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Best online games to play with friends for spring 2021

Still hosting virtual hangouts? From Among Us to Jackbox Party Packs to online escape rooms, we've got you covered.

  • Best for Heads Up and easy mobile games
    Houseparty
    See at Houseparty
  • Best for a low-key hangout
    Animal Crossing: New Horizons
    See at Nintendo
  • Best for the time-constrained
    Mobile games: Fortnite, Words with Friends 2, Scrabble GO, Uno & Friends, Draw Something
    See at Epic Games
Show more (3 items)

COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out nationwide. But until you feel safe gathering with friends and family in person, there are always online games that you can play together, even from far away.

Whether you're looking for old-school favorites, party games, escape rooms or exciting board games, there's likely a virtual option, as more people have turned to tech for creative socializing during the past year of social distancing. Watching movies and shows together through extensions such as Netflix Party (now called Teleparty), Amazon Prime Video Watch Party, Disney Plus GroupWatch, Hulu Watch Party and Airtime for YouTube has also become a popular way to hang out virtually.

Here are some of the best online games you can play with friends, no matter what type of experience you're seeking. We'll update this list regularly as we find new games you might like.

Read more: The 30 best iPad games to play now

Jackbox

For me, Jackbox Games is the holy grail of social distance gaming: Its multiplayer party games are simple to learn but still very entertaining to play, and it's also easy to stream or screen-share games from one device to a group for a virtual game night. Everyone plays through a web browser on their phones, so no apps or consoles are needed. You can even Jackbox Party Packs, or one or more individual games, on Steam (for PC, Mac and Linux). The packs contain five games and usually cost $25 each, but are currently on sale for $12. The packs are also available on PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and other devices. 

After purchasing, you can hop on a video chat through a Jackbox.tv, where you'll be asked to enter a room code. 

Other options include using Steam Remote Play Together, Discord screen sharing, sharing through your gaming console, or just setting up a webcam in front of your TV. Jackbox provides information on how to stream its games, too. 

Each pack includes a variety of different games that might ask you to answer trivia questions, draw weird doodles or write the best joke. The games are light, humorous and include clear instructions, so they're easy for the most novice players to pick up. 

Read more: 11 things to do in quarantine when you've already made 3 loaves of banana bread

See at Jackbox
InnerSloth

If you're a fan of games like Mafia or Werewolf, you'll love App Store or Google Play Store). Or, it costs $5 to play on a PC (you can download it on Steam or itch.io). One major benefit is that you can play with people seamlessly across platforms. 

Be warned: The free mobile version does have ads. Once you download and open the game on your device, you'll see a pop-up detailing its use of AdMob and data collection. If you want to turn off ads and data collection, you can purchase the ad-free version of the app for $2 by tapping Remove Ads, and following the prompts to select your payment method. 

Though this game came out nearly three years ago, Twitch streamers picked it up over the past year, and it reached a half-billion active monthly users in November. And if you've already given it a try, in March, the developers added a new, free Airship map to play on for a new experience. 

See at InnerSloth
Backyard

If you want to play games together virtually but don't want the hassle of setting up a separate Zoom or chat, you can try Backyard, a platform that combines games, video and chat all in one. It's still in beta, but has been released to the general public.

Sign up with your Google or Apple account, and create a Space. You'll get a code to share with others (similar to Jackbox Games), so they can join your private Space. Then, choose a game to play. Backyard has slightly tweaked versions of popular games, like Letter Tile (Scrabble), Codewords (Codenames) and Wordplay: Cards Against Humans (Cards Against Humanity). You can play directly from your web browser on your -- no app download needed.

Games range in size from one to 12 players. Creators originally said Backyard would be free to use until 2021, but as of April, it appeared to still be free.

See at Backyard
The Escape Game

Put your puzzle-solving skills to the test with a virtual escape room. Try to solve all of the puzzles and follow the clues to escape the computerized room before time is up, as you would when you play the real-world version. 

One option for ages 12 and up is TEG Unlocked: The Heist from The Escape Game. In the two-part game for one to four players, you'll work as a secret agent trying to thwart a suspected art thief. Each part costs $10, or $18 for a bundle of two and $26 for a bundle of three.

If you're looking for a more kid-friendly choice, there's a free Harry Potter-themed escape room created by Peters Township Public Library in McMurray, Pennsylvania, using Google Docs.

Read more: Dating during coronavirus: 7 ideas for virtual dates while social distancing

See at The Escape Game
Tabletopia/Screenshot by Alison DeNisco Rayome/CNET

If you're looking to play traditional tabletop board games online, check out Tabletopia, which calls itself an "online arena" for playing more than 900 board games the same way you would in real life. You can play on a desktop browser for Mac or Windows, or download the platform on Steam, the App Store or the Google Play Store.

You'll find fun classics like chess and Texas Hold 'Em, or more in-depth options like Scythe and Clans of Caledonia to play. Start your own game with friends, or join a game in progress with open seats. 

You can play some fun game options for free with the bronze package, or upgrade to the silver ($5 a month) or gold ($10 a month) package to access premium games. 

Another similar option is Tabletop Simulator, which includes classic game options like chess, poker, dominoes, Mahjong and jigsaw puzzles. Create your own original games on the platform, as well as play ones that were created by others. 

You'll see some familiar titles in here, but note that most of those were created by other users, as opposed to actual game developers. You can buy Tabletop Simulator on Steam for Windows and Mac for $20 and then share your screen to play with friends. 

See at Tabletopia
Angela Lang/CNET

Houseparty is a video chat app owned by Fortnite developer Epic Games that lets you play popular games like trivia, Heads Up and Uno with friends online. The app is free to use. Up to eight people can join a video chat "room" at once and play games together. 

Just a warning: There have been rumors that the app has enabled Netflix account hacks with loose security protocols. However the company said it has not been breached or had any data exposed and offered a $1 million reward for proof of the problem, claiming it's more likely tied to reusing login credentials and passwords. 

Houseparty is available for iOS, Android, MacOS and Chrome.

See at Houseparty
Érika García/CNET

Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out on Nintendo Switch last March, right at the start of many coronavirus shelter-in-place orders. This video game has taken the world by storm and its social aspect to the gameplay has made social distancing a bit easier. While you can perform simple tasks like growing fruit, planting trees and designing rooms alone, you can also invite friends to visit your island and go fishing and exploring together. Plus, a recent update added some familiar characters from the Mario universe.

If you don't have a Switch to play on, you can also check out the mobile version, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Read more: 19 best Animal Crossing: New Horizon tips for Nintendo Switch

See at Nintendo
Epic Games

You may already be familiar with popular mobile games that you can play with friends anytime. Scrabble GO, Uno & Friends and Draw Something are all great options for simple games that let you keep in touch and sneak in a turn when you have time throughout the day. 

If you're mostly playing solo, you might want to check out a mobile gaming subscription service. Pac-Man Party Royale and Frogger in Toytown, along with new hits such as Crossy Road Castle and Ultimate Rivals: The Rink. For $5 a month, you can play across Monument Valley, Risk and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, also for $5 a month. 

Read more: Best game subscription services: Here's how to choose

See at Epic Games

There's always the option to go as old-school as possible in your virtual gaming: You can find free online versions of some classics like Battleship. You can also work on a crossword puzzle with friends through The Washington Post. Tabletop Simulator, mentioned above, also includes games like chess, poker, dominoes and jigsaw puzzles that you can play with friends if you both buy the platform. 

Need more quarantine-friendly entertainment?

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