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How to have the best virtual board game night!

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

Connect with friends all over the world while preserving your sanity!

 

Let's be real for a second, being stuck in quarantine can really affect you mentally. Once you've finished Netflix you're faced with very difficult realities like the knowledge that having more time to finally clean your apartment turned out to not to be the reason it wasn't done. And now that you've had the chance to really look at yourself in the mirror of isolation, it's time to do something about it and make some real changes!


Still here? Yep. You weren't going to do that either. Those some were harsh realities you just went through and now your brain needs a break! How about a board game? It keeps your brain sharp while still allowing you to be social with friends. And best of all, you can connect with friends you haven't seen or heard from in years! The downside, of course, is that the ones you don't invite will now know you didn't really care for them. But let's not think about that. That's one of those hard brain things we're trying to avoid here.


Below is a list of the best virtual games to regain your sanity and preserve all those friendships so that when we're finally done with quarantine, you can feel confident in asking them to give you a ride to the airport!



1. Jackbox

Jackbox is a collection of fun party games that are easy to jump right into, with instructions provided as you go. It's a great warmup for any game night and perfect for that friend that tells you they're listening while they're typing a text to someone else. Even better, only the host has to purchase and download the actual game, so it's free for all participants! So if one of your friends says they can't join because they're broke, you'll finally know they just really don't like you. And isn't that the point of life... to learn?


But what game should you play and how many players??

Jackbox provided a list on their website but House of Darkly's spreadsheet provides descriptions and @ryne_ee created a whole page that shows available games based on player count!


Cost: Varies, paid by host only

Speed of Game: Fast

Player Counts: 1-100 (although most max at 8)

Method of Play: Screen Share, Phones are controllers




2. Catan

Catan Universe is the officially licensed version of virtual Catan but Colonist, the alternative to Catan, is more officially licensed for fun. Both are free, but not really. Catan Universe is optimized for three players but for either a one-time fee or an exchange of scrolls you can have a 4-player option. If "an exchange of scrolls" sounds weird, it is, and this is really why Colonist is better.


Colonist's first expansion is $20 (currently discounted to $10) but gives the opportunity to have a 6-player game and only has to be paid by the host, while Catan Universe maxes at 4-players and all expansions need to be paid by each player. You could also have 10-player game with Colonist, but why would you do that other than to say you did that?


Cost: Catan Universe: varies, paid by each player / Colonist: varies, paid by host only

Speed of Game: Medium-Long

Player Count: Catan Universe: 1-4 / Colonist: 1-10 (but 6 is really enough)

Method of Play: Screen Share or Phone




3. Codenames

Have a big group of people that may or may not always be paying attention? Codenames is your answer! Because it's a game about group guessing, it's the perfect game if you have participants with tiny bladders or for those friends that decide that now that you're playing a board game, it's a great time to start cooking dinner.


Since there is not yet an official online version of the game, use this alternative at https://www.horsepaste.com/. From there you can create your own custom link which can be accessed from your phone or computer. You can even share the screen in Zoom since Peter can't pick up his phone while he's putting a dry rub on a steak.


Cost: Free!

Speed of Game: Medium

Player Counts: Unlimited

Method of Play: Phone or Computer (Screen Share optional)




4. Scattergories

Do you know a lot of words? Or maybe just words your friends don't? Scattergories is another fantastic party game that is also easy to jump right into. The officially licensed version is a free download on the iphone app store but I personally prefer the straight-forward interface of this knockoff version: https://swellgarfo.com/scattergories/. This online site doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the app store, it doesn't require a download, or a phone. Instead, it harkens back to a simpler time of pens and paper, a bygone era when people actually got together in person for board game nights. Ah the memories.


Cost: Free!

Speed of Game: Medium

Player Counts: Unlimited

Method of Play: Phone or Screen Share




5. Trivia!

If you're the type of person that doesn't want to deal with boards and games and just wants to show off all that random knowledge, then trivia is for you (and it probably always was even before this whole quarantine thing). You can challenge your friends one-on-one in QuizUp, available from the Apple app store, or if you have a big group, you can make it a simple trivia night with: https://www.randomtriviagenerator.com/



Cost: Free!

Speed of Game: As long or fast as you want!

Player Counts: QuizUp: 1-2 / Random Trivia Generator: Unlimited

Method of Play: Phone / Screen Share




6. Monopoly

Let's be real here, Monopoly can be annoying to set up. Not only that, but sometimes you just want to relax and don't want to deal with auctions or 10% of mortgages. For that, there's online Monopoly. It takes care of the bank, the moving of the tokens, and just lets you focus on making great deals and ruining great friendships. This one is a paid version from the Apple app store, but if you're into Monopoly it's totally worth it. The downside is it maxes at 4 players, but if you have 5 friends that want to play Monopoly, maybe it's time for them to learn Catan ;)


Cost: $3.99 per player (or $8.99 if bundled with Clue, Battleship, and Life)

Speed of Game: Medium

Player Counts: 1-4

Method of Play: Phone, Zoom for chat




7. Clue

The classic whodunnit murder mystery game where you compete with your friends to be the first one to completely get the facts wrong. To help you, this online version of the classic game available from the Apple app store tracks notes for you allowing you to focus on the real questions like: Why did Hasbro needs to make all the characters so attractive? What was wrong with the way they looked before?


As with Monopoly this game isn't free, but if you think it's too cheap, you can always buy more characters that increasingly feel like the developers are just throwing ideas at the wall.


Cost: $3.99 per player (or $8.99 if bundled with Monopoly, Battleship, and Life)

Speed of Game: Medium

Player Counts: 1-6

Method of Play: Phone, Zoom for chat




8. Risk

While this is a game about taking chances on invading territory versus increasing defense, I'm sure Risk gets its name by the chances you take on your friendships while playing it. With the amount of back and forth, alliances made, broken, and long bouts of thinking and decision-making, a round of Risk can be one of the most time-consuming board game nights ever. Luckily, this online version does have a lot of features to help speed things up. While it is free to play, there are features you can purchase to add more customization. Whatever works to keep the friendship alive, right?


Cost: Free, but with paid options

Speed of Game: The looongest

Player Counts: 1-6

Method of Play: Steam (PC and Mac), Zoom for chat




9. Ticket to Ride

If you're into trains and old-timey mustaches, Ticket to Ride is your game! A strategy game about building railway lines and outmaneuvering other players, Ticket to Ride now has an official digitization available for Mac and PC. While clever and inventive, this one is probably the most expensive on the list, since each player needs to purchase the game via Steam.


Cost: $9.99

Speed of Game: Medium

Player Counts: 1-5

Method of Play: Steam (PC and Mac), Zoom for chat




10. Mario Kart Tour

Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat for an article about board games. But hey, while you're waiting for your friends to take their move in Risk, you could get into a Marko Kart race on your phone. As of right now it's just racing, so if you're looking for the glory days of battle on Block Fort, don't throw away your N64 just yet.


Cost: Free, with paid options in game

Speed of Game: Fast

Player Counts: 1-8

Method of Play: Phone, Zoom if you want to smack talk




11. Pictionary

A classic drawing / guessing game perfect for big crowds and horrible artists. As of right now, there's no official online version of Pictionary, but that doesn't need to stop you! Just use Zoom's whiteboard feature! Select "Screen Share", then "Whiteboard" and you're all set! You can come up with your own words or use this Random Word Generator. If you thought drawing with a pen was hard, wait till you try drawing with a trackpad. It's like doing karaoke while being tickled. If you have the physical version of Pictionary you can always use the 60-second timer from that box, or an egg timer, or Alexa, your phone, count to yourself, or whatever, I don't think your issue in life is that you don't have enough timers beeping at you.


Cost: Free

Speed of Game: Fast-ish

Player Counts: Unlimited

Method of Play: Zoom




12. Use Your Words

If you have a smaller group and want to try a Jackbox alternative, Use Your Words is a great, hilarious option! It has a similar feature where you use your phone as a controller, with the premise of creating new outlandish captions to old movies. There's no right answer, you're just creating funny answers, voting on your favorite, and trying to get the most votes. Essentially, if you loved MST3K and always wanted to do that, now's your chance. If you have no idea what MST3K is, you're probably better off with Jackbox.


Cost: $14.99, paid by host only

Speed of Game: Fast

Player Counts: 3-6

Method of Play: Screen Share, Phones are controllers




13. That's You

Another Jackbox alternative, That's You! is a Playstation exclusive game, specifically designed for smaller groups that know each other well. You use your phone to take a photo of yourself, then others get to draw all over it and vote on which fulfilled the prompt best, or which person is most likely to be the worst at whatever the situation is. Basically you'll get to draw dicks on your friends, and say dumb things about them, so it's best played with people that can take a joke or are at least drunk enough to not remember in the morning.


Cost: $9.99, paid by host only

Speed of Game: Fast

Player Counts: 3-6

Method of Play: Playstation, Screen Share, Phones are Controllers




14. Exploding Kittens

If you're a fan of The Oatmeal or even the actual physical card game, Exploding Kittens, then you'll love this official online version available in the Apple app store. It's kinda like Uno, but with weird drawings of cats, and instead of trying to win, you're trying to kill everyone, much like the thoughts of a real cat. This one isn't free, cause people will legit pay money to see cats, and now you can too.


Cost: $1.99, per player

Speed of Game: Fast-ish

Player Counts: 3-5

Method of Play: Phone, Zoom for chat




15. Balderdash

Balderdash is one of my favorite games so it's a real shame there isn't an official version online. However, Psych! is a great knockoff version available on the Apple app store. Psych! is a freemium game where it's free to download but you really have to pay to enjoy it. However, it seems that it may only be the host that needs to pay (this could be fixed later so enjoy it while you can) and luckily the price is just a few bucks.


The big difference of this game from regular Balderdash is that there is no "Dasher" and thus you lose the great performance of reading all the answers. Everyone types in their answer, and everyone sees all the answers on the screen. This actually makes the game go really fast. The downside is, if you're horrible at spelling, you're probably not going to win... unless everyone else is horrible at reading.

Cost: Free, but with optional purchases

Speed of Game: Fast

Player Counts: Unlimited

Method of Play: Phone, Zoom for chat





16. Telestrations / Games by Tanner Krewson

Just before the pandemic started I had finally gotten the board game version of Telestrations and worried that I'd spend the next 6 weeks without playing it (haha, remember when we thought it would be like 6 weeks?). Luckily Tanner Krewson stepped up and transformed many great games into online versions that are free to play and enjoy!


Here's a partial list from his website:


Drawphone [based on Telestrations]

A cross between Pictionary and Telephone

At least 4 players


Snakeout [based on The Resistance]

A game about finding out who the hidden snakes are.

5-10 players


Spyfall [based on Spyfall]

A game about finding out who the spy is by asking tough questions.

3-6 players recommended


Connect 4 [based on... Connect 4]

It's Connect 4

1-2 players


Cost: Free!

Speed of Game: Fast - Medium

Player Counts: 1-a Lot

Method of Play: Phone and/or computer, Zoom to chat





17. Cards Against Humanity

If you're like me, you got really excited about this game when it first came out and then when the Bigger Blacker Box came out you may have thought "Well I'm never going to fill this" and then later thought... "Oh shoot, I may need another one!" and now may be thinking... "What I am supposed to do with this large paperweight in a pandemic??" Or maybe I'm the only one spending so much time thinking about this. Anyway, All Bad Cards, is the knockoff version of Cards Against Humanity that works really well. The game is free, but you can pay a little extra for more card card packs and to remove ads.

Cost: Free, but with optional purchases

Speed of Game: Fast-ish

Player Counts: Unlimited

Method of Play: Phone, Zoom for chat








That's all for now! I'll add more games to the list as they become available. Feel free to let me know in the comments if there are any great ones I've missed.

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