Collaborative puzzling/gaming recommendations for distanced friends?
July 20, 2020 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Pilcrow Bar ended and we're getting a little burned out on Codenames. What are your favorite light social boardgames / puzzle games / web-based games for adults that can either be played/solved entirely online or can easily be tackled through voice or video chat?

A few widely-geographically-separated friends and I have been meeting periodically online to chat and play games. Lately we've been playing Codenames, a puzzly/wordplay boardgame for four players or teams that recently rolled out an online version. This has worked reasonably well -- there are four of us so the teams are easy, we all enjoy the base mechanics, and it's challenging and engaging enough to be fun while still allowing a lot of room for chatting and silliness and generally enjoying time with friends. However we've been starting to hit a wall with it lately -- the web version (admittedly still in beta) is awfully flaky at times, with repeated timeouts and disconnects, and the ensuing frustration saps a lot of the fun out of it. Even without those issues, I think we'd like to mix it up a bit with something new.

We all enjoy puzzles also and recently we had a lot of fun with Pilcrow Bar, a series of puzzles by The Mystery League out of Chicago. This worked out really well for us -- every week or so there was a new challenge, we could access everything we needed online, we could hop on a voice call and use a shared Google sheet to collaborate on notes and solutions. Pilcrow wrapped up at the end of June and we miss it.

Some years ago a couple of us spent time exploring ARGs (alternate reality games), mostly Urban Hunt by the late lamented Dave Szulborski though we also poked around with Chasing the Wish and a few others. There was something really satisfying about that kind of collaborative exploration and puzzle solving, and I'd love to share something like that with my small gaming group, but I haven't found anything current that feels the same yet. (I miss the Unfiction forums, that was a really great community for a while.)

We've talked about doing some kind of pen-and-paperish RPG but the enthusiasm for something like that is mixed. I think we'd all enjoy an interactive story with interesting challenges, but at least one of us isn't into roleplaying as such, and I don't think any of us are really keen on a fiddly rule-heavy campaign. We've talked about some of the lighter, more social/conversational RPG systems but so far haven't hit on anything that we're all excited about. There's also the downside that one of us would end up doing a lot of heavy lifting in running a game or campaign for the others to participate in, and while we could rotate, I don't think all of us are up for that role.

Additional criteria and notes:
- mostly we use voice chat in Discord but could possibly do video or shared screens if needed
- half of us have PCs and half have Macbooks, so any computer-based stuff would need to be cross platform
- anything on an external schedule that happens more than once a week would be difficult
- competitive stuff is fine, though I think we'd prefer co-operative or collaborative things if possible, and slower-paced stuff would be preferred since it's really more about company than hardcore gaming
- really, we just need things to lift our spirits, it's a hard time for all of us and we need ways to laugh and enjoy each others' company and take a break from reality for a while

What games or puzzles or other collaborative / co-op endeavors have you and your pandemic penpals been enjoying lately? Thanks in advance for your recommendations.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
It's over 20 years old at this point, but miraculously still operating: Planetarium. A puzzle game with 12 weekly installments, perfect for collaborative problem-solving.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:06 PM on July 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Me and my friends have had fun with online Scategories. We get one person to screenshare the webpage and everyone else just needs a pen and paper or they can do it in a online document.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 1:36 PM on July 20, 2020

How about a Parsley From Memento Mori games. It is like a text adventure computer game (Zork, Hitchikers Guide) but on paper and one person is the computer or “Parser.”

I have a few geeky podcasts that I listen to and once a year they play a game and present it as a podcast. If you have the right person to lead it it can be a lot of fun. Playing as a team you get to argue and debate about the right next move and if you get to use on of your “save points” to restore.
posted by sol at 1:37 PM on July 20, 2020

Eric Berlin is a puzzlemaker I like, and he just came out with The Social Distancing Puzzles. It's designed for two people, is worked out on paper, and you each have clues the other one needs. I think it would be simple for you and your friends, maybe too simple, but I like it.
posted by Orlop at 2:19 PM on July 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Tabletopia provides a virtual gaming environment where you can play tons of different board and card games. You can filter by number of players, play time, etc. Most games are free to play. It works well to have Tabletopia going in a browser window with Discord voice or video chat off to the side for player communication.

The interactivity mechanics — rotating and zooming your view, picking up cards & tokens, shuffling, etc. — take a couple of minutes to get used to, and it's a “dumb” interface that will allow you to mess up your game... but I found that weirdly soothing somehow. It made me feel like a human playing with other humans.
posted by D.Billy at 2:57 PM on July 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Stardew Valley is an inexpensive low-key farming game that has a multiplayer feature able to accommodate up to four players (one player acts as the "host"). It doesn't have the heavy-commitment of RPGs out there aimed at serious gaming, plus there are plenty of collaborative activities to do with your fellow farmers.
posted by panther of the pyrenees at 4:03 PM on July 20, 2020

The New Yorker's crossword puzzles now have a collaborative mode. Jackbox games are pretty fun. I like trash talking Dominion online for a slightly more seriously competitive option.
posted by ferret branca at 4:08 PM on July 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Some friends of mine have been having a lot of fun with Jackbox Games.
posted by codhavereturned at 6:47 PM on July 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Nthing Jackbox.

Funny Farm and its offspring is a word association game that's a lot of fun to play in groups and can be done with screen sharing and text/voice chat.
posted by Candleman at 7:37 PM on July 20, 2020

Seconding Dominion Online, though it may be a little competitive for your group. Also consider BoardGame Arena, which has a similar setup to Tabletopia.
posted by Alensin at 7:39 PM on July 20, 2020

My friends and I like Tabletop Simulator on Steam.
posted by jeffmilner at 9:44 PM on July 20, 2020

We’ve been using Boardgame Arena for a while, it’s a nice and simple interface that runs on pretty much anything with web access. I don’t think it has a lot of co-op games, though.

Parsely (mentioned above) might be a good light intro to RPGs, because the “role playing” is minimal and the choices are made co-operatively with each player taking a turn to try a command. The GM has a clear scenario to work from, too, which reduces the workload.

You could also try something like Fiasco, which is GMless.
posted by robcorr at 12:05 AM on July 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the input everybody, will run these ideas past the team and see what sticks.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 2:43 PM on July 21, 2020

I am seeing this post as a result of an AskMefi search and just wanted to post if it is still useful to anyone: the site has adapted a bunch of games for virtual play that work well! It includes Codenames but has several others as well.
posted by graticule at 8:37 PM on August 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

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