It turns out that it’s possible, and fun, to play various kinds of games on a video call (such as Zoom or Google Meet).
Note: In this post, I’m talking about games to play with friends and family. The topic of playing games online with randomly chosen strangers is a different thing, and not something that I’m covering in this post.
For people who want to play sophisticated boardgames online, there are plenty of options, from game-specific apps to sites like Boardgame Arena. But I’m not talking about that kind of thing here; I’m talking about lightweight can-take-lots-of-players games that people who aren’t serious gamers can easily learn and play in the context of a video call.
The overall idea of how to play most of the games I’m discussing here is that the interaction and chatting happens on the video call, but each player participates in the game by using their own smartphone or other device. That’s partly so that anyone can send a group text message with a relevant URL or photo, and partly so that (for some games) each player can connect to a website that handles the game mechanics.
If you want a big list of a bunch of different games that you can play on video calls, see Games to Stay Connected.
Here are some ideas about how to play a few specific games online, based mostly on my own experience playing them with family:
The popular word-cluing-and-guessing game Code Names has an official website for playing online (for free). To start, one player visits that site and creates a “room”; then that player sends the URL of the room to the group. Then all the players follow that URL to view the site on their individual devices.
You can play without being on a video call, but having a video call going allows for more social interaction.
For those unfamiliar with the game: the basic idea is that there are two teams, and one “spymaster” on each team gives clues to their team to get them to guess particular words (and avoid guessing other words).
Just One, a.k.a. One Word
Another fun word-guessing game is sold in a physical boxed version as Just One. But you can play it online, at an unofficial site, under the name One Word.
The process works the same way as Code Names: To start, one player visits that site and creates a “room”; then that player sends the URL of the room to the group. Then all the players follow that URL to view the site on their individual devices.
One Word is free to play, but you can get access to extra features such as private rooms by paying a small monthly subscription fee.
I also recommend buying the original physical Just One game, because the One Word site doesn’t pay them (as far as I know).
For those unfamiliar with the game: the basic idea is that one player is the guesser, and all of the other players give the guesser one-word clues to get them to guess a particular word. But if two or more cluers give the same clue, then that clue is hidden from the guesser, so the cluers need to try to come up with unique clues.
Boggle and variants
There are various Boggle-like online games, but you can also play Boggle over video chat using a traditional physical Boggle set. All you need (besides the Boggle set) is an extra video-chat-capable device (such as a smartphone or tablet); you join the video chat on that device (muting the sound to avoid feedback), and point the camera on that device at the Boggle board (ideally from directly above the board). It’s nice to rotate the Boggle board by 90° every so often.
Play proceeds just like with an in-person Boggle game. No website or individual players’ devices needed for this game.
If one person has a physical copy of a game like Scattergories, where all the players need to see a card that shows a list of categories, then the player who has the physical game can take a photo of the card and text it to the group. Then play proceeds just as if you were playing in person.
Alternatively, you could show the list on a separate device connected to the video call (as described for Boggle, above).
There are also websites that give you a list of categories for playing this game. For example, there’s a site that generates a list of categories—but if multiple players each visit that site, they’ll each see a different list. So you would still need to do a screen snap and send it around to people, or use screensharing in the video call, or visit the same author’s experimental site for playing Scattergories online.
For those unfamiliar with the game: the basic idea is that everyone tries to come up with a set of words or phrases that start with a specified letter and fit into the specified categories.
I haven’t tried playing Pictionary in a video call, but I’m sure it could be done. One approach would be to pick words using a physical Pictionary set or an online random word picker, and then the player whose turn it is to draw could point their camera to some paper and draw on paper. Another option is to use an online system like Skribbl that lets you draw directly in the interface.
Trivial Pursuit, Cortex, and other read-a-question-from-a-card games
Instead of moving pieces around on a physical board, it’s probably more fun to have someone with a physical copy of the game pick a card and read a question aloud, and then have others (the whole group, or a team, or an individual) try to answer. You presumably could play the full game, but I feel like rolling dice and moving pieces around on a board are less fun on a video call than in person.
In Quiplash, players are given a category/question (like “Something you’d be surprised to see a donkey do”), and players give their answers, and then players vote on which answers they like best. It’s a little like Fictionary (but with categories instead of definitions) and a little like Cards Against Humanity (but with making up answers instead of using cards).
One player buys the Quiplash app on any of various platforms (iOS, Steam, etc), and then the other players join via a URL.
Note that if you neglect to turn on family-friendly mode, this game’s prompts can get kinda raunchy. Also, the computerized emcee is intermittently obnoxious.
In Fibbage, players are given a prompt and they fill in the blank, and then players vote on which answer they think is true.
It’s made by the same company as Quiplash (Jackbox Games), and it works the same way, and it has the same issues/concerns.
Charades and other parlor games
I haven’t tried playing parlor games on a video call, but I assume that most parlor games would work just as well on video calls as in person.