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Christmas is going to feel far from normal this year, and chances are you’ll have to celebrate at least some of it with your friends and family online.
Games have become an incredibly popular way to jazz up Zoom or Skype calls during lockdowns, and if you’re keen to play games on a video call this Christmas but aren’t sure where to start, we’ve tried out five popular games.
Keep scrolling to find out how to play Jackbox TV, Geoguessr, Among Us, Charades and Skribbl via video calling apps, and what we thought of each game when we tried them out, which we liked best and which ones we’d be keen to play with our friends and families.
Best for the whole family
How do you play? – The good news is there are no special websites or software required for this one, just you and your questionable ability to act out phrases without speaking.
Charades has been a mainstay Christmas game for decades. The rules are simple: without uttering a word, a player must mime a book, song, film, TV show, play, or other category, and the other players have to guess what it is.
You can play individually or in teams, and whoever guesses the phrase correctly earns a point and the burden/joy of acting out the next charade.
If you don’t like being put on the spot to think of a charade (one of our testers wasn’t fond of that at all), it can help to prepare a list of phrases on bits of paper in advance of your call.
What we liked – the simplest and easiest games we tested turned out to be our favourites to play, and they don’t come much simpler than charades.
It isn’t a game that first came to mind when we were looking for games to play on a video call, and we were pleasantly surprised at how easily it translated from the living room to the screen.
When it’s your turn you simply stand up, angle your camera so everyone can see, and start acting out your phrase.
We loved that hardly any explanation or setup came with this game, and we all said we’d be happy to play this with our families. It’s accessible to people of all ages and computer literacies.
What we didn’t like – If you’re on a big group call, you’ll have to remember to either change your view or pin the video of whoever’s turn it is so their video features prominently onscreen. Otherwise you’ll have difficulty seeing what they’re doing.
Best for friends
How do you play? – Jackbox Games has a wide range of games available to buy individually or as part of a ‘Party Pack’. These are available to buy and play on PC or Mac principally from Amazon, Steam, the Google Play Store or the Mac App Store.
Expect to pay £2-£7 for an individual game and around £15-£24 for a party pack. But once you’ve paid you can use them ad infinitum.
They’re also available to buy from the digital stores of Xbox, Playstation and Nintendo games consoles – though you’ll struggle to play over a video call when using those platforms.
Only one person on your video call needs to have bought the game as it will be up to them to launch it and share their screen so others on the video call can see and play along.
To join each game, players go to jackbox.tv using the browser on their smartphone or tablet and join the game using a four-letter code that will be shown on the host’s screen.
Once in, you draw, type and select your answers in each game using your device. There are no apps to download.
The games you can play are wonderfully varied: from trying to deceive your fellows with fake answers to questions you type in on Fibbage XL to drawing obscure Pictionary-style prompts in Drawful.
Each game has a narrator and instructions for playing which are shared with players as the game begins.
What we liked – When you play a paid-for game rather than something free, your expectations are higher, and we were pleased with what we saw from Jackbox TV.
It wasn’t long before we were all roaring with laughter at the fun, competitive and often outrageous games. Despite their fast-paced nature, we all found it easy to pick up and play Fibbage XL, which involved players filling in the blanks on a phrase with a fake answer and try to trick each other into thinking their fake answer is the correct one.
We agreed JackBox TV was a great pick to play with your friends, and thanks to the screen-sharing capabilities of video calling apps such as Zoom and Skype, it plays very easily over the web instead of the living room.
What we didn’t like – We felt the fast-paced nature of the games might be a little too speedy for some players, especially those not used to using their phones or tablets to play.
You can’t rewind bits or have them repeated without starting over, either, so you have to listen closely and hope your internet connection doesn’t skip at important moments.
Adult language can also crop up in Jackbox games, so it’s worth noting that parts of some games might not be palatable for certain players.
And on the game we played, Fibbage XL, there was a relentless quiz master whose voice really started to grate after just a short while. If you find the same (and you’re playing on Zoom where you can share your screen’s sound) it’s worth going into the Jackbox settings and turning the volume all the way down to minimum, so you can still hear it but can also converse with friends.
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The other games to play on Zoom we tested
How do you play? – Among Us is available for PC from Steam or on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. It’s £3.99 on Steam, but you can play it for free on smartphones and tablets if you’re happy to put up with ads. Whatever device you play on, everyone can play together.
In the game, between four and ten players roam around a space ship as crewmates, completing tasks to keep the ship in good working order and to ultimately win the game.
But there’s a twist – one player is secretly not a crewmate at all but an impostor, whose sole purpose is to sabotage the ship and kill everyone on board.
While completing tasks, players have to keep their wits about them, as any one of their crewmates could in fact turn out to be the murderous impostor.
Your video call acts as an essential discussion tool during the game. All players must mute themselves and only unmute to discuss when a body has been found or an emergency meeting has been called.
During these meetings a timer counts down as players discuss who they suspect to be the impostor. Voting by majority for one suspect will cause them to be ejected from the ship into space (whether they’re guilty or innocent).
Crewmates win when either all their tasks are completed or by correctly identifying the impostor. The impostor wins when they either successfully sabotage the ship or when they’ve killed everyone on board.
What we liked – Among Us went down especially well with the younger testers in the group, with the intricate tasks and the need to keep a sharp eye on what others were doing bringing plenty of mischief and suspense.
Everyone enjoyed the customisable elements of the game, too. We had great fun choosing our own colours and the little hats our characters would wear.
Being the impostor changes your experience entirely as you try to deceive and kill other players. Trying to blend into the group of teammates is exciting, and this is the only game we played that’ll give you the chance to (virtually) kill your in-laws.
What we didn’t like – Some of us were put off by the rather steep and lengthy learning curve that comes with this game. There are a lot of fiddly little elements to it, so it’s not a game you can just pick up and play in five minutes.
We also found the game to be a little buggy when we played. We faced connection issues when trying to join our private game, and sometimes players can be booted from the game unexpectedly for indiscernible reasons.
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How do you play? – If you’ve ever used Google Maps to virtually stand outside your house or visit an old haunt from your childhood, you’ll probably enjoy playing Geoguessr.
Using the Street View function in Google Maps, Geoguessr places you in completely random locations and challenges you to work out where in the world you are.
Using the directional arrows, you explore the location you’ve been placed in and must look for street signs, adverts, or recognisable buildings or landscapes to try and find where you are on a world map.
The closer you are to guessing your location, the more points you get.
There are a couple of different ways to play this game over a video call:
- Everybody selects and does the same challenges, giving you the opportunity to discuss where you think each place is and compare your scores before you move on to the next challenge
- One person shares their screen and everybody talks through where they think the one person is together.
To play you’ll need to create an account. We didn’t find the process too onerous.
It’s also worth noting that the free version of the game is very restricted. You only get to play the daily challenge and one other challenge each day. To play more than that you’ll need to subscribe and pay £2.99 a month.
What we liked – A few of our testers enjoyed Geoguessr as a one-player game, and the geography buffs in our ranks enjoyed it immensely.
It’s simple, quick and feels like a game anyone could play. We also found it satisfying earning plenty of points when we succeeded in working out where in the world we had been placed.
What we didn’t like – This game split the panel and some of us didn’t enjoy it at all. For some it felt boring and there weren’t any laughs while we were playing.
Opinions aside, it also felt like an impractical game to play on a video call as you can’t really play together. You’ll struggle to have everyone feel involved at the same time.
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How do you play? – Skribbl is a free-to-play game where players enter their names, join a room and use their mouse to draw a word or phrase that only they can see.
It’s the job of the other players to try and figure out what’s being drawn and correctly type the answer into the chat box.
The faster you type the correct word into the chat box, the more points you earn.
A timer counts down as you play, and if you’re struggling to figure it out, letters of the correct answer will gradually be revealed to help you out.
You can create a private room so everyone on your video call can join and play together. You can even enter custom words for players to guess, so you could find yourself being tasked with drawing the family dog or another member of your family.
What we liked – This game was enjoyed immensely by all of our testers. Everyone especially liked the simplicity and ease of access, with no account, payment or excessive set-up required.
The game also caused instant hilarity when we were all subjected to each other’s appalling artwork.
We collectively agreed that this is a great game to play with friends, and while a few of us said we’d be keen to play it with our families too, a couple of us felt that it might not be our own older family members’ cup of tea.
What we didn’t like – We had connectivity issues on this game. Some players had trouble joining the game for unexplained reasons, and it’s not a game that’s optimised to be played on mobile, either.
We also noticed that some of the words that come up in Skribbl have American spellings, so you might face frustration at losing points because you spelled something the British way.
To ensure your next video call goes ahead without crackly audio and low-quality video, check out our roundup of the best video calling apps.
How we tested
- A group of five testers of mixed genders, aged between 23 and 49, joined a video call and spent a session trying out each of the five games listed in this story.
- All of the games we selected to test were based on popular suggestions among Which? colleagues and online search results.
- Each tester recorded their likes and dislikes about each game, as well as whether they’d be willing to play each game again with their friends or family.