How to Have Game Night During a Pandemic and Horrible Air Quality

You can play Settlers of Catan online. Photo: CATAN

Update, September 11: Hello, again. Six months later, we’re still social distancing and the air quality is terrible due to the ongoing wildfires. So, we’ve decided to update this post with a few new ideas. Stay safe, everyone!

Once upon a time, a time that seems so distant from now, we used to gather at friends’ homes to play board and video games. Now it seems the only game we can play is an extended version of Hide ’n Seek. To hold off the pangs of isolation, however, I’ve been trying to find ways to play games with my friends online. Here are some ideas.

Play tabletop RPGs on Roll20. Roll 20 is an online tabletop platform made for Dungeon & Dragons and other RPGs. Manage your character sheet, roll for initiative, see maps, and even play mood-setting music all in one place. Plus, you can chat through text or video, so it’s kind of like you’re hanging out. Except you have to bring your own snacks. You could also check out Fantasy Grounds, FableTop, or AstralTop.

Play video games with friends on Steam. Back when bars were a thing, I put many a quarter in the Gauntlet machine at Blipsy in Koreatown. I also play a lot of co-ops on video game platform Steam, and it turns out you can play Gauntlet online with friends. There are a few ways you can play on Steam, including joining games you both own or using the Remote Play Together function to play games one of you owns. I have personally found Remote Play Together to be somewhat glitchier than playing games everyone owns.

It’s free to sign up for a Steam account and browse what’s available. Some popular multiplayer games that aren’t too tough to get into include Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, Castle Crashers, Quest Hunter, and Overcooked. If you’re more in the mood for a board game experience, you could try Mysterium, Ticket to Ride, or, uh… Pandemic. If you’re into less cutesy stuff, there’s the Borderlands series (please note, this franchise’s humor is a bit adult), Grim Dawn, Don’t Starve, Victor Vran, and a slew of zombie games like How to Survive, Left 4 Dead, or Dying Light. Warframe is a solid free co-op, where you can choose to buy items, but you certainly don’t have to. If you want to play a story-rich co-op that will take hours and hours, I can’t recommend the isometric RPG Divinity: Original Sin 2 enough. Its creator, Larian Studios, are helming the new Baldur’s Gate. There’s also a lot more that I haven’t played, so definitely browse based on your own preferences.

Play Settlers of Catan online. This popular strategy game has dominated many past board game nights. The online version is available for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android and should keep you and your friends busy for a while.


Dominion is a deck-building strategy game in which you and up to three other players attempt to become the greatest monarch in the land. Play it online for free or, if you get really into it, spring for a subscription to get all the expansions. 

Play Go Fish, Checkers, and other simple games online at Just create a room, then ask your friends to join using your room code. 

Video chatting app Houseparty has several games, including trivia and a drawing game. You can chat with up to eight friends at a time and pop into any chat your friends have going. Of course, you should know that anyone you’re friends with can start a video chat with you whenever you’re in the app. You’ll want to make sure you’re decent before you open it.

Jackbox offers fun, accessible multiplayer trivia, word, and other kinds of party games that you can join with your phone. One person can host, then everyone else can log into the game with a room code. Jackbox has a whole FAQ on how to best play its games while social distancing. (Or, just watch the video above.)

There are a few online platforms with a virtual cabinet of board games. They include Board Game Arena, where ‘shelves’ include 7 Wonders, Yahtzee, Sushi Go, and several others. Many are free to play, while premium games require you to have or play with someone who has a subscription. Subscriptions prices are listed in Euros, but come out to $4.38/month or $26.28/year. You could also try Tabletopia, which is a gorgeous site with loads of games. Subscriptions range from free to $9.99/month. Or, Tabletop Simulator (available on Steam for $19.99) includes several “base games” and allows you to create your own.

If you want to play a physical copy of a game you own, check out this guide from No Proscenium on how to play a tabletop game over Zoom or another video chatting app.


Are you more into puzzles? Enchambered’s Alone Together is a collaborative puzzle game for two people. Though you can play with a partner in your home, you can also play over the phone or video chat with anyone, anywhere. You just need two different screens. First, go here, then start the game for players one and two. Each of you will see different information on your screens. By communicating what’s in front of you, you’ll work together to solve puzzles, crack codes, and ultimately win the game. If you like it, check out the sequel, Together Apart.

Photo: Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

Similarly, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes can also be played by multiple people looking at different screens. The object of this game is to disarm a bomb. One person acts as the “defuser” and they can see the bomb. Everyone else must look at the bomb manual and communicate the correct codes and wires to clip. To act as defuser, you’ll need a copy of the game, but anyone can access the manual. Find more remote play tips here.

One of the last things I did before Safer at Home was play an escape room at 60 Out in Echo Park. Obviously, most escape rooms now closed, but several virtual escape rooms have since opened. (If you’re looking for something to play alone, I suggest mobile games Forever Lost, The Silent Age, and The Room series.)

Virtual escape games range in complexity. Typically, you’ll log onto Zoom or a similar platform with your team. The game master will also log on and guide you through the room and clues. Sometimes, a game master will act as your avatar and lead you through a physical escape room. Other times, the game might consist of just images or videos. Obviously, a live actor in an actual room is a bit more engaging. Some of my favorites have included Hourglass Escapes’s Evil Dead 2 room and Improbable Escapes’s Seven Dwarves: Mining Mission. See a huge list of online escape rooms from Escape The Roomers, click here.


Try an Alternative Reality Game (ARG). These typically take place over social media, email, websites, or the phone and require you to dive down a rabbit hole into a story that mingles with your real world. You can do these alone or in a group. Though it’s ended, you could start at the beginning of horror game Arcana, or check out The Prism. If this really sounds like your thing, dedicated Redditors stay on top of trailheads here.

Get an at-home game package. A few L.A. companies are offering dinner and a game. They include Vampire.Pizza and Welcome Home. You’ll pick up or have dinner delivered, and you’ll also get a box with a story, puzzles, and more. If you just want the game, there are several companies that will send you a subscription box on a regular basis, including Hunt a Killer, The Deadbolt Mystery Society, and Escape the Crate.

And, finally, there’s Stay the F*** Inside, the most topical game you could play right now. It’s a drinking game where players flip through 150 digital cards while video chatting together. Some prompts include drink if you binged Tiger King or drink if you’re the first person who can correctly state what day it is. It’s pay-what-you-want ($4.99-$9.99) and all proceeds benefit Meals on Wheels.


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