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Online Games For The Whole Family


Let's talk games now. The holiday season is usually a great time to break them out, but like so many other things, family game night might have to be a bit different this year. Instead of breaking out the board games around a shared table, families and friends are trying to figure out how to play games together, but remotely. So in lieu of our regular conversation about the year's best board games, we've reached out to LA Times interactive games reporter Todd Martens for his suggestions for games that can be played online.

Todd Martens, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

TODD MARTENS: Great. Yeah, thank you for having me - happy to be here.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, have you seen more interest in online games since the pandemic has started and more people are staying at home?

MARTENS: Yeah. I think definitely, I think, over the last few months, you know, we've seen all of these even companies that make puzzles running out of puzzles and companies that make board games running out of board games - and then, you know, online games. At the start of the pandemic, everybody was playing Animal Crossing, which sort of became the obsession because it was such an easy game to play for gamers and non-gamers alike. So I think a lot of people are becoming curious who maybe weren't playing games because games allow you to be social.

MARTIN: OK. So let's start with the classics that people might already be familiar with playing in person like Monopoly, Scrabble, card games. Are they still fun to play online?

MARTENS: Yeah, all these sort of classic board games do have apps. Your mileage may vary. Some translate easier to that medium than others. But there's also a lot of stuff that is being sort of tailored specifically for this moment that I also think is kind of interesting. There's a lot of companies that run in real life in non-pandemic times escape rooms, and they've pivoted to online escape rooms. And you set up a time, and they have sort of an actor walk you and, you know, your family through, you know, an hour's worth of puzzles.

There's one in Austin, Texas, called Novel Escape, and they do, like, a "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea" sort of themed escape room. And that's just sort of a way to turn it into - I don't know - holidays if you can't gather to maybe turn it into an event.

MARTIN: That sounds fun. OK, but what about people who are by themselves?

MARTENS: Yeah. No, so, I mean, obviously, you know, I mean, most games are designed to be played solo.

You know, there's - in the last few months, there's been a lot of attention focused on this game Among Us. It garnered some headlines when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez played it online with some followers as sort of a get-out-the-vote moment. But basically, you and your friends are on a ship. One person on the ship is an imposter, and you have to sort of figure out who the imposter is. And you could play that with your family, or you can play that with, you know, strangers and just sort of take your luck with who you sort of meet.

MARTIN: (Laughter) OK.

MARTENS: You don't have to physically - you don't have to actually speak to them. You just sort of play it (laughter).

MARTIN: Solid point - solid point. That's called Among Us.

MARTENS: Among Us, yeah.

MARTIN: Among Us. OK. Well, you know, is there something that you think families can play if they have different comfort levels with technology?

MARTENS: There's a new - newish - it came out about a year ago now - called Blinks - B-L-I-N-K-S. And it's sort of a twist on the board game. It's these little, tiny octagonal cubes that are filled with LED lights, and all the lights sort of speak to each other. So you're playing relatively simple games that you can play solitaire or you can play with, like, you know, two, three, four people.

And my sort of favorite thing about it, as somebody who's quarantined alone, is they just, like, look really, you know, enchanting. You know, it's, like, you can sort of dim the lights, and you have these, like, beautiful colors that sort of light up and help you play a game.

MARTIN: That sounds good.

Todd Martens writes about interactive entertainment and pop music for the LA Times, and we reached him in Los Angeles.

Todd Martens, thanks so much for talking to us.

MARTENS: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.