Though COVID-19 vaccines are still rolling, the delta variant’s spread may have you hitting pause on some of those fall in-person gatherings. Until you feel safe, there are always online games you can play with family and friends, even from far away.
Whether you’re looking for old-school favorites, party games, escape rooms or exciting board games, there’s likely a virtual option, as more people turned to tech for creative socializing during the pandemic. Watching movies and shows together through browser extensions, such as Netflix Party (now called Teleparty), Amazon Prime Video Watch Party, Disney Plus GroupWatch, Hulu Watch Party and Airtime for YouTube, is another popular way to hang out virtually.
Here are some of the best online games you can play with friends, no matter what type of experience you’re seeking. We’ll update this list regularly.
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For me, Jackbox Games is the holy grail of social distance gaming: Its multiplayer party games are simple to learn but 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 seven 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 sometimes you can find them on sale for less. 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.
If you’re a fan of games like Mafia or Werewolf, you’ll love Among Us, an online multiplayer social deduction game from developer InnerSloth. Play as a crew member aboard a spaceship, sky headquarters or planet base, attempting to keep your ship together and return back to Earth with a group of four to 10 people (either those you know IRL or strangers online). But one crew member has been replaced by a parasitic shape-shifting alien who wants to eliminate the rest of the crew before the ship reaches home. Problem is the imposter looks just like everyone else and will sabotage the ship, sneak through vents, deceive fellow players and try to frame others, all in an attempt to remain undetected and kill off the rest of the crew.
Meanwhile, the nonalien crew members must perform tasks to fix up the ship and can’t talk unless a death is reported. Then, the surviving crew can openly debate via chat who they think the imposter is and make their best guess about who to vote off the ship. If the imposter is voted off, the crew wins. But if the group accidentally votes a crew member off, everyone goes back to maintaining the ship until another body is found, and they vote again.
Among Us is free to play on iOS and Android devices (you can download it on the App Store or Google Play Store). Or, it costs $5 to play on a PC (you can download it on Steam or itch.io). One major benefit is that you can play with people seamlessly across platforms.
Be warned: The free mobile version does have ads. Once you download and open the game on your device, you’ll see a pop-up detailing its use of AdMob and data collection. If you want to turn off ads and data collection, you can purchase the ad-free version of the app for $2 by tapping Remove Ads, and following the prompts to select your payment method.
Though this game came out nearly three years ago, Twitch streamers picked it up over the past year, and it reached a half-billion active monthly users in November. And if you’ve already given it a try, in March, the developers added a new, free Airship map to play on for a new experience.
If you want to play games together virtually but don’t want the hassle of setting up a separate Zoom or chat, you can try Backyard, a platform that combines games, video and chat all in one. It’s still in beta, but has been released to the general public.
Sign up with your Google or Apple account, and create a Space. You’ll get a code to share with others (similar to Jackbox Games), so they can join your private Space. Then, choose a game to play. Backyard has slightly tweaked versions of popular games, like Letter Tile (Scrabble), Codewords (Codenames) and Wordplay: Cards Against Humans (Cards Against Humanity). You can play directly from your web browser on your — no app download needed.
Games range in size from one to 12 players. Creators originally said Backyard would be free to use until 2021, but as of April, it appeared to still be free.
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 $18 for a bundle of two and $26 for a bundle of three.
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.
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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 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 online like trivia, Heads Up and Uno with friends. The app is free to use, and up to eight people can join a video chat “room” at once and play games together.
However, Epic Games recently said that it would shut down the Houseparty app in October. If you’ve already downloaded it, you can use it until then. But if you haven’t, it’s already been removed from app stores.
Houseparty was 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 150 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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