Putting the ‘social’ in ‘social distancing’ with multiplayer apps and games

If you're more into Settlers of Catan than Call of Duty, this is a list of silly online boardgames and party games to play remotely with friends.

We get it: lockdown is here, gamers are having their moment in the (strictly metaphorical) sun, and every man and his dog is writing a thinkpiece about how videogames will save the world. But sometimes when we talk about capital-g Games, we fall into the trap of just thinking about big budget videogames. Sometimes other forms of play, like card games, board games, or drama games get overlooked. 

In reality, a lot of people who might not think of themselves  as ‘gamers’ still really enjoy the social nature of playing something silly with friends, so we’ve compiled a list of great multiplayer online games that are modelled after classic party games and board games, with a family-friendly vibe and a low barrier for entry. 

Jackbox Games’ Party Packs

Jackbox have long been leading the pack in making accessible, digital party games, from trivia, to word games, to hidden identity games  there’s something in their famous party packs for everyone. Better yet, these games can be played on technology you probably already have in your house. While these games were first designed to be played locally, Jackbox have a great guide on their website for playing them remotely. This humble writer can attest to the fact that it’s worth the extra steps! Even better, only one person, the host, has to actually own the game; every other player clocks in via jackbox.tv on their phone, tablet, laptop, or other web-capable device. 

If you’re looking for something super strategic and meticulously scored, Jackbox Games are not the right choice for you! But if you’re looking to have a ridiculous (and ridiculously good) time with your mates, this might be the one. If you don’t want to commit to a party pack straight off the bat, I’d recommend starting with one of two Jackbox classics: Quiplash, or Drawful 2

DRAWFUL 2
If you are looking for a rowdier version of Pictionary, Drawful 2 is the game for you. Featuring a series of challenges that see people try to sketch out ridiculous prompts, draw collaboratively, and generally have a very silly time, it’s a great game for kids and adults alike. It’s also very easy to play on a phone or iPad. Like all the Jackbox games, Drawful 2 is as family friendly as its players – so if you’re playing with children, it’s up to you to keep the rude jokes in check! 

 QUIPLASH

Quiplash is a game for the word nerds among us. It provides a series of silly challenges for you and your friends to compete over, like responding to deadly serious prompts like: ‘Something you’d be surprised to see a donkey do,’ and ‘What is a better name for France?’ If you’re ready for a battle of wits (or witlessness), this is a great way to bond with mates from afar. It’s only limitation in terms of age is that it requires some fast-paced reading and writing – so if you’re looking to play a game with kids, this might be better suited to those who are confident with literacy.

Catan Classic

This board game classic, Settlers of Catan, has been adapted into app form! If you’re a Catan fan, you can now play via your phone. You can play with other friends who have the app, or (if you don’t have the patience to schedule one with mates), with randomly matched strangers from around the world. For those of us who are missing the ritual of a chill tabletop game with snacks and maybe a glass of wine with mates on a weekend, this app does a great job of recreating the experience; though I recommend you set up a group chat or call, so you can beg your friends for ore in times of need.

While the initial purchase only includes the original Settlers of Catan, the app offers the option to buy two expansions, Seafarers of Catan and Cities and Knights, via in-app purchase. 

Words with Friends 2

Now we’re all spending a bit more time at home, this classic app is back in a big way! Another primo choice for wordnerds, Words with Friends is a competitive Scrabble-ish game that is free to download on your phone, with some non-essential in-app purchases on offer. Once more, you have the option to play with your mates, or get matched with strangers to hone your skills (and vocabulary). It’s a great way to relax – or an even better opportunity to foster a major literary rivalry from afar. 

Geoguessr 

Geoguessr is an addictive geography game that will take you all over the world from the comfort of your living room (and your browser window), and put your detective skills to the test. Using map data drawn from Mapillary, the game gives you images of five locations, randomly chosen from around the world. The player can click around the world map, trying to collect clues (What is the weather like? What countries have this style of road sign? What side of the street are people driving on? Are there mountains nearby?)

Best of all, you can link friends to the levels you’re playing, either to compete for the best score, or work together to try and get the best result. With options for either the entire planet, or just famous landmarks, this is a great way to pass the time and learn a bit more about the outside world! 

Stardew Valley 

Alright, alright, I got you this far then tricked you into reading about a real videogame-y videogame – but Stardew Valley is a gorgeous, chill experience where you play as a character who just inherited a farm in need of some restoration, set in the beautiful town of Stardew Valley. What you do next is really up to you: you can befriend villagers, plant crops, clear the land, explore the mines, give gifts, craft cute furniture – or even get married. Personally, my favourite part of the game is doing quests for local sprites, the junimos, in exchange for their help in restoring broken bridges and buildings that unlock new areas. It’s a gorgeous, wholesome time set in a charming word with no winning or losing. How you choose to play it totally up to you, whether you want to gun for a fully-automated mega-farm luxury, complete with a wine cellar, automatic sprinklers, and starfruit trees, or just pick daisies to give to your favourite villager.

Better yet, it has an excellent co-operative multiplayer mode, where you and your friends can tend a farm together. While Android and iOS versions don’t support multiplayer currently, Stardew’s co-op mode is available on a range of platforms, including PC, Mac, Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Switch, so there are plenty of ways to play. If you want to check out the co-op mode on computer, you can buy the game through the Humble Store, the Steam Store, or GOG.com. 

Jini Maxwell is a writer and curator who lives in Naarm. They are an assistant curator at ACMI, where they also host the Women & Non-binary gamers club. They write about videogames and the people who make them. You can find them on Twitter @astroblob

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