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5 Friendly Online Games for Socially Distant Fun

From music trivia to Monopoly, these multiplayer pastimes can help keep isolation at bay

spinner image Screenshot of Monopoly online game
Marmalade Game Studios

With the coronavirus pandemic still upon us and colder, shorter days ahead, you're likely to be spending even more time hunkered down at home, perhaps searching for new things to do indoors. There are only so many sourdough breads you can bake or true-crime shows to binge.

One option to try is multiplayer online games. These digital competitions can be a great way to ward off boredom and isolation, and to stay connected with friends and family. Lots of interactive games are free, or close to it, and don't require a high skill level or technical know-how. Many allow you to chat between or during rounds of play.

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A word of warning: Only chat online with players you know in real life. Romance scammers use online games to take advantage of lonely players, forging a relationship, then hitting the victim up for money, gift cards or personal information that could lead to identity theft.

Here are five entertaining games to take up as you ride out the pandemic.

1. Trivia Royale

spinner image Trivia Royale online game
Teatime Games

Billed as “World's Biggest Trivia Contest,” Trivia Royale is a new mobile app from the creators of the wildly popular QuizUp, which has been downloaded more than 100 million times.

Playable for free on Android and Apple devices, Trivia Royale pits you against 1,000 online opponents in a contest to quickly tap the correct multiple-choice answer to questions covering a wide range of topics such as animals, history and world flags.

The questions keep getting harder, and the winners keep playing until two remain. Who will be crowned the “Royale"? If it's you, you'll gain access to the exclusive VIP Royale Lounge to hang out with other champs.

Your digital proxy is an avatar you can customize with fun accessories. It can even display your facial expressions as you play, thanks to your phone's front-facing camera.

2. Houseparty

Houseparty is both a video chatting platform, allowing up to eight people to see each other and talk at the same time, and a collection of fun party games to play together. You can use it on an Android or Apple device, a Mac computer, or a Windows PC (if you're using the Chrome browser; you'll need to download an extension).

Houseparty games include Chips and Guac, a word-association game similar to Cards Against Humanity; Quick Draw, a drawing and guessing game like Pictionary; Trivia: Finish the Song Lyric; and my favorite, Heads Up!, based on Ellen DeGeneres’ popular app that's like a game of online charades.

Now owned by Epic Games, the company behind the iconic Fortnite franchise, Houseparty is free to download, but versions of some games require an in-app purchase.

3. Song Quiz

Think of Song Quiz as a digital version of Name That Tune, the classic TV game show that tested players’ knowledge of pop songs. It's playable for free on Apple and Android phones and tablets; you can also get versions for Amazon or Google smart speakers, so you can just ask your Echo or Nest whenever you want to play.

Created by Volley Inc., the voice-activated game boasts thousands of song clips from the 1960s to today. After you choose a decade, you'll hear a short clip from a song. You get points for correctly guessing the title and bonus points for correctly naming the artist.

You can play along with your folks at home, or over the internet against someone selected by the game. New songs added often, so don't expect to hear duplicates.

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4. Tabletopia

Essentially, Tabletopia lets you play more than 1,000 table games with others online, from classics such as chess, hearts and Texas Hold'em to modern board games like 7 Souls, Scythe, Spyfall and Wingspan.

You can play on a web browser on a Mac or PC through the Steam gaming network, or via your Android or Apple device. Simply read the rules, choose a seat at the virtual table and start playing. Tabletopia features an in-game chat feature, but internal voice communication is not yet available for the browser version.

The free version of Tabletopia, called Bronze, allows you to take part in two game sessions at once, but the game selection is limited. Silver and Gold memberships, at $4.99 and $9.99 a month, respectively, let you play more simultaneous games and access the entire catalog.

5. Monopoly

Not surprisingly, given the iconic status of its tabletop ancestor, Monopoly is the most popular downloadable board game in the Apple App Store. It's available for Android, too.

Priced at $3.99, Marmalade Game Studio's digital edition is faithful to the Parker Brothers original, where you must roll the dice and buy, sell and build your way to becoming a wealthy landlord. The smartphone and tablet version features music, sound effects and a beautifully animated 3D city board, as well as several single and multiplayer modes to indulge in.

The game also offers the ability to unlock localized and specialized versions of Monopoly, with optional in-app purchases, and an Explorer Pack to discover different cities and its real estate.

Another classic to consider is Scrabble, which you can play for free on games platform Pogo.

Marc Saltzman has been a freelance technology journalist for 25 years. His podcast, Tech It Out , aims to break down geek speak.

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