How to host a virtual game night

It's fun and easy to set up a virtual game night this holiday season as a way to connect and bring some laughter into each other's worlds when we can't all be together.
November 12th, 2020

There is nothing as enjoyable as gathering around the recently cleared dining table for a fun game of Balderdash or a classic board game, like Monopoly, after Thanksgiving dinner.

For many, playing games after a holiday dinner is a tradition. Whether you’re playing charades or poker, these magical moments are memorable and epic.

With a spike in COVID-19 cases in Colorado and the United States, many people are canceling holiday gatherings and parties. That doesn’t mean the fun has to be canceled; it just has to happen virtually this year.

family in front of their computer enjoying an online game night from home.
Enjoying friends and family may look different this year but try adding a virtual game night to your holidays to keep that connection and laughter we continue to need during this pandemic. Source: Getty Images.

Tips for hosting a virtual game night

Here are tips for hosting a game night and suggestions for online sites that can help facilitate virtual game night:

Save the date

Give people ample time to prepare for game night. They may need to figure out how to work a video chat platform for the first time or how to get the app on their phone. And during a time when many people are lonely, setting a time and date gives everyone something to look forward to.

Find a platform to video chat

Consider platforms without time limits, such as Google Hangouts, or be prepared with the time limit (like with Zoom chat) and let that be the end of the game or a break in the action. If it’s going to be the break in the game, set up two meetings ahead of time and send both meeting links out at one time.

Popular platforms for :

    • Google Hangouts – up to 10 people can be displayed at one time but everyone must have a Google (Gmail) account.
    • Zoom – many people can join this video conferencing platform but in groups of three or more, there is a 40-minute time limit.
    • Facebook Messenger – great for people who are already on Facebook. Note that only six users can be displayed at one time so if you have a large group, you may want to find a different platform.
    • FaceTime – has great quality and can be started with just a chat message turned into a video call to your participants. However, only four people can be displayed at one time and everyone must have an Apple device to participate.
    • Houseparty – allows up to eight people to connect, all of whom need to create an account (takes just a minute). This platform also offers card games to play, such as virtual Uno, while you’re in the chat. And once you have your chat room started, you can lock it so no one else can enter.
    • Skype – and oldie but a goodie. Up to 50 people can chat.
person laughing, sitting in front of their computer during a virtual game night with others via a video chat platform.
With a little planning and set up, a virtual game night can be a success. Source: Getty Images.

Find a game for virtual game night

Once you’ve decided what you’re playing, it might be nice to send out how to play the game so that you’re not spending too much time in the beginning with an explanation and you can start playing and get right to the fun.

Some of our favorite virtual game night ideas

Jackbox Games

This website lets you purchase individual games — drawing, writing, trivia or hidden-identity games —that you can play with up to eight people. Once you purchase the game, it’s yours to play as much as you want and others can join using a special code you provide to them.

If you’re planning to play more than one game or get together for a game night more than once, Jackbox Games provides “party packs” for just under $30. Again, a one-time purchase allows you to play with others as many times as you like.

Another benefit to Jackbox is that players don’t have to download an app to play. They only need access to a web browser, go to “jackbox.tv” and enter the room code given to them by the host. And though the party games are designed for up to eight people, as many people as you’d like can join in to watch allowing people to jump in and out of the game-night experience.

a couple laughing while looking at their phones during a virtual game night.
If you can, use your phone to answer questions and your larger screen to join a video chat so to make sure you get to see how much fun everyone is having during virtual game night. Source: Getty Images.

It is a benefit to create your game night via a video chat platform so everyone can talk and see each other’s expressions as you play. The game purchaser can share their screen with the rest of the participants and, if possible, have the participants use their phones to answer questions (they would go to “jackbox.tv” to do this), leaving their chat screen open to see those great reactions. Also, you can turn on extended times so players with poor internet connections don’t miss their chance to answer.

Virtual bingo

It’s a classic and something all ages can enjoy. My free bingo cards allow you to select up to 30 bingo cards for free that you can share with your partygoers with a simple link.

There is a bingo caller and an automated winner verification. You can make it fun with prizes for take-out meals or online shopping. And if several people in the household want to play and are more hands-on, the bingo cards can be printed as well.

EllenTube with Headsup, Psych! and more

Yes, we are talking about the fun, game-loving Ellen DeGeneres. On her site, she has an array of family-friendly games you can download from the Apple App Store or Google Play. Depending on the game, there are paid and free versions. More play options are available in the paid versions.

These games require everyone to download the app and it’s best to use your phone to play the game and a video chat platform to share the experience live with others.

HeadsUp: You remember the game: you stick a card to your forehead and your teammates give you clues so you can guess what it is. It’s easy and fun — and now, virtual. Using your phone, you download the HeadsUp app for 99 cents, connect your party via a video chat platform and off you go.

Psych!: Like balderdash, you get a question, then try to “psych” out others with fake answers — it’s trivia meets Cards Against Humanity. Others have to pick the right answer out of the fake answers. There are many different decks so lots of versions to play. You can send invites to friends to join your game.

Using word-generating websites to assist in an interactive virtual game night

For charades: In this popular guessing game, players work as teams with one member acting out a word or phrase without making any noises. With different word generating websites out there, this is an easy virtual game to try.

Have your game participants get onto your video chat platform, establish the two teams, and agree on a word generating website to use, such as Charades Generator and Ideas or PsyCat Games. Every word generator is a bit different, so find the one you like for your group. And don’t forget a timer if one is not provided.

For Pictionary: In the same manner as charades, you can challenge others to guess what you are drawing. Use a word generating website, like Random Word Generator to help come up with what you need to draw, and then go to a free drawing program such as Auto Draw to start drawing. Don’t forget to share your screen so your teammates can see what your drawing. (Or do it the old fashion way on paper, but you’ll need to point your camera on your paper so your teammates can see as you draw.)

To mix it up a bit more, take turns between acting, drawing or even building or modeling using your kid’s Legos or Playdough. And again, don’t forget the timer.

Other fun online and app games to play with friends:

Scattegories. It is like the board game. You get a letter and then you have to fill in the categories with words that start with that letter. Great game to play with friends and family, but you can also play alone or with strangers.

Everyone has to download the app to play but you can use a video chat platform to connect virtually while you are all playing.

Yahtzee with Buddies Dice Game. Download this free app to enjoy an old classic with your friends and family.

Words with friends. It is Scrabble virtually.

Board Game Arena. The list of board games on this site is huge. It’s not so much for a virtual game night but if you’re looking for a different way to spend your time, check it out.

Tabletopia. This experience is as close as it gets to sitting down with your family to play your favorite board game with storylines and strategy. While you play virtual board games with others, you can also use their chat option.

QuizUp. If you like trivia then check out this app. You can play with friends or with people from all over the world in topic areas that you enjoy.

Whether it is Bingo or a long played-out strategic board game that you and your friends and family once enjoyed together, there is something for everyone out there. The most important part is connecting with each other and bringing a little fun and laughter into each other’s worlds.

This holiday season, when you’ve made that decision to help lower the spread of COVID-19 by downsizing your holiday gatherings, consider sending out a new invite — for a virtual game night!

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.