chat “room” at once and play games together.
Just a warning: There have been rumors that the app has enabled Netflix account hacks with loose security protocols. However the company said it has not been breached or had any data exposed and offered a $1 million reward for proof of the problem, claiming it’s more likely tied to reusing login credentials and passwords.
Houseparty is available for iOS, Android, MacOS and Chrome.
You may already be familiar with popular mobile games that you can play with friends anytime. Fortnite, Words with Friends 2, Scrabble GO, Uno & Friends and Draw Something are all great options for simple games that let you keep in touch and sneak in a turn when you have time throughout the day.
If you’re mostly playing solo, you might want to check out a mobile gaming subscription service. Apple Arcade has a library of more than 130 original games including nostalgic favorites Pac-Man Party Royale and Frogger in Toytown, along with new hits such as Crossy Road Castle and Ultimate Rivals: The Rink. For $5 a month, you can play across iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac and Apple TV devices.
For Android users, Google Play Pass offers access to more than 350 games including Monument Valley, Risk and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, also for $5 a month.
Read more: Best game subscription services: Here’s how to choose
There’s always the option to go as old-school as possible in your virtual gaming: You can find free online versions of some classics like Battleship. You can also work on a crossword puzzle with friends through The Washington Post. Tabletop Simulator, mentioned above, also includes games like chess, poker, dominoes and jigsaw puzzles that you can play with friends if you both buy the platform.
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