More and more of us are playing games on our phones and mobile devices. In fact, the percentage of Americans who play games on mobile devices has nearly tripled from 2008 to 2011, according to a recent study. No wonder. Many games enable you to play with your kids, grandkids or friends from your phone or tablet no matter where you are, making the right multiplayer game a great tool to share fun times with those you love.
We picked six fun — and easy to learn — games to start with. Most of them allow for instant interaction: If you and your opponent are online at the same time, you can fire moves back and forth right then and there. If you're not online together, you can send your next move and your opponent will be notified and counter whenever it's convenient.
All of these mobile games are available for both iPhone and Android devices, and all but one can be downloaded for free in an ad-supported version. Premium versions (without ads) will run you about a couple bucks.
Hanging With Friends and Words With Friends
Hanging With Friends is an ingenious variation on that old standby Hangman, with a little added digital sizzle. Each player is assigned a set of random letters that have different point values, Scrabble-style, and must use them to create a 4- to 8-letter word for your opponent to solve. On screen you see a cute little character hanging by a cluster of balloons. Every time someone misses a word, a balloon pops. Lose all your balloons and the game is over. You can choose to play against a random opponent, square off against one of your Facebook friends or create a free mobile account to be matched with another player online.
Words With Friends is another digital version of an old classic — it's essentially Scrabble playable online, for free, with minor differences in board layout, tile values and such. One big difference: You can't play a word and wait to see whether your opponent challenges it, as the game automatically checks each word against its own internal dictionary. Of course, in cyberspace, nobody can see you cheat, an issue in both of these games, but your friends and family wouldn't do that, would they?
Not a lot of bells and whistles in this mobile take on the classic strategy game, Chess Time features handsome, clean layouts, easy controls and all the match-making features you need to take on all comers. There's some visual variety — changing chess sets and board color — but the emphasis here is on at-a-glance clarity. You and your opponents can set up free accounts for head-to-head play, or you can take on a random opponent. Enter moves quickly if you like, or take your time and have the game notify the players when moves are made. The game keeps a record of your moves, in case you want to gloat afterward (or figure out where you went wrong). Like many of these multiplayer mobile games, you can chat with your opponents during the game.
Super Stickman Golf
This highly addictive little game features a cute stick-figure player hitting a ball with a club, but it's a lot less like standard golf and more like a head-scratching physics-based obstacle course. You'll face 280 absurd environments, above and beyond the traps and water hazards you would find on a real-world layout. Be prepared to figure out how to climb up the screen to the hole, navigate mazes or deal with an on-course conveyor belt. Fortunately, you pick up bizarre "power-ups" along the way to help in your quest, including sticky balls that attach to walls and a super-power shot.
It's not immediately obvious how to get into multiplayer mode when you download the game. The secret is touching the green "feint" button on the opening screen, which takes you to the OpenFeint game-matching service. You'll need to create a free account, at which point you can tackle Super Stickman Golf with up to four players. Unlike golf, you're not counting strokes when you compete in multiplayer mode — it's a race to the finish line! The game is available on both Android and iPhone — the Android version is free but lacks the multiplayer feature, while the Apple version has multiplayer but will run you 99 cents.
As demonstrated by the hugely popular Words With Friends, Zynga — the company behind that game and this one — is adept at taking familiar concepts and giving them a twist for mobile. This game offers a Pictionary-like drawing experience, in which the object is to get your "opponent" to guess the word you're trying to convey. There is no scoring, timer or real competition, making it especially appropriate for playing with cranky grandkids and nephews who are just learning to handle losing (and winning) with grace.
In Draw Something, there are benefits to "winning" rounds — you get to add new colors to your palette, for example — but the real fun here is just playing. There's a free version, or a paid version with lots of additional puzzles.
Asphalt 7: Heat
I'm very happy with my selection of free titles, but I felt the need for speed, and wanted to include at least one game with fast action and arcade-quality graphics. Enter Asphalt Heat: 7, which will cost you all of a buck to download and delivers sensational action and amazing visuals. You can choose one of 60 officially licensed cars (a dollar isn't much to pay to drive a Lamborghini, right)? There are 15 tracks set in exotic locales like Paris and Rio. Multiplayer action lets you race against up to five opponents from anywhere on the planet. It is, if you'll pardon the expression, fast and furious.