Unless you spend every year sheltering in place and worrying about a global pandemic, the upcoming holiday season is going to be different for a lot of us. Video calling apps like Zoom can keep us in touch with each other even while we’re apart, and these online and offline games will save you from having to make up small talk at the same time.
1) Codenames (Free)
Codenames sees two teams compete on a shared online grid filled with words: The aim is to clear your team’s words as quickly as possible. Each team nominates a spymaster who must give clues to their teammates to guess as many words as possible each time—so “day” would be a clue for both “time” and “light” for example. The more words hit with the fewest clues, the quicker the board is cleared, and the greater your chance of victory.
A good one for getting people up and moving, and even working in teams if there are several different people crowded around each laptop or webcam. You can make the scavenger hunt as long and hard or as short and easy as you like, with the objective to collect specific objects, or objects that match certain criteria, from around the home. Add points for speed and for the creativity of the choice of objects to keep it competitive. Good Housekeeping has a solid list of ideas for clues to start with.
3) Kahoot (freemium)
You can easily do a Zoom quiz with pens and paper of course, but if you want something digital then Kahoot can help. Essentially it lets you create a slideshow of multiple choice questions, which everyone shares through their web browser, and Kahoot handles all the admin when it comes to voting and tallying the scores. The free plan lets you share a Kahoot quiz with up to 10 people at once, with customized options for timing and points.
For this game every player needs to have Wikipedia open on a device, whether it’s a laptop, a tablet or a phone. You then give players the same starting page and ending page, and the person to make their way from one to the other in the quickest time is the winner. The key rule is that you can only get around the encyclopedia by clicking or tapping on Wikipedia links—so players need to think smartly about which links they decide to follow. The Wiki Game is a good site to use if you don’t want to come up with your own criteria.
5) Scattergories (free)
This particular online version of the classic game gives you and your fellow Zoomers a simple interface, which one person will have to screen share. As always, the aim of the game is to come up with words starting with the same letter that fit the categories listed: An animal, form of transport, place and object starting with M, perhaps. You can easily customize the number of categories required, and the time limit to come up with words.
A classic group game that works fine over video chat: One adjudicator privately asks for a word or phrase from everyone else, which could be based on food, animals, movies, places, or anything else. The whole list then gets read out, and players take turns to match words or phrases to other players—guess right, and that person joins your ‘empire’ and you collectively get to guess again. The biggest empire when everyone is matched wins.
7) Drawful 2 ($10)
Jackbox Games makes a ton of games suitable for sharing over Zoom, but Drawful 2 is probably our favorite, and it’s well worth the price of admission. Everyone needs access to two devices (like a laptop and a phone), and the game puts up weird and wacky individual prompts for you to draw quick sketches to. Players then guess the original prompts from the final pictures, with points dished out for both artistic prowess and guessing ability.
Look, sometimes the classic games are the best—even if you’re only meeting family members over Zoom, you can still get a game of charades set up virtually. You’ll need to split everyone up into two or more teams, and then get together a list of prompts to act out or have people come up with their own. There are all kinds of variations you can come up with too, from making the prompts themed to limiting the sort of actions that can be used.
9) The Hike (free)
Originally written as a team building exercise for employees working remotely, The Hike is now available for anyone to try for free. One storyteller guides the rest of the group, split up into competing teams, with shared slides that create a ‘choose your own adventure’ experience—you’ll need to make group decisions via an instant messaging platform of your choice to make sure your team survives the night and makes it out of the woods.
You can make use of the shared whiteboard on Zoom for a game of Pictionary, where the aim is to get your teammates to be able to guess particular prompts from your drawing of them. The prompts could be words or phrases, or movies, or places in the world, or even members of the family. If drawing on the screen in Zoom isn’t something that everyone is comfortable with, then you can always use old-fashioned paper and pens instead.
11) No More Jockeys (free)
As invented by three British comedians, this game requires nothing but imagination and a good memory. When it’s your turn, you name a well-known person (e.g. George Clooney) and a category they fit into (e.g. actors)—future submissions must then avoid all previous categories. You’ll quickly be limited in what you can say, as contestants suggest no more singers, no more left-handers, no more Biblical characters, or indeed no more jockeys.