If you miss your weekly game night crew, you’re not alone. “A lot of board gamers are having to get creative to get their weekly fix in these socially distant times,” says board game designer Rob Sparks, like organizing Zoom get-togethers, Skype calls, or FaceTime hangouts. And though many games in people’s collections won’t translate well to video calls, “there are a few games that shine through,” he promises. Our experts agree that roll-and-write-style games, where players typically roll dice and mark results on a score sheet, tend to work best, but there are other, more in-depth board games that can also be easily adapted. To find out what works best for virtual play, we asked Sparks and four other board-game experts for their favorites, including games for groups as small as two and as big as 100. All of the games below only require one player, also known as the host, to own the game, with other players merely needing to source specific components like a score sheet or graph paper and a pencil.
A quick note on setup: If you are playing the part of the host, board game enthusiast and Cartamundi tabletop games ambassador Sean Amdisen-Cooke suggests building a makeshift tripod out of boxes and books to hold your phone, with the camera aimed at the tabletop from above, for all the players to see what is happening during gameplay. “Then, for a second screen to see my family (and for them to see me), I simply used my computer.”
Best overall Zoom board game
Three of our experts love Welcome to … for Zoom. This game has players take on the role of architects attempting to build the perfect town in 1950s America. Instead of dice, three cards are flipped over, each with a given action, explains Amdisen-Cooke. There are many ways to score points, and players must figure out their preferred strategy to put them in the lead, he adds. Players choose one of the three cards, and once everyone has made their decision, the next three cards are flipped over. At the end of the game, each player will have completed their unique town, and the player with the most points wins. George Georgeadis of Oniro Games is also a huge fan and says it’s a great choice to play with a ton of people. The box says you can play with up to 100 players, and he told us he’s personally played with over 50 to great success. To play online, one person must own the game to display the cards and everyone else just needs a pencil and a score sheet, which they can download and print for free here or download a free app onto their phones for a digital version, says Georgeadis.
Best classic roll-and-write-style Zoom board games
“Easy to teach, minimal setup, and suitable for any number of players, this absolute classic will have players pushing their luck to roll high-scoring combinations of dice,” says Sparks. Each player will need dice and a Yahtzee sheet to track their progress — but if they don’t have supplies on hand, players can also just use an online dice roller and an online sheet like this one. The host starts by rolling their dice on camera, playing their turn. The next player can then either take a turn by rolling their own dice on camera or getting the host to roll for them.
According to Sparks, “Boggle is perfect for an evening wordsmithing with friends,” and it’s one of the simplest games to play virtually. The host, who must own a copy of Boggle, shakes the Boggle dice, shows the other players the result, and sets the timer. Each player writes their words down, as normal, until the timer runs out.
Another classic game that easily translates on Zoom is Pictionary, which Sparks calls “simple to teach and loads of fun.” While you will have to forgo the board to play this online, “it’s still a hilariously creative game to sink a few evenings into,” he says. Each player will need a timer and either a digital drawing board like Microsoft Paint, Photoshop, Zoom’s Whiteboard feature, or just a pen and paper. You’ll also need a copy of Pictionary for the category cards; a category generator works, too. Decide on a points goal — for example, first to 10 points — to replace moving around the board, says Sparks. To begin, the first player selects a category, either by using the online category generator or by asking the host to draw a category card to show the camera. From there, the game proceeds as usual, with the player who picked the prompt drawing either on the digital drawing board or with their pen and paper, explains Sparks.
Best family-friendly roll-and-write-style Zoom board games
Amdisen-Cooke plays That’s Pretty Clever on Skype with his family all the time and says “it works perfectly.” He keeps his camera aimed at the dice tray, while his family members each have their own scoring pads to keep track. The main objective is to choose from six different colored dice for chain-scoring opportunities on your scoreboard to earn points. But you must choose wisely: Any dice you don’t pick that have a smaller value can be stolen by the other players. “At first glance, this game may look complex, but the rules are super-simple once you get going,” says Amdisen-Cooke. And if you end up loving the game, you can level up to Twice as Clever, which has the same concept but is “slightly more complex, with different rules and scoring possibilities.”
Patchwork Doodle is a Tetris-style game that builds on Uwe Rosenberg’s two-player smash hit Patchwork, says Amdisen-Cooke, adding that it’s “good fun for the whole family.” For online play, one player has to own a copy of the game and everyone else needs a sheet of graph paper on hand to draw. The cards are laid out on a table, each with a specific shape drawn on it, and a dice roll determines which card players get to draw. The main objective is to fit the shapes into the overall puzzle, “creating as few gaps and empty spaces as possible.” To make it even more interesting, each player has several special abilities they can use “to fill their board, make shapes fit, or even choose different shapes,” he explains.
Matt Montgomery loves Second Chance — a fast-paced game suitable for one to six players ages 8 and up — that asks players to fill their grid with as few empty spaces as possible. Each turn, two cards are revealed with different shapes printed on them. Players select the one they would like to add to their grid. If neither card fits, players get a second chance, as the title suggests, to pull one more card from the deck. If that card also doesn’t work, the player is eliminated. The game ends when someone successfully fills their entire grid. If all the cards have been played or all the players have been eliminated, then the person who has filled their grid with the fewest gaps wins. The game only requires that each player has a sheet of graph paper, with the host revealing the cards to the camera.
“Railroad Ink is another awesome roll-and-write-style game which comes in two different editions,” says Amdisen-Cooke. Players aim to connect as many exits on their boards as possible, with the dice rolls determining what they can build, he adds. Just like with Second Chance, players only need a sheet of graph paper, with the host revealing the cards to the camera. The red edition adds challenges, such as meteors and volcanoes, while the blue edition includes rivers and lakes that must be navigated.
Best Zoom party game
Two of our experts suggested Just One, which also took a spot on our best party games list. The game recently won the prestigious 2019 Spiel des Jahres, or German Game of the Year, and is “well suited for parties and families,” says Amdisen-Cooke. The main objective is for players to help their teammates guess a word by suggesting, as the title suggests, just one word as a hint. However, “the catch is that if several players write the same clue, those clues are canceled out,” so it’s not as simple as it sounds, says Amdisen-Cooke. A correct answer scores your team one point, while a wrong answer docks two points. To adjust the game for online play, one player would need to own a physical copy of the game, and everyone else just needs something to write on. You could even use a shared Google Doc, says Montgomery. Obviously, the host would not be able to play as a guessing player, “since they would see every word,” but could give hints.
Best cooperative-style Zoom board game
“A topical game for the times we’re in, Pandemic is a brilliant cooperative game that can be played over a video call,” says Sparks. Though it is one of the more involved games for the host to negotiate, it’s great if you want a “deeper board game experience.” The player who owns a copy of Pandemic is the host, and they set up a game as usual, dealing out hands of cards for each player involved in the game. “Make sure the host’s webcam is showing the board,” adds Sparks. The host goes first, taking their turn as usual. Then players take turns one at a time as the game goes on. “On a non-host player’s turn, the host will show their cards to the webcam and the player will instruct the host on what actions they would like to take,” he explains.
Best fast-paced Zoom board games
Amdisen-Cooke calls Deep Sea Adventure “a really extraordinary game” for two to six players who assume the roles of divers hunting for treasure. A dice roll determines how far a player can descend or ascend, and the deeper you go, the more valuable the treasures. “The catch is that all players share the same oxygen supply, and once it’s up, it’s up,” he explains. If you don’t make it back to the submarine before your supply runs out, you must return empty-handed. The board consists of individual tiles, and if they are all positioned within view of the camera, it’s straightforward to play via Zoom, he says, adding that the other players simply instruct the person controlling the physical game whether they want to go down or up, where to move the game piece, and whether you want to take a treasure. Gameplay takes 30 minutes, so it’s a good choice for those who prefer brisk rounds.
Wordsy has players compete to form the longest word in the shortest amount of time from a set of eight consonants, says Montgomery, adding that players can use any vowels in between. Gameplay only takes 20 minutes and is super-simple to learn, making it suitable for gamers of all skill levels.
Best word-association Zoom board game
The perennially popular party game Codenames “works like an absolute charm over video conferencing,” says Michael James Heron of Meeple Like Us. Amdisen-Cooke agrees: “I love games with a cooperative angle, and the team feeling in this one will surely make for a really fun evening on Zoom.” The basic concept of this Czech spy-themed game is similar to charades, with players dividing into two teams and one designated spymaster providing clues to help their team guess different words. Guessing the words correctly unveils the other teams’ secret agents, with the first team to unmask all of their opponents’ spies being crowned the victor. Georgeadis says the player with a copy of the game can easily lay out the code words for all the players to see. “The only tricky part with this game would be to secretly find a way to share the ‘key’ card each round to the two designated spymasters,” he says. The easiest way to do this is to have everyone else turn away from their cameras to allow the spymasters to take a screenshot of the “key” card.