The holidays are coming and the pandemic is still raging. Are parties doomed? Our gatherings may look a lot different this year (think family Zoom calls), but they can still offer connection with our loved ones. We’ve gathered the best virtual party games suitable for the whole family. Just add internet and a few uncles and aunts.
Each game on the list below has been tested and approved by our panel of players (it’s really just us: two 30-something parents and two school-age kids) and we’ve played with other family members virtually. They’re easy to set up, easy to customize, and work for various ages.
Crossy Road Castle
There are scores of cloud-based multiplayer games, but few are as exciting to players of all ages as Crossy Road Castle. Our kids have four years between them and love playing together! The only catch is that it’s only available on Apple Arcade. Download on each player’s device and create a party code to share with your family. SPOILER: Failures are marked by a fart sound that may result in hysterical laughter and intentional leaps to death by the youngest of players.
If we hear wild laughter erupting from my son’s remote learning space, it’s probably another game of Kahoot! with his class. His teachers use it as a fun way to assess skills and a silly way to let the kids make connections with each other. The game is free for up to 10 players and can be hosted on a video call or as a living room game show; you’ll just need a large screen to display the questions. If your players are virtual, set up a video call and share your screen to display the kahoot questions. Players use a personal device and enter the game PIN on kahoot.it or in the (optional) app.
Kahoot’s winning feature is the ability to create your own game questions. Create niche trivia questions that only your players would know or create your own theme for the game. Each question is given four color-coded answers, making it easy for even the youngest player to join in.
Quiplash & Drawful by Jackbox
Jackbox Games has been around since 2014 but has grown in popularity since the beginning of the pandemic. They’ve mastered the idea of virtual party games, creating a variety of options for nearly every gaming platform: desktop PCs and laptops, gaming consoles like Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and even streaming devices like Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV.
Our favorites for players of all ages are Quiplash and Drawful. Quiplash is a fill-in-the-blank game for 3-8 players (plus an audience) with no correct answers and no rules. Write in your answer to random phrases like “The best use for a leftover meatball is ___” and then vote on the answers. You’ll get a point each time someone votes for your answer, and the game continues until a final winner is determined. Drawful is a bit like Pictionary, but sillier. Each player is given a somewhat strange drawing prompt and uses their personal device to create their best drawing. After drawings are complete, everyone submits their best guess for each drawing. Just like Quiplash, you get points for each vote, so make your answers good (or dumb, or silly). Both games have censoring available to make the games family friendly (all Jackbox games are rated T).
We found setup for playing Jackbox games to be a little more complicated than some of the other games since the host needs to purchase the game pack, but they have great help documents that walk you through every option of play. Sharing our host’s screen on a video call with the other players was the best option for making the game interactive while playing remotely with family members.
UNO & HeadsUp! on Houseparty
Houseparty is a visual social network that allows video calls in rooms of up to 8 people. It’s super simple to download the app (on iOS, Android, Mac, PC, and Chrome extension) and invite your friends to just chat or to play games together. The kids love playing UNO with grandparents and get a kick out of Quick Draw!, aka virtual Pictionary. We play HeadsUp, the hilarious guessing game by Ellen Degeneres, almost every time we get together with family for the holidays and it always ends in doubled-over laughter. We’re thrilled to have a virtual way to play too!
Call me sus, but the Among Us bug has bitten hard in this house. I play regularly after the kids go to bed, sometimes with my brother who lives several states away. The kids are always jealous when they find out! The popular space-themed strategy game pits players against each other as crewmates or imposters. Crewmates are given tasks to complete throughout the spaceship and attempt to avoid being killed by the imposter who also tries to sabotage the space mission in other ways. A central part of the game is players chatting among each other to determine who is the imposter (and voting them out), making the game more suitable for older players comfortable with strategy and typing their thoughts. It’s simple to play virtually, and free! Parents should know there’s mildly violent images that appear when a crewmate is killed, but no blood and the squidgy characters are far from gory. Parents should also be prepared to enjoy the game as much as the kids.
Traditional Games via Video
If these techy add-ons aren’t your thing or if you need a simpler way to virtually connect with friends and family over a game, just use the old-fashioned way. Pick a game that each of you own and set up the game board as usual in each home. Join a video call and start playing! Use virtual players’ gamepieces on your own board and make their moves on your own board too. Battleship, Game of Life, Candy Land, Scrabble, Monopoly, and Chess are all suited to this style of play.