Sick of watching things mindlessly? Keep your hands busy too with these free games to play during lockdown.
Already done with The White Lotus? Scared that Love Island is over and now you have nothing to fill an hour a day, six days a week? Want to do something with your hands but finding it pretty hard to run your weekly D&D games over Zoom?
Well, my friend, have you heard of video games?
One of the big issues with gaming is that it’s an expensive hobby. The consoles alone can run up to several hundreds of dollars and, depending on the alert level, might not be available at all. Then there are the games themselves. While indie games can be pretty cheap, the larger, big-ticket games generally start at around $80 and can go right up to $120. That’s a lot of money to spend on something you’re not sure is any good.
Luckily, some of the most fun games to pass the time are completely free. I’ve rounded up a few of the best ones that are available on a variety of screens – consoles, computers, phones – as well as a few that don’t need a screen at all.
(A fair warning that some of these games involve in-app purchases, so if you’re frantically scrolling this to find a game for someone who is not the credit card holder, keep that in mind!)
Two Dots (free for iOS and Android, in-app purchases)
The premise of the original Dots sounds simple: connect dots vertically or horizontally and make a square for more points. Two Dots complicates things by throwing in power-ups, objectives and campaigns so that there’s some sense of progression. There are many, many worlds and levels to play through, with one world being added every three weeks – that makes 3875 since the game’s release in 2014. Get thee connecting!
Old Friend (iOS and Android, in-app purchases)
Take off your seatbelt, because you absolutely don’t need to buckle up for this wholesome game from Dunedin studio Runaway Play, one that I wrote about earlier this week. The player is in charge of a dog sanctuary, based on the real life Old Friends sanctuary in Tennessee that shelters elderly dogs. During the game, you adopt old dogs – who are also based on real-life dogs – and look after them. If you feel fuzzy and warm reading that, imagine how you’ll feel playing it!
Pokémon Unite (Nintendo Switch, available on iOS and Android in September, in-app purchases)
Pokémon Unite is a battle arena game where you play as a Pokémon and fight other Pokémon, and that’s probably all you need to have you either typing the name frantically into your search bar or scrolling past this entirely. Our podcast manager Te Aihe gave this game a better sell than I ever could in last week’s Rec Room newsletter: “I flew around the map as Charizard and Fire Blast-ed the enemy team’s Pikachu to a crisp – it’s everything I want in a video game.”
Genshin Impact (Android, iOS, Microsoft Window, PS4, PS5, in-app purchases)
Want to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but don’t have the several hundred dollars required to buy a Nintendo Switch and a copy of that game? Genshin Impact is the next best thing. This open world action role-playing game allows the player to roam around a fantasy world, completing quests, procuring materials, and generally losing themselves somewhere that isn’t locked down. If you’re looking for a visually stimulating game with a rich, robust open world –that won’t break the bank – then look no further.
Fortnite (honestly, pretty much everywhere, in-app purchases)
If you still need me to tell you what Fortnite is in the year 2021, then you probably shouldn’t be playing it. But if you’re curious, Fortnite is a super addictive battle royale game. Essentially, you’re dropped on an island with 99 other players and have to find weapons and other equipment to become the last one standing. Games are short, sharp and quick (especially if you’re bad at it, like I am). Pop stars occasionally do in-game concerts and no, I don’t know how that works either.
Among Us (same as above, in-app purchases)
Want a game that will have you mistrusting all your friends? Then look no further than Among Us! The space elevator pitch is that it’s the party game Mafia, but with aliens. A small group of online players are rounded up on a spaceship. A smaller handful of those players are the Imposter, while the rest are Crewmates. Crewmates keep the ship going, Imposters sabotage and kill the Crewmates while trying not to get killed themselves. Fingers are pointed, alliances are broken, and the games are short so you can go through them multiple times a night. If you’ve got more questions, I’ve written up this handy little guide here.
Minesweeper Deluxe (PC, in-app purchases)
Sometimes these lists are just public services. Yes, you can play Minesweeper. No, you don’t need to drag out your old computer to do so. It’s right there, readily available for you to waste hours of your life on. Warning: No actual sweeping is involved in this game.
Catan Universe (browser-based, also for Nintendo Switch, iOs, Android)
Now you don’t need to see the whites of their eyes to hate somebody for stealing your grain, you can do it online! Yes, Catan Universe is a browser-based Settlers of Catan. If that brings back flashbacks of cardboard hexagons flying across tables, I apologise. But if you’re a huge fan of this board game classic, there’s no better alternative to get your settling fix.
Sort the Court (browser-based)
Extend your realm past your bubble with this simple but surprisingly addictive game where you take on the role of the king of a realm. You can rule the kingdom with an iron first, take the high road, or just be an utter asshole. This indie game revolves around you simply approving or disapproving of the wishes of your subjects, leading your kingdom down one road or the other. Discern the good from the bad, or go with your whims! All you do is hit “yes” or “no”, and reap what you sow.
Real life games
The floor is lava (your house, or other floor-based dwelling)
Put on ‘Pompeii’ by Bastille, because it’s 79AD and Mount Vesuvius is erupting! You know the drill. The floor is lava – you make your way from one side of the room to the other without touching the floor. Touch the floor, you lose. Don’t touch the floor, you win. Easier if you’re a child, but if you’re an adult, there’s nobody stopping you.
Neighbourhood Explore (your neighbourhood)
This idea comes courtesy of The Spinoff Group’s creative director Toby Morris, who found a way to keep his kids interested during their daily walk. “Every time you come to an intersection you choose which direction to go with a rock paper scissors (child one wins so you left, but if child two wins you go right),” he says. “Everyone gets one override card that can veto a decision once. If you win three rock paper scissors in a row you win an extra override card. Walk was twice as long as usual but everyone had fun.”
Who do we love? (your friend group via Zoom)
Love, like a bottle of pinot gris, is a dish best served chilled (yes, pinot gris counts as a “dish” in level four.) Simply wait for a lull in conversation with trusted friends, then pop this wholesome question: “Who do we love?”
Everybody goes around and lists one person, group, system or thing they love and why. No debate is entered into. At the end of the round, everybody feels a little bit better by putting the good vibes out. (Love can also be substituted for “appreciated”, or if you’re a couple deep and with the right crowd, you can substitute it for “hate” or “grinds my gears”. Nobody’s judging you but your front-facing camera.)
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