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Are you playing online games to keep connected?

We all need a bit of escapism right now. Online games with friends can be a good way to stay in touch and distract yourself. Are you playing any?

I don’t know about you, but outside of work I’ve found myself with a fair bit of time on my hands.

It’s not a unique experience, but with all social activities put on hold about a month ago, and being too distracted to read or do anything productive, I quickly turned to binge watching the news – never good, but much worse during a crisis.

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So I was lucky a couple of weeks ago when a friend invited me to play an online game against him and five other players – and now I’m really absorbed in it.

Turns out it’s been a great way to focus my attention, distract me from the news and stay in touch with friends.

The pen is mightier than the sword

The game? Diplomacy. It was originally a boardgame – and can still be played that way – but has been developed into a free online game.

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If you’ve not played before (like me two weeks ago), Diplomacy is a bit like Risk – there’s a map of Europe and you try to conquer territory using armies and navies.

But unlike Risk, Diplomacy has the added element of team work: you can speak to the other players and work with them to achieve joint objectives – or betray them and go for a solo victory.

This opens up the game to endless possibilities and strategies, which I’ve found incredibly challenging and fun – just what I’ve needed the last few weeks.

In it for the long haul

Each turn in our game takes a day, so there’s plenty of time to communicate with the other players – and a whole game usually takes several months to play out. Perfect for a long ‘lockdown’.

It might sound a bit nerdy – and it’s not for everyone – but it’s really helped me pass the time and to feel I’m doing something at least vaguely creative.

If you’re interested, I’d be more than happy to let you know how to set up a game for free online – give me a shout in the comments!

Just make sure the players you invite want to commit to playing a strategy game that can last for several months.

Diplomatic immunity

Diplomacy won’t be for everyone, but playing games with friends generally can be really rewarding: this is why everyone seems to be doing pub quizzes with each other over apps such as Zoom at the moment.

These games can help bring us together, focus our attention on a task, and give us shared challenges and objectives – distracting us from other things going on.

I think they’re the perfect antidote to social distancing.

Are you playing any online games or boardgames to pass the time? Are they helping you keep connected to friends and family?

Let me know what you’re up to in the comments.


This gives me an idea, Oscar. Online games have never really appealed to me but I might have a go at playing Scrabble over the phone. There is probably an online version but that won’t allow general discussion.

I’ve been playing Words With Friends, which is basically Scrabble, with my mum for quite a while now – I’d recommend it.

Harry says:
17 April 2020

I am absolutely hooked on Scrabble Go. If you set up an account, I’m always looking for new people to play!

Thanks both. If playing Scrabble over the phone does not work out I will be tempted.

NickyR says:
22 April 2020

Hi Wavechange – you can always set up a Zoom link on a computer so that you can see and talk to the person/people you are playing at the same time as you play.

Cathy Bartholomew says:
17 April 2020

I would have no idea how to go about this safely. So pleased I kept my old tablet running Free-cell and Solitaire!

If you are confident with posting on Which? Conversation, then Steam should not be a great leap for you.

There are thousands of supported games, but most require purchase and some can be quite expensive, especially as each player in a family would need a license to play together. Steam often have “sales” of selected games, particularly at times of high demand – Christmas, school holidays and of course now. There are some free games, but most are cut down, maybe some features are missing or limited levels of game play.

Steam provides a framework where you can play online with others over the internet, either friends you know and invite by exchanging a secure code (pin), or even complete strangers. You decide.

Steam are pretty strict on privacy, harassment and inappropriate content, so you are probably safer on there than using Facebook and other social media.

Steam also has plenty of games that can be single player if that is your preference.

There are free ones, but the few I have tried are either not very good or require in-game purchases to continue.

My favourite time-waster is ‘Heroes of Hellas 3 Athens’ that is only £1.99 on Steam at the moment with no further purchases required or offered to complete the game.

I have never counted, but there are probably several hundred levels with a very good re-playability factor so excellent value for money.

If you like battle games, then War Thunder from Steam is good. You don’t need any of the in-game purchases, but you have to download about 30GB to install it.

I was getting annoyed with Pokémon go and how they were still doing raids that needed a big group of people to catch the Pokémon. I’m really pleased to see they have made a lot of changes in the last few weeks to the game so you can play at home.

Hannah says:
17 April 2020

Trickster Cards is good for card games – you can play against friends or strangers and no need to download anything. Can recommend Hearts in particular.

Stockpile™ is a good diversionary game that can be played online.

When you subscribe, you are allocated an avatar (character) which determines your role in the game. You have a fixed amount of money to spend when the game starts, but different avatars receive different amounts of money as the game proceeds, which makes it harder to determine a consistent playing strategy from the outset.

The aim of the game is to purchase necessities from a shopping list, such as flour, rice, pasta, tinned tomatoes, milk and eggs, which vary widely in price and availability throughout the gameplay. You can also collect non-essentials, such as toilet rolls, hand sanitizer, surface cleaner and laundry disinfectant, but these tend to cost more.

The size of your necessities stockpile reduces throughout the game and needs to be maintained. If you run out, you lose. You decide when to play your non-essential items, to keep your “vitality” points from reaching a dangerous level.

Some avatars have special powers, that allow them to obtain online deliveries called “Ocados”. Magical shopping slots become available to all players at random times throughout the night. If you come across a replenished secret hoard, you can stock up with extra items and try to resell them to other players for a good profit. Buying as much as you can afford, also makes it harder for other players to find items to keep their stockpiles from running out.

One of the interesting features of the game is you don’t know who you are playing against or how many players are online at any one time. It has been reported that up to 300,000 players were searching for “Ocados” when the game was first launched. As players cannot be identified, it is difficult to know who is cheating.

The game lasts for an indeterminate time, either decided by the game organisers, or when everyone gets bored with staying at home. Anyone who is still in the game at the end is a winner.

Delightful Em. It sounds too much like a busman’s holiday, so I will distance myself from the game.

I think your ‘game’ is fantastic, Em.

Only the best brains in the UK could have come up with something so sophisticated, absorbing and packed with unpredictable elements. Thank goodness the government didn’t interfere in a misguided attempt to make it even better since the outcome would have been chaotic.

Yes. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for about 15 years now, so nothing much has changed for me.