It’s only natural to want to share your hobbies with people you love, but video games can sometimes have a barrier of entry based on skill. If you have friends who you’d like to play games with, but haven’t played any before, here’s a few good places to start.
Almost all the games in the Jackbox Party Pack are great picks for non-gamers, but Quiplash makes the biggest impression in the least amount of time. Quiplash is a loose framework for making jokes with your buddies, and it helps that you can basically buy it and play it on anything. Seriously, if you’re at your friends house and for some reason they only have an Amazon Fire TV, you can all still play Quiplash if there’s enough phones, laptops and tablets to go around. You’re given a funny prompt like “The most difficult things to juggle,” and then you have to write down a silly answer for your friends to vote on. Whoever is the funniest wins. It’s simple, but it can get cutthroat. I’m still mad that no one voted for my answer of “Pussy” for the prompt “Alternate names for the Grand Canyon.”
If you and your friends like horror movies where you yell at the TV, then try playing Until Dawn with them. This game puts you in control of a classic horror movie set up. Eight friends are staying overnight in a secluded mansion, and there’s something out there that wants to kill them. While there’s some exploration and even some shooting in these games, the best way to play is by crowdsourcing the choices you’ll make. Every time you’re faced with a binary choice, it could very well influence who lives or dies. With a wide cast of only slightly insufferable teens you’ll all have your favorites your rooting for and ones you hope will die. It’s a tense experience, one that’s even better if one person is holding the controller and the rest are shouting at the screen.
In this game you’re playing out the plot of the classic Jules Verne novel. You’ve made a bet that you can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, and as a player you’re charting a path around the world via airship, boat, trains and even some more fantastical, steampunk-y modes of transportation. You make these choices by looking at a map and weighing your options. One city might be faster to get to, but more expensive. The other will take longer, but is cheaper and your ride will leave sooner. Once you get to each city, you’ll make some choices about how you spend your time there, which can also affect your ability to leave. More than once did I wake up in an opium den in India after deciding to spend a night out, which put a damper on my plans. It’s the kind of game for players that love the sense of adventure you get from reading writers like Verne, where you have to examine the text to decide if taking a risk will be work it.While you and another player could definitely play on one game together, negotiating which routes you’ll take, it’s also fun to play separately and race each other. Perhaps you’ll even make a wager of your own.
Many multiplayer games are about competition, but not everyone likes to compete with their friends. Overcooked is a game for people who’d rather work with their friends than against them. It’s simple to play—you’re chefs trying to cook meals to order. All the cooking and chopping is done with one button, picking things up and putting them down with another. Playing well depends on good communication, because you won’t ever play in a standard kitchen. Sometimes you’re in the arctic, jumping across ice floes. Other times you’re passing plates of food and ingredients between two moving trucks. It’s hectic and messy, and sometimes ends up with everything on fire, but pulling off a dinner service will make everyone feel like a genius.
If you ever had a Nokia phone, you’re probably familiar with Snake, a game where you try get longer by eating pellets without crossing over your own body. Slither.io is multiplayer Snake, where not only do you have to avoid yourself, but you also have to avoid hitting other players. It’s a little nerve wracking but also very easy to get sucked into. You control your snake with your mouse, and it might grow to a ludicrous size, or as I just did, get taken out by another snake named “Worm Pussy.” The brevity of most play sessions make it easy to pass the mouse back and forth between players trying to outdo each other.
The Quiet Year
Board games and tabletop games seem like they should be easy to break out with a new friend group, but they’re a hard sell for the uninitiated. The Quiet Year is unintimidating. If you don’t want to buy the official game at your local board game store, you can buy and print a PDF with the rule book, and play with stuff you might have lying around the house: poker chips, a deck of cards, colored pencils and printer paper. The goal of The Quiet Year is to draw a map of a society that’s living out the first year after a global calamity. You’ll make up the different factions of people, manage their supplies and describe their conflicts. The game is separated into four seasons, and you draw cards to create a narrative about what happens each season. Sometimes you describe a good or bad omen that community sees. Other times you’re asked whether the strongest or weakest among your community dies, and you have to create that character from scratch. It’s a leaderless game, which means that everyone is in control of how this story plays out. By the end of The Quiet Year, you’ll have also actually made a map, which is a neat souvenir of your time together.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that even if a person has claimed to never play a video game before, they will play Mario Kart at the first opportunity to do so. It’s hard to resist the chirpy Nintendo music and brightly colored tracks, and even if you’ve never played Mario before, you can probably recognize Mario the character. Beyond that, the game doesn’t let any one person runaway with the lead. If you’re doing poorly in this racing game, you’ll get better items to help you catch up. It usually doesn’t feel cheap, but if someone’s kicking your ass it’s always nice to be able to blame it on the game.
This is a murder mystery presented through a series of video clips. What makes Her Story a great choice to play with someone else is that that’s really the entire game. You can use a search engine to look for keywords from these video interviews, but otherwise, you’re on your own to piece together the narrative and decide when you feel like you’ve solved the case. If you’ve got a friend who liked Broadchurch and is excited by the notion of jotting down clues in a notebook, playing Her Story together will lead to some enthusiastic theorizing.
Getting Over It
If you’re not used to playing games, failure can be frustrating. One way to mitigate this is to play a game where failure is the point. Getting Over It is a game where you try, and often fail, to climb over a mountain. The game’s developer, Bennett Foddy, will muse to you as you gain and lose ground, reading quotes about the nature of failure itself. It can get pretty philosophical, but the experience is mostly silly. You’re playing as a naked man in a cauldron, who is propelling himself up a mountain using a sledgehammer. You click on a point on the screen and try to use the leverage of the hammer to fling yourself up in the air. A lot of this relies on chance, and even a small miscalculation about the angle or power of your swing can bring you all the way back to the start. It’s ridiculous, and it makes it easy to laugh at yourself. For a less experienced player, it can be humanizing to watch someone else flail around.
Florence is an iPhone game about falling in love. It’s less a game to play with someone directly than an experience to share with someone you care about. This is a game about Florence Yeoh, a young woman who falls for a cellist named Krish. In a series of short, tactile puzzles, Florence is touching and honest about both the highs and the lows of being in a relationship. When Florence first hears Krish play, for instance, you tap a series of musical notes to get closer to him, floating on air as you do. As you play through their first fight, you fill in a series of speech bubbles with puzzle pieces, the pieces getting sharper and more angular as you go. The sincerity of this narrative makes it an easy sell for a significant other or friend, especially if you both take the time to talk with each other about Florence and Krish’s love story.