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Eight fun party games you can play over Zoom with friends and family

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For yet another holiday season, the pandemic has forced Americans to think creatively about get-togethers with family or friends. Many of us are staying in touch with loved ones via the tiny cameras embedded in the fronts of our phones and laptops.

Federal and state officials are warning of an oncoming wave of coronavirus infections fueled by the omicron variant of the virus. In light of the news, Americans are preparing to forgo in-person gatherings once again this holiday season for some virtual — but not identical — replacements. If you want to move beyond just conversations and try to recapture some of the spirit of person-to-person interaction, there are a number of games involving cards, phones and boards that can be played through Zoom or other videoconferencing tools.

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With enough time and resources, almost any board or party game can be played via videoconferencing. But for the purposes of this guide, we’ll be focusing on those that are easy to set up and fun. The games below are ordered from least to most complex, with the last few requiring a bit more planning, resources and/or ingenuity, like screensharing or broadcasting video of a tabletop game.

Chess

The classic two-player game for those who prefer traditional solutions to virtual gaming.

What you need to play: Zoom and a version of chess on your computer, tablet or smartphone. (2 players)

Chess regained a spotlight thanks to Netflix last year. The coronavirus has forced Americans to dust off our old hobbies, but “The Queens Gambit,” a Netflix original series about an American chess prodigy, has propelled the centuries-old game to a newfound popularity that doesn’t appear to be fading away any time soon.

Luckily, there are countless ways to play chess online. One of the most popular is through chess.com, where you can create an account and then challenge friends or family for a match over Zoom. You can also download the game, as an app, on iOS or the Google Play Store. Both options are free, but chess.com does offer a membership program for lessons, training puzzles and tournaments.

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Turn on Zoom during a match to practice your icy stare as a coldblooded chess champion. Or just for a friendly chat while mulling over your next move. This is one of the simplest games on the list to re-create virtually.

Heads Up!

A quick trivia-guessing game with a slew of categories.

What you need to play: Zoom and phones or tablets with the game. (2- players)

Heads Up! is a fast-paced game of charades in which each player has to guess a person, place or thing with help from the audience.

To play remotely, everyone needs to download the Heads Up! app on their phone. Players then select a deck of cards from a certain category, like movies, celebrities or brand names. At the start of every round, one person holds a phone to their forehead that displays the answer, showing the audience the answer, but leaving the phone-holder in the dark. Zoom allows users to hide their own reflected video display. Otherwise, you’ll be able to see the answer written right above your forehead.

You can play Heads Up! on teams or individually. The fun comes from thinking of witty hints to help the phone-holder say the correct name. When they guess correctly, they flip the phone down and score points. The goal is to correctly guess as many terms as possible in one minute.

A warning from experience: It can get a bit unwieldy trying to hold an iPad on your forehead without flipping it onto the living room carpet. The app is free, but if you’re having fun, you can download more decks with other categories such as Star Wars, Seinfeld or trivia from past decades.

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Battleship

(No, not this ‘Battleship’)

What you need to play: any video call app and two boards of Battleship; or paper and a writing utensil. (2 players)

The objective of Battleship is to find and sink all the vessels on your opponent’s board before they destroy yours. The catch is that neither of you know where the other has placed their battleships. It’s a guessing game with a bit of strategy in the later rounds.

Battleship is for two players, and both will need a version of the game. If you’re feeling crafty, all you need is a ruler, some paper and some markers. The “battle stations” in the game are laid out on grids, and at the start of each game, players place their five ships in various places on the grid. Every round, the two players guess where their opponents boats may be — like “Go Fish” but with imaginary ships and torpedoes.

The first player to sink all their enemy’s ships wins. All around, it’s a pretty simple war game.

Outburst

‘Family Feud,’ but it’s on Zoom instead of ABC.

What you need to play: Any video call app and at least one copy of the game. (4-10 players)

We asked people on Twitter to share what games they’re playing remotely and found Outburst, a timed party game from Hasbro that requires you to quickly name the top ten terms in a particular category, such as “chores parents ask their kids to do.” There’s a lot of shouting in this game, so you’ll want to take your Zoom off mute.

The game splits players into two teams that switch places every round between judging and guessing the answers. The more terms you correctly name, the more points for your team.

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Quiplash

For the people who love Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity.

What you need to play: A video conferencing app, like Zoom, where you can share screens and a version of Quiplash using Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Steam, PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. (3-8 players)

Quiplash is a Mad Libs party game where players respond to prompts with the wittiest answers they can come up with. The entire group then votes on the best responses, and players receive points for winning each round out of three.

Up to eight players can play the fill-in-the-blank game. Like Apples to Apples, the game requires you play to your audience, but there’s no limit or guidance on what direction you can take a prompt. When playing with friends, feel free to reference or use an inside joke that only your group of friends would understand.

Quiplash is a title from Jackbox Games, a developer that publishes party games for groups to play together. The game is built to be played with all participants watching one screen (typically a TV).

To play Quiplash remotely, the quickest solution will be to buy the game on Steam and play it from your computer to then share on Zoom, Google Hangouts, Twitch, Discord or any service that lets you communicate and share your screen.

If you’re playing Quiplash on the PlayStation or Xbox, screensharing gets a bit more complicated. You’ll need to stream your gameplay from your television to Twitch or YouTube and have everyone tune in to the stream while on FaceTime or another videoconferencing app.

Drawful 2

Like Pictionary, a game for those who are more artistically inclined.

What you need to play: A videoconferencing app, like Zoom, where you can share screens and a version of Drawful2 using Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Steam, or a PlayStation or Xbox console. (3-8 players)

Drawful 2 challenges players to use their fingers and some imagination to create art. The game is from the company behind Quiplash, and follows a similar format: Players must draw a given prompt and then guess what each piece of art is supposed to represent. Players can use their phones, tablets or computers to sketch out responses to the prompts, such as “tree surgeon” and “deadly hula hoop.”

Drawful 2 and Quiplash have the same complication — if you’re playing on a gaming console, like PlayStation or Xbox, you’ll need to stream the gameplay on Twitch or YouTube. The easiest solution for Zoom is buying the game on Steam and playing it from your computer.

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Among Us

An interstellar murder mystery that requires teamwork (and back-stabbing).

What you need to play: Zoom or Discord and a computer, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, smartphone, tablet or Xbox. (4-10 players)

In “Among Us,” crewmates aboard a spaceship must work together to uncover the impostor(s) sabotaging their vessel and murdering teammates. The game is a live-action rendition of Clue. And, in many ways, “Among Us” has become the game of the pandemic. The title first released in 2018, but it gained a viral following in 2020 after big-name steamers on Twitch and YouTube started to play the game for millions of fans.

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At the start of each round, players are privately told whether they’re an average crewmate or an impostor. The crew then sets off to accomplish a series of tasks, and the impostors must blend in to the monotony, waiting to strike at the right moment. The crew can call all-hands meetings when they find a dead body or by running back to the starting point in the cafeteria to hit a buzzer. All of the players, including the impostor(s), then deliberate to decide who they want to vote off the spaceship to save everyone else. The crew wins when they eject all of the impostors. The impostors win if they successfully cause chaos and kill off most of the crew.

The game can be played a few different ways depending on the agreed upon rules and your settings. “Among Us” works across platforms on PC, tablets and smartphones as well as gaming consoles like Nintendo Switch, PlayStation and Xbox. You’ll just need to set up a Zoom, Skype or Discord team where everyone can discuss suspected impostors during crew meetings.

“Among Us” is free on the Google Play and Apple App Store, but, for a few bucks, you can pay for a version that’s rid of pesky advertisements. On Steam, and elsewhere on PC, “Among Us” costs $4.99.

Codenames

A guessing game that requires some creative thinking.

What you need to play: Zoom and Codenames.game, where you can play the board game online. (4-10 players)

In Codenames, two teams — red and blue — race to correctly guess all their assigned cards in a grid of 25.

Every card has a word/code name, like “ghost,” and each team elects a spymaster who will provide one-word hints for their teammates to guess which words/code names belong to their team. For example, a spymaster might say “specter” to hint to their team that “ghost” is in fact an allied agent. If your team correctly guesses a card, you get to continue playing. The round stops when your team finds all your agents, stumbles upon a card belonging to the other team or finds a neutral card, dubbed a “bystander.” Spymasters can associate a number with their clue word to try to get their teammates to select more cards in one turn, increasing the difficulty but allowing for a bigger reward.

The entire game is a tabletop version of a minefield. Spymasters provide hints that are usually synonyms to the code names in play, but it can be easy to question whether one hint is referring to two or three different cards. Maybe the hint is “city,” but Paris, Berlin and Moscow are all on the table. On top of all this, there’s one card that’s designated as the assassin, and if you select it, your team automatically loses.

Earlier in the pandemic, a game of Codenames over Zoom required an extra camera to display the board of cards to the entire group, like this. You can still try this alternative but you no longer need a fancy rig with a webcam or a broomstick and phone with duct tape. The game’s developer, Czech Games Edition, released a web version of Codenames to play with friends. Espionage just became a heck of a lot simpler. Simply create a room and send the URL to whoever wants to play.

This story has been updated.

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