Staying in touch with video and voice calls is great, but if you’re looking to capture the spirit of person-to-person interaction, here are some of the best multiplayer games that can be played over your phone or computer.
The games below are ordered from least to most complex in terms of technical know-how and set-up. For all of them, you’ll need some kind of videoconferencing tool; Google Chat, Zoom, FaceTime and Discord are among the most commonly used that offer built-in screen-sharing, though keep in mind you’ll need a paid Zoom or Google account to host sessions longer than an hour or so.
Teams take on the classic trolley problem dilemma
What you need to play: A video conferencing tool with screen-sharing and “Trial by Trolley,” available free here at PlayingCards.io
Any philosophy and/or “The Good Place” fans out there will already know this one: A runaway trolley is barreling down the track toward five people, but you can divert it to a side track where it will only hit one person. What do you do? Now, what if on one track sat the last two baby pandas in the entire world? What if the other had a CDC van transporting the cure for cancer? “Trial by Trolley” is all about finding ridiculous and compelling twists to the classic thought experiment. It’s from the team behind the Cyanide and Happiness comics and shares that same wacky and irreverent sense of humor.
One player acts as the person at the switch who will ultimately choose which track the trolley goes down. The rest split into two teams. Each team takes turns putting “Innocent” cards on their track — family members, baby animals and other bystanders you wouldn’t want to hit — and “Guilty” cards to sabotage the other team’s chances by making their track the more compelling option to condemn to death. There are also modifiers that can be placed on any card on the track to further try to sway the judge. That innocent-looking group of first graders? Now they’re secretly a bunch of aliens trying to invade the planet. That wanted axe murderer? He’s going to solve world hunger in the next five years.
The track that was spared is the winner for that round, with the number of rounds being pre-determined by the players. Up to 13 people can play, and while the cards stay more or less PG-13, it’s a game about hypothetically deciding who lives and dies, so it may not be suitable for all ages.
Party games galore
What you need to play: A video conferencing app where you can share your screen and at least one copy of the JackBox Party Pack of your choosing
The JackBox Party Packs are some of my favorite games to whip out at get-togethers. They’re low stakes, fun to play and — like Cards Against Humanity — offer an interesting glimpse into everyone’s sense of humor and thinking. There are nine total out now, with each pack containing five games that support a range of player counts. You only need one copy to play together, but each player will need access to a computer or mobile device, where they can join each game by going to jackbox.tv and entering the four-digit room code.
The easiest way to play remotely will be to buy a Jackbox Party Pack on PC (via online games storefronts like Steam and Humble Bundle or the Google, Apple or Amazon app stores) and share your screen. You can also play on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation and Xbox consoles, but that makes screensharing a bit trickier, as you’ll need to stream your gameplay from your TV to a streaming platform like Twitch or YouTube and have everyone tune into the stream while on a videoconferencing app. (Note that the Switch doesn’t have a built-in streaming feature, so you’ll need a capture card and streaming software if you go that route.)
Some of my favorite games are Job Job from “The Jackbox Party Pack 8” as well as Mad Verse City and Split the Room from “The Jackbox Party Pack 5.” In Job Job, everyone’s answers to ice-breaker questions are jumbled and shuffled between players, with your goal being to build a coherent answer to a job interview question out of that word soup. Mad Verse City has you throwing together lyrics on the spot in an epic robot rap battle (or, if you can’t think of a mean flow, getting the computer to auto-generate them for you, the results of which can be hilarious). Split the Room is a “Twilight Zone”-themed game about just that: splitting the opinion of the room by posing divisive, hypothetical questions.
A few popular Jackbox games are available as standalone titles, including: Fibbage, a trivia-style game where you try to trick other players with answers that seem legitimate; Quiplash, a gamification of Mad Libs where players compete to come up with the funniest answers to prompts; and Drawful, a sillier version of Pictionary. The purchasing and set-up instructions are exactly the same as with the Party Packs.
Among Us? No — Amongoose!
What you need to play: A computer or smartphone, at least five players and a copy of the game for each
You’re probably already familiar with “Among Us,” the murder mystery game set in space that took the world by storm during the early days of the pandemic. Now let me turn you onto “Goose Goose Duck,” a free social deduction game that expands on the same concept with a charming ridiculousness. You and your fellow geese complete tasks while trying to figure out who among you are actually dastardly ducks in disguise. The geese win if they vote out every duck or complete all the in-game tasks assigned to them, whichever comes first. The ducks win by eliminating all the geese before they can accomplish either.
Like in “Among Us,” each goose is assigned a role to complete certain in-game tasks while they’re trying to sniff out who has infiltrated their gaggle. But the number of roles available — around 40 — dwarfs that of “Among Us,” and it shakes up the formula in really fun ways for both sides.
For example, the Avenger is a goose that temporarily gains the ability to kill if they witness a murder, letting them bypass the typical voting deliberation process and instead take feathery justice into their own hands. The Demolitionist is a duck that kills by planting bombs on unsuspecting geese that will explode after a brief delay and can be passed on to other geese. Then there are roles that aren’t on either side, like the Vulture, who wins by eating enough corpses of the murdered geese, or the Dodo, who intentionally tries to get voted off.
A variety of different game modes adds new wrinkles to the mix, like Draft, which lets players choose their roles in a randomly decided order, or the Halloween-themed mode Trick or Treat, where ducks become vampires trying to turn villagers (geese) into their thralls, who can then pass it on to others.
“Destroys more friendships than Uno,” reads one Steam review. “Me and my wife got gifts for each other, I got us this game, and she got us a divorce,” reads another.
“Goose Goose Duck” is free on Steam as well as Google Play and the App Store. It supports crossplay for up to 16 players.
Cooking up chaos
What you need to play: A videoconferencing app and a copy of the game for each player
“Overcooked: All You Can Eat!” made our list of best couch co-op games, but it’s also a great option to play remotely. This compilation includes both the original “Overcooked” and “Overcooked 2” along with all their DLC. Players team up to cook and serve as many dishes as possible while working in the world’s most chaotic kitchens, like the middle of an active volcano or a hot-air balloon as it falls out of the sky. It’s frantic and frustrating in the best of ways.
You and your friends can tackle the game’s main campaign or play through more than 200 levels in other multiplayer modes like survival and practice. Developer Team17 also added an assist mode where you can tweak gameplay settings to make things a little less frantic so that if you can’t stand the heat, you don’t have to get out of the kitchen.
Each player (it supports up to four) will need their own copy of the game for this one, available on PC, Switch, PlayStation or Xbox consoles.
A rat race for restaurateurs
What you need to play: A videoconferencing app and a copy of the game for each player
At first glance, “Plate Up!” may remind you of the Overcooked series, but it leans much more heavily into the actual business of running a restaurant day to day (and the chaos that ensues). Instead of simply rushing to complete customers’ orders, here you take charge. The restaurant’s layout, menu, cooking utensils and appliances are all up to you, as is the question of how to allocate your profits at the end of each day. While the premise shares similarities to Overcooked, the simple graphics and ragdoll physics of your little chef avatar call to mind “Human: Fall Flat.”
“Plate Up!” also departs from the Overcooked series in its use of a roguelike progression system, shifting the focus to be more on strategy and less on the moment-to-moment madness of working in a kitchen. To keep from getting closed down, you and your team will need to keep your customers happy through a series of rounds, making small but meaningful adjustments as new layouts, menu items and other options are unlocked with each major milestone. Mess up too many orders, and your establishment could be shut down.
“Plate up!” is available on Steam and supports up to four players, though each will need a copy of the game.