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Hosting an Online Game Night

Article posted on 6/17/2021

A couple of months ago, I talked a little about the fun virtual trivia night that I held with my coworkers via Discord. Now that vaccinations are rolling out and things are starting to open up again, we’re hoping to hold the next one in a Family Feud style, and in person - but that’s another discussion.

Over the last year, I - like many millions of others - have had to find ways to stay connected with friends and family without being able to hang out in the same room. To be honest, playing games online is nothing new to me - I did it all the time even before the pandemic - but it occurs to me now that it’s not the norm for everyone! 

If you’ve never hosted or joined an online game night before, then this post will get you started - if it’s old hat for you, then maybe you’ll find a few new tips!

Choose your Chat Platform

You can make a game night work on any of the major video chat platforms, but I think it’s best to pick one that’s commonly used and easy to access. In general, that means hosting via Zoom, or in my case, we use Discord. Both Zoom and Discord have audio and video options, but as far as free options go, I think Discord wins for a few reasons:

  • High room limit
  • Inherent streaming/screen sharing options that are extremely easy to use
  • Individual audio adjustments for each participant (sometimes mics can be too loud or too soft and it’s great to be able to fix them on an individual basis!)
  • No time limit (Zoom’s free version has a 40-min call limit)
  • Push-to-talk feature prevents having to toggle mute button and cuts down on excess noise

Honestly, the differences are fairly negligible and you shouldn’t have any issue making any chat platform work for a virtual game night! As long as you can see and hear each other easily, you’re good to go.

Invite Your Participants

You really don’t have to get fancy here - most of my game nights were just a matter of “Meet up at 4:30 on Saturday? Okay, cool.” - but you can have some fun with invitations if your game nights are a more special or rare occurrence. You can send an email to your friends with a fun graphic accompanying the details, or even give everyone a call or text individually just to spread the news. It's always nice to hear a friend's voice for an unexpected call or get a surprise text with details on something to look forward to.

One of the other reasons I enjoy using Discord is that, once you set up a server, you can use it for all sorts of things - including game night invitations. You can create a role to ping all of your friends to get their attention - and all of your chatter, banter, jokes, and memes are contained in one spot where you can easily see them long after the game night is done.

Choose your Activity

There are an astonishing amount of options for this, especially nowadays. You're not limited to just games that have an inherent multiplayer interface - you can play games meant for everyone in the same room, even though you're apart! Jackbox games are an excellent example. Only one person has to own it; everyone else can watch their stream or screen share and hop into the game using their individual devices. As long as the main stream stays up, you're golden!

It's important to identify what everyone will need before joining a game night so that you can properly communicate that to them! If you're playing an online game like, say, Overcooked or Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation, or playing a mod on Tabletop Simulator, everyone will need to own a copy in order to participate. There are plenty of options that don't require everyone to purchase their own copy, but it's important to make sure to determine that ahead of time so that no one is left out at the last minute!

Here are some other great ideas for easy and accessible games to play together:

  • Jackbox Games
  • Board Game Arena (requires one person to have a sub to access certain games, others can join the table with just the free membership!)
  • Uno, Clue, Monopoly, Scattergories or any other classic games (these can be accessed on something like Tabletop Simulator using mods or bought individually as apps)
  • Host a Trivia Night (we used Kahoot!)
  • Play games like 20 Questions, Charades (cameras on!), 3 Truths and a Lie, and any of those other classic party games that don't require anything but your friends and a bit of imagination
  • Secret Hitler (a fun hidden identity game that has a free online option)

So, When is Game Night?

Game nights are great! They can be calm and laid back, or chaotic and wild - either way, they're sure to be fun. Make sure you know what kind of game night you want to have so that you can plan accordingly.

I'd love to hear how you stayed sane while you were stuck at home, and all of the different ways you found to stay connected to friends and family over the last year. Do you have any favorite games to play, online or otherwise? Please tell me about it!