BerandaComputers and TechnologyGames for a Plague Year

Games for a Plague Year

I used to meet up weekly with friends to play boardgames. That was interrupted
for obvious reasons earlier this year, but it wasn’t stopped, and game nights
have moved online. The games that are well-suited to online play are different
from those we’d play in person, so this is a brief list of the games we’ve had
the most success with.

One note is that the way we play is we use a shared Discord server and voice
chat. I have had some people use video in other groups but I don’t own a webcam
and find it hard to combine video with focus on a game. Another thing to keep
in mind is that while most people play on PCs, some prefer to use phones or
tablets, so we stick to games that are versatile in that regard.

The Champion of Making Trouble, from the Jackbox game Champ’d Up. Thanks, Sempai.

Just because you’re stuck inside doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to have fun
with people, and game nights are a great low-key way to keep up with friends;
it’s hoped this list will be helpful.

Simple Browser Games

Free games that you can play in your browser without even registering are the
easiest to set up.

Drawphone is a clone of Telestrations, a combination of Telephone and
Pictionary. The basic idea is you get a clue, like “carrot cake”, and must
convey it via a drawing. Someone else captions your drawing, someone tries to
convey that via a drawing, and so on. There are no points and no winners, just
enjoyment of the ridiculous results.

Spyfall is a hidden traitor game we played several times when we were
meeting physically still, and honestly it’s easier to play online. This is a
clone of a commercial game, developed by the same person who developed Drawphone.
At the start of the game all the players learn the name of the location they’re
in, like “a police station”, “the subway”, or “a graveyard”. Then one player
has to ask another player a question, and then that player asks a different
player a question, and so on. The spy doesn’t know the location, but must blend
in. The spy can lose if the other players guess who they are, or they can win
if they guess the location.

Spyfall is a lot of fun due to the tension it creates, but it doesn’t work for
all groups. In particular, if someone is nervous about asking questions, or
just has trouble thinking one up, the game can stall. I recommend making a list
of default questions to ask when you can’t think of anything.

One thing to note is that Spyfall works better online than in person because
the spy can look over the list of locations without outing themselves; in the
physical version only the spy needs the list, so any looking at it is very

The version of Spyfall and Drawphone here are both by Tanner Krewson, who has
recently created rocketcrab as a shared interface for games like this. I’m
curious to see how it develops.

Scattergories Online is a clone of the popular commercial game where
you have a letter, a time limit, and too many categories. For example you might
have categories like “things in the kitchen”, “ice cream flavors”, and
“animals”, and the letter “K”. You have to fill in all the categories with
words that start with the given letter within the time limit. You get points
only if your answers are valid (they fit the category) and unique (nobody else
gave the same answer). This is fast and funny and I like to use it as a game
night opener. One particularly nice aspect of it is that the puzzle solving
part is quick and quiet, but the scoring part lets everyone talk and debate
each other in a playful way.

Codenames is an interesting word association game where players split in
two teams, and a Codemaster on each team has to get their teammates to pick
keywords from a grid of cards by giving short hints. A nice feature of this
game is that it supports an incredible variety of languages; I’ve played it in
Japanese with success.

Jackbox Games

Jackbox has a number of delightful games that require marginally more setup
than the games above. Someone has to buy the game and stream it from their PC,
while the other players can use a browser (typically on a phone) as a client.
They just released their 7th Party Pack, and we’ve had fun trying out the new

Some of our fine Drawful artworks. Usually clues are pretty straightforward, but we’ve noticed more off-the-wall ones like those pictured recently.

Drawful is the classic here. Each round you get a secret prompt and draw a
picture for it. Then everyone else makes a caption for the picture. Then all
the captions and the picture are revealed, and everyone has to guess the
original caption. The artist gets points if people pick the original caption,
while everyone else gets points if they guess the original caption correctly or
trick people into guessing their fake caption. In a typical game everyone draws
two pictures, and it takes maybe twenty minutes all told.

Quiplash is a text-based game where you’re given a sentence with a blank
and have to fill it in. While the concept is very simple, it’s been great for
creating running jokes, and the speed and simplicity make it a good game for
winding up or down the night.

Push the Button is a hidden traitor game where you’ll have to answer
personality quiz style questions or draw pictures. The catch is that aliens
don’t get the original clues, so they run the risk of drawing something wrong
and having to explain why they’re actually perfectly normal – for example, if
the real prompt is “fantasy battle” but the alien saw “a princess” and drew
that, how do they explain it? Amusing and tense.

Blather Round is the favorite of the most recent Party Pack. It’s a little
bit like Charades or 20 Questions, but the clue giver has to give hints from a
very limited vocabulary. The one fun twist is that they can use guesses from
the audience as part of their limited vocabulary, so even random guesses can
sometimes be helpful.

Champ’d Up, a drawing game from the latest pack, first left us amused but a
bit mystified, but on repeat play it’s been more fun and we’ll be coming back
to it.

There are many other great Jackbox games, but these are the main ones we come
back to. One issue we’ve had is that some Jackbox games rely too heavily on
references to American culture. This is mostly a problem with the
trivia-oriented games, but it sometimes also creeps into the other games, and
is something to be aware of.

Another great feature of Jackbox games is that they often leave with mementos
of the game. Post-game the winning answers are shown, and for some games
shareable images are generated, including animated gifs. You can even order
t-shirts. This is great for making game night memorable without requiring extra

Board Game Arena

Board Game Arena is a site where you can play traditional or modern board and
card games in your browser. The interface is odd, but functional. Most games
are free; a few “premium” games require one paid member in order to create a
“table”, but with annual membership at $25/year it’s very reasonable. It works
on phones and tablets, though depending on the game the mobile interface can be
difficult to use.

Incan Gold is the lightest game we enjoy on BGA. It’s great for being easy
to explain and supporting a lot of players (up to 8) and the design is such
that more players doesn’t increase the play time at all. Each turn you have the
choice to go deeper in the temple for the chance at more gems, but at the risk
of running into a hazard and losing everything. The one downside is the mobile
interface seems to be unusually hard to use.

7Wonders is complicated enough it can’t really be explained in one sitting,
but it’s not hopelessly complex and is well worth learning. It was already a
physical favorite, but after playing online I’m not sure I could stand to play
in person again. Cards have dependencies that can take a while to count, and
with the online version doing that for you a game that would take 30m in person
takes 10m online.

As to gameplay, 7Wonders is a “drafting” game. You start with a hand of seven
cards, and each turn you pick one card to play and pass the rest. Simultaneous
turns means you’re never waiting on other players, so it supports up to seven
players without slowing down.

Sushi Go! is like 7Wonders, but lighter, for fewer players, and cuter.

Kingdomino is a light tile-laying game for up to 4 players. While simple
there’s tension in the choices each round, as better tiles for your kingdom
give you lower priority when choosing in the next round. It’s easy to explain
and a good first game.

Carcassonne is more complicated than Kingdomino, but still with simple
rules. It’s also more interactive and takes longer, so it’s better for people
you’ll play with repeatedly. Each round you pick a tile and must fit it into
the shared map, placing “meeples” (your tokens) on various features of the
landscape to score points. While mostly a peaceful game, one expansion does add
a dragon that can set everything on fire, so there’s something for everyone.

One note about BGA is that it uses sound effects. The default sound effect for
a person joining the table is a “knocking” sound. The knocking is very
aggressive, and because knocking is the kind of sound you can hear through
headphones, it’s easy to think it’s coming from outside your computer. I and
many people who play with me have been unpleasantly surprised or even briefly
frightened by this sound, so after creating a BGA account I recommend you go
and turn it off first thing. I posted about this on the BGA forums and got comments where people describe the sound as “the police are
raiding our house” or how it sounds like it comes from “beyond the grave”, so I
hope the site admins will take time to pick a better default soon.

Other Games

Recently we’ve experimented with Among Us, a hidden traitor game that’s
become a hit since the pandemic kicked in. This is more of a video game than
the other games we play, and we’ve had networking issues, but it’s been amusing
when we can get it working. The phone version is free with ads, but the
inexpensive PC version is generally easier to control.

A Fake Artist Goes to New York is a brilliant game from Oink
which is a little like Pictionary with a hidden traitor. Everyone
except the traitor sees the clue, and then you cooperate to draw it, one line
at a time. The spy loses if they’re found out or wins if they can guess the
clue. I’m not sure it makes sense as a boxed game – all you need is paper and
markers – but it’s a delight to play. An online clone was shut down at the
request of Oink Games but they unfortunately have yet to offer an official

So, that’s a sampling of what we’ve been playing, and a good start for an
online game group. I hope you find it useful.

One thing I’ve had trouble finding is good asynchronous games for playing with
friends overseas in drastically different time zones. Civ is too heavy; Words
with Friends is classic but I don’t want to touch Zynga; I’ve tried
Subterfuge but had a mixed experience. If you have any suggestions please
do tweet or mail me. Ψ

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