Tech-Free Games to Play via Zoom

Technology has been a godsend during the quarantine. Sonny and Ace are attending school via Google Classroom and video meetings with their teachers, and they stay in touch with their friends via Hangouts, Messenger Kids, and Minecraft. We order groceries online and pick them up curbside. Our families have gathered via Zoom. We read books on our tablets. We text our friends to offer and accept moral support. Church services are live-streamed. We’ve played JackBox games with friends.

Technology has made it possible to cling to our sanity, such as it is.

Still, too much of a good thing is too much of a good thing, and the truth is that I have technology fatigue. Needing to connect with others yet often depending on technology to do so is a paradox that can be tricky to navigate. While JackBox, Houseparty, and other online game options are fun, classic, old-fashioned games are appealing as well. And for some, a videoconference alone is enough of a burden on their technological savvy; they don’t want to have to expend energy figuring out how to play an online game. 

Enter the compromise: Here are 13 games that can be played via Zoom, Hangouts, and the like yet require no additional technology. (Of course, these games can be played at home as well. No Zoom necessary.) While some of these offer apps as one option, none require them. And they all make it possible to focus on those with whom you are playing instead of on the screen itself.

Battleship. If you own the board game, set it up and play it as usual. But you can easily play without the board game as well; in fact; Battleship first became popular during World War I as a pencil and paper game. So grab a writing utensil, and print these grids to place your ships and record your hits and misses. Ahoy! Directions are included. 

Two Truths and a Lie. Each player names two things that are true and one thing that is not. The others guess which one is false. Try the following categories, or make up your own.

  • Bucket lists: “These three things are on my bucket list: taking a photography class, learning to play the ukulele, and hiking the Appalachian Trail.”
  • Experiences: “I have done these three things: been stung by a bee, won a coloring contest, and gotten four stitches on my chin.”
  • Likes: “I like these three things: Nutella, painting pictures, and playing gaga ball.”

Scattergories. This party game was around long before the boxed version; my mom has fond memories of playing it at her aunt’s house on Thanksgiving. All players work from the same list and write examples of each term that start with a particular letter. If you each happen to own the boxed party game, coordinate the lists and play from that. If not, you can each print out (or screen share) these lists. Find detailed directions here.

A to Z. Choose a category (something you find in a house, an animal, something school-related, a food, etc.), and think of an example from each letter of the alphabet. Use scrap paper or this record sheet. After three minutes, everyone shares their list and crosses off examples that someone else had. Assign one point for each word that remains. 

Boggle. If one of you owns Hasbro’s Boggle game, you could shake the letter pieces and situate the camera so that everyone can see the grid. If not, or if doing so is too unwieldy, print out (or screen share) these Word Chain grids. Alternatively, you could use this resource and share the screen.  

Would You Rather? Take turns choosing another player and asking a question that offers two choices. (Alternatively, everyone may answer the question.) Make sure that the choices are difficult either because neither choice is desirable (e.g., “Would you rather always wear tight shoes or always wear shoes that fall off?”) or because both choices are desirable (e.g., “Would you rather have the ability to become invisible or have the ability to move things with your mind?”).

Hangman (or Snowman, for those who prefer a less gory option). One player draws blanks for each letter of a word or phrase, leaving space to complete the drawing of a hangman/snowman. The other player guesses each missing letter of the word. Each incorrect guess results in another part of the hanged man or snowman being drawn. The player who guesses the word before the drawing is completed wins. Otherwise, the player who chose the word wins.

Yahtzee. Each location will need five dice. (If not everyone has five dice, or if you want everyone to be able to see for themselves what each person rolled, you can share the Zoom screen with this dice roller.) Directions and printable scorecards are available here.

Charades. An oldie but goodie: act out the words to a phrase, movie title, book title, etc., and everyone else guesses. Remember: the person acting out the charade may not talk.

The Last Becomes First. Choose a category (animals, food, movies, books, actors, things found in nature, fictional characters, etc.). One person says a word that fits that category. The next player says a word that starts with the last letter of the previous word. (Example: Bear. Rabbit. Tiger. Raccoon. Nightingale. Elephant.) Players have five seconds to think of a word, or they must drop out. The last person remaining wins.

Twenty Questions. Another oldie but goodie. One person chooses an object or a concept. Everyone else tries to guess what this is by asking “yes or no” questions. The guessers can ask up to 20 questions to figure out the answer.

Trivia. Choose questions from trivia games you have at your house, or make up questions based on your own knowledge. (You could also use a trivia generator.)

Courtiers. In this old-fashioned parlor game, one person (designated as the king or queen) begins to gesture with the goal of making the others smile or laugh. All other players copy the gestures without smiling or laughing. The first person to smile or laugh becomes the next king or queen.

No-Peek Drawing. Everyone closes their eyes and draws something on a piece of paper. Take turns holding your drawings up to the camera and guessing what everyone else tried to draw.

What other ideas do you have?

Be well, everyone.