Board games and puzzles are having a moment, providing living room entertainment to families, couples, and virtual friends across the country.
“One of the silver linings to all of this is that there’s this giant pause button for a lot of people, which is allowing for quality time together,” says Matt Hendricks, owner of Philly board game bar Thirsty Dice. “And with games, they provide a shared experience where everyone can take their mind off of things.”
Philly puzzle-maker Jen Hope couldn’t agree more. “We’re experiencing 24/7, hurricane coverage of the coronavirus, and as a world, people are finding ways to counter that constant state of emergency,” says Hope. “When we’re struggling in our lives, it’s often with questions we can’t answer. But with puzzles, there’s always an answer, a solvable problem. It’s therapy.”
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Hope’s puzzles, which feature licensed artwork from artists around the world, are available in her online shop (puzzlesohard.com). Sales of her 1,000-piece Puzzle So Hard kits have skyrocketed. She sold five times as many in March and April than usual.
We’ve rounded up games to play right now — from local shops and game makers to games you can play online for free. Choose from all-ages party games, strategy concepts that can be played solo, and more.
Where to buy games from Philly-area stores and makers
The local game shop is selling build-your-own “Comfort Crates” (thirstydice.com/shop), which you can fill with not only board games and puzzles (including those from Puzzle So Hard), but also other stress-releasing projects, like chocolate chip cookie kits. Crates are dropped off through contactless delivery.
Founded by two gaming buddies who met in high school, Nauvoo Games sells three games, each notably different in style.
Party game CrossTalk (4-12 players, ages 13+, $25) is like a cross between Taboo and Code Names. The word-guessing game breaks players into two teams that race to guess a secret keyword. Teams designate clue-givers, who take turns giving hints, trying not to reveal details that will give away the word to the other team. The team who guesses the keyword first scores points.
Stockpile (2-5 players, ages 13+, $50) is a spoof on insider trading in the stock market. You can play as famous investors, from Donald Trump to Warren Buffett to Martha Stewart. The goal is to make the most money, making trades based on information only you know, without revealing insider clues to other players.
The Reckoners (1-6 players, ages 13+, $75) is a cooperative game based on the book series by fantasy and sci-fi author Brandon Sanderson. Players work together to defeat an evil villain named Steelheart, taking down his mini-bosses along the way.
All games can be found at nauvoogames.com/shop.
A small game design and publishing house based out of Norristown, 9th Level Games offers nearly a dozen options in its online store. Here are its three most popular games:
The Excellents (2-6 players, ages 6+, $13) is a role-playing game where you’re a princess who’s the best at doing one thing — whether it’s gardening, baking cakes, or whatever silly superpower you want to choose. As you embark on an ‘80-style cartoon adventure, you’ll use your powers to help solve a specific problem. The game includes two ready-to-run adventure scripts, along with instructions on how to create your own script.
If you miss hosting gatherings, check out Meeple Party (1-5 players, ages 13+, $40), a cooperative game where you build a house using tiles and then throw a party inside. As you entertain your guests, you’ll receive “photo-op” cards, which outline missions to achieve the perfect “photo”. To carry these out, you’ll need to tackle puzzles that manipulate guests to move to different rooms, navigating disaster cards along the way, like “noise violation” and “smoke alarm” scenarios.
To bring more than a dozen cute cat cartoons to your kitchen table, try Schrödinger’s Cats (2-6 players, ages 10+, $20). The card game is a fast bluffing and deduction game that tasks you with making probability guesses based on cards laid out for everyone to see. Players take on the role of a “cat physicist,” such as Albert Felinestein, Sally Prride, or Neil deGrasse Tabby. You’ll run experiments and test hypotheses to determine how many alive and dead cats are in Schrödinger’s lab.
All games can be found at 9thlevel.com/shop.
The brainchild of Matt Shoemaker, a librarian at Temple University, Hit ‘Em With a Shoe has released one game so far. Shoemaker teamed up with a local illustrator to create all of the artwork for the game, which include some local references, like scenes from Bartram’s Garden. Cards, dice, and tokens are all central to the game, making for a dynamic experience, whether played solo or with friends.
Bee Lives (1-4 players, 14+, $65). The complex strategy game takes you into the world of bees in the Philadelphia region. You’re challenged to survive one year in the life of a beehive, collecting honey and pollen, hatching new brood, and building honeycomb along the way.
Bee Lives can be found at hitemwithashoe.com/shop.
Free online games
There are hundreds of online games to explore. Here are a few classic options to get you started.
Settlers of Catan: Players build roads and villages, trade sheep and wheat, and assemble armies in this popular strategy game. Find the classic version online at catanuniverse.com/en.
Dominion: Players work to earn victory points in this challenging deck-building game. Find a basic version for free at dominion.games.
Words with Friends: For wordsmiths and letter lovers, check out this Scrabble doppelgänger, available as a smartphone app and through Facebook, apps.facebook.com/wordswithfriends.
Codenames: Decipher clues from your spymaster and avoid the assassin in this popular multiplayer card game that pits two teams of unlimited players against one another. Find an online version at horsepaste.com. (Note: The site doesn’t include instructions. If you’ve never played, click here to learn.)
Rummy, Hearts, Pinochle, and other card classics: Find 20-plus card games online through CardzMania, cardzmania.com/games. To play with friends, invite them to create an account, and choose multiplayer mode. Host the game of your choice, and then add friends by clicking their icons in the bottom left corner of the screen.
Monopoly, Risk, Boggle, and other board game classics: Pogo.com offers over 100 free online games, including a wide array of classics.