Level Up Your Zooms: 11 Video Games to Play with Family
By Franki Hanke
Even the less-than-technical can connect with video games.
After a year of lockdown, my family, like many, found ourselves on big, group Zoom calls as we tried to stay connected with our distant family and friends. However, when the most exciting thing in my day-to-day is that they rearranged the grocery store, the conversation faltered.
Instead, we turned to games.
Video games often get a bad rap. The mental image is usually of tweens playing Fortnite or glued to the Xbox all night. However, video games are created and enjoyed by all ages.
Unlike mere Zoom calls, we play video games to connect together in a shared activity even if one person’s in New York and the other’s in Nashville. When it comes to multiplayer games, it truly is worth the screen time.
If you’re new to the idea of video gaming, here are 11 options to ease in.
A Primer for Non-Gamers
How do we play?
There are multiple platforms (or consoles) to play games. Often, games are offered on multiple platforms. The biggest contenders are Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Switch, and PC (computer).
But sometimes games are not cross-platform compatible.
So, games that are not cross-platform compatible cannot be played between your son on his Playstation 4 and you on your computer, for example. Plus, to play online with Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo Switch you’ll need a paid subscription to their online network.
Usually, it’s easiest to play computer games because more people own a computer than any other console. If you want to play on a console, make sure everyone owns the same one.
Where to buy games?
You’ve probably walked past a display case of physical game discs in a store, but not all games can be purchased on a disc. In fact, most games can be digitally downloaded instead.
For console games (Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo) you purchase games through their own specific store which has a shortcut on the console.
However, we purchase most computer games on Steam. An online platform for games, Steam is essentially the Amazon of video games. You download the Steam client through their website and then can shop games to download on their program.
Once you’ve downloaded Steam, add everyone to your friend’s list to easily connect for games.
Digital Board Games
Digital board games are a great entry point to video games. Oftentimes, these are the digital version of traditional board games, like Monopoly. This way, even when you’re miles apart, you can play a game like you’re back around the dining room table.
If you’re completely new to video games, start with digital board games. They are often familiar in style (to original games), controls, and technical details so they are easier to download, run, and play.
Ticket to Ride
From a board game with dozens of tiny plastic trains to a digital game that’s available on your phone, Ticket to Ride is a simple strategy game. Players all run a railroad by accepting route tickets and trying to lay rails to connect their required destinations. But the map is limited (and so are your trains) so competitor rails can make your track impossible to place!
This game is easy for everyone to start with, and it has one of the best user experiences. I’ve played with my grandma who doesn’t know how to type text messages, so fear not if you’re less technical.
Player Tip: You can play this one even from your phone, so get everyone involved! The more you play, the better your strategy will develop, but if I’m losing, I’ll gamble a win on pulling more Route cards.
Console Compatibility: Ticket to Ride is cross-compatible, but only for certain platforms. Players who purchase through Steam, Playstation Store, iOs App Store, or Android App Store can play together. However, the Microsoft version and Xbox version can only play with other Microsoft players.
Download Ticket to Ride on Steam.
Clue / Cluedo
This childhood board game didn’t change much when it went digital, which is perfect. The board and characters look a bit upgraded, but the game is the same. Players use investigations in each room to try and piece together the crime that’s been committed. The winner claims the title when they successfully guess who committed the crime, where, and with what weapon.
Player Tip: Take notes while you play! Anytime I play with the game’s built-in notepad, I lose. If I take my own notes, I win. So, use your own notepad or phone to take notes of your thoughts on the crime.
Console Compatibility: Cluedo is cross-platform compatible on Nintendo Switch, iOs and Android phones (and tablets), and the computer.
Download Clue on Steam.
The household favorite has an upgraded 3D look in the digital version, but otherwise, it’s the same family feud waiting to happen. For an entry point to video games, playing such a familiar game online is an easy transition.
Plus, with Monopoly Plus, no one is relegated to playing the Banker.
Player Tip: You’ll need to create a Ubisoft account to play this game (which is free, but a little annoying). It’s a one-time set-up though.
Download Monopoly Plus on Steam.
My family’s own personal favorite, Gremlins Inc is a digital board game that was born digital. It didn’t start as a traditional board game, however, it plays like a board game with players on a map and a hand of cards.
The game is point-based. You want to use your cards to move through the board and collect points, however, there are multiple strategies to achieve this. It’s a strategy game that especially older kids and adults will enjoy.
Player Tip: The game looks complicated at first, but play the tutorial and then jump in. Everyone will learn as they go, and the game offers in-game tips for you to continue honing your strategy as you go.
Console Compatibility: Gremlins, Inc is only available on PC, but last year they released a card game inspired by the original.
Download Gremlins, Inc. on Steam.
A small step-up from digital board games, Party Games are designed for large groups with a focus on being fun. Oftentimes, these games are simpler and designed to be easy to jump in.
Party games are great for the whole family and often offer the best options for younger children. Some are competitive, some require teamwork. It all depends on the game.
A game of teamwork and betrayal, Among Us is easy to play with everyone. You play as one of a team of astronauts. Most are crewmates, but one to three of the players are assigned to be imposters. Imposters betray the crew and try to kill everyone on the ship.
The real highlight of the game is the team meetings. As crewmates try to operate the spaceship successfully, imposters can sneak behind the scenes and murder their crew. After each body is discovered, everyone confers to guess who did it. This leads to questionable witness statements, accusations, and pleas for mercy.
Player Tip: As you play, pay attention to the names of tasks and the layout of the map. When you’re an imposter, you’ll want to pretend like you were doing tasks like everyone else.
Download Among Us on Steam.
Jackbox Games were made for spicing up pandemic Zoom calls (even though they were around before that became a thing). Unlike the other options, with Jackbox games, only one person has to own the games. They act as the host, everyone else can play along from their own mobile device or computer and a video conference.
The way it works is one person owns the game and shares their screen to show the game via Zoom or Steam Remote Play Together. Then, everyone else can interact with the game activities through a custom web link on their phone or computer. Jackbox has made it easy to learn how to do this. The catalog of games ranges from trivia to a Pictionary knock-off.
Player Tip: Jackbox games are simple and silly. They are best combined with good conversation and maybe a drink. Don’t take them too seriously.
Console Compatibility: Jackbox Games are available all over. From Xbox One to the Apple TV. Plus, since only one person has to own the games, compatibility isn’t an issue. Just choose one person to host and have them download a game pack on their console of choice.
Download Jackbox Games Party Pack.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
This unconventional puzzle game teaches problem-solving like never before. The premise is simple. You’re in the room with a bomb, and your friends or family have the information to diffuse it. But they aren’t there with you. They can’t see the bomb. Fulfill the drama in so many tv shows while you argue about which wire is right.
One player sees the bomb in-game, the other player(s) have access to the manual. Through talking back and forth, you go through the steps to diffuse the bomb, but take too long and it’ll explode.
Player Tip: For maximum effect, have your diffuser friends print the manual out for the real rush of frantically turning pages.
Download Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes on Steam.
Super Mario Party
Everyone’s favorite platformer (aka Super Mario Bros) has a party game. Older children probably played one of the Super Mario games in single-player before. Super Mario Party is a Nintendo Switch game, so it does require the console for everyone who’s going to play. However, if you’re thinking about joining a group of gamers, it’s possible most people already own one. Plus, this classic party game couldn’t be left off the list.
This game is actually a collection of 80 minigames. Most are competitive, but there are some two-versus-two co-op modes, too.
Player Tip: The included “Joycon” controllers make my hands hurt. If you plan to play often, invest in the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller to save yourself the hand cramps.
Console Compatibility: This is a Nintendo-only party. In-person, multiple people can play on the same device, though.
Purchase Super Mario Party on Amazon.
Mario Kart 8
Another Nintendo favorite, Mario Kart 8 is a racing game to play with anyone who usually spends their time playing Rocket League (which isn’t for the faint of heart when it comes to games). This is the newest lineup in many years of Mario Kart racing games.
You drive a cartoon car and try to take first place while thwarting your competitors with silly interruptions like banana peels and explosions.
Player Tip: For first-time players, turn on Auto-Accelerate and Smart Steering for a bit of help.
Console Compatibility: Don’t forget that playing online between Nintendo Switches requires a paid Nintendo Switch Online membership, but once you have that you can play with up to 12 people.
Purchase Mario Kart 8 on Amazon.
Other Multiplayer Games
From here, we have a multitude of other games with multiplayer options. However, unlike party games and digital board games, some may require more familiarity with controlling your game. Many of these games offer single-player modes, too so they are great for gamers who want the option to play by themselves when the whole family isn’t around to join.
Now, this game is not for the easily shaken. This co-op cooking game is truly chaotic. It’s easy to play, but hard to master. All players are chefs in a kitchen, however, the co-op element comes in as the differing kitchen layouts of each level give players access to different workstations. Working together is the only way to effectively turn out orders.
Player Tip: It’s easy to get overwhelmed with a game like this. If it starts feeling chaotic and not fun, switch to something else. Or, stick to easier levels, there’s nothing saying you have to progress.
Console Compatibility: Overcooked is the first of a two-part series. Both games are bundled in a game pack called Overcooked All You Can Eat which is developing cross-platform compatibility in Spring 2021.
Download Overcooked on Steam.
With an iconic cubic graphic style, Minecraft is an open-world game where you decide what matters. Spend the entire time building a village or explore the entire map. This game will require you to get comfortable with a 3D game space and moving a character throughout it, but its simple style is easier to learn than more advanced visuals can be.
Player Tip: If you enjoy Minecraft, you might also like Roblox, which is quite similar.
Console Compatibility: Minecraft is cross-compatible for Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows computers, and phones as long as you run the Bedrock version (not the Java Edition).
Download Minecraft no matter your platform.
As you jump into video games, don’t be afraid to experiment. Steam, in particular, allows for returns of digital downloads if you’ve played for under two hours. So, try games out and see what you like. There’s a huge difference between playing a racing game (which I personally hate) and an open-world RPG (which I personally love).
Experiment with what you like, and of course, bring your loved ones along for the ride.
Want to look your best for this family game night?
Put your best face forward on Facetime with some quick makeup (and skincare) tips.
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