Screenshot of online version of Codenames board game

You should play board games at work. I’ve set up a weekly lunch session in a co-located office successfully and over the Internet now with COVID. It gives your brain a chance to think about things other than work or the state of the world. It lets you socialize with your co-workers in a different way. It’s fun.

I am assuming the following:

  • You won’t get fired for doing something social for an hour with your co-workers once a week.
  • Your co-workers won’t get fired for participating.
  • You are working remotely.

How to do it

In Slack, Microsoft Teams, or whatever your company uses, find a company-wide channel and post this: “Hey, is anybody interested in playing online board games on [day and time]?” If your company is spread across timezones, pick a time when people will be at lunch. If you can keep it consistent every week, then people can look forward to it. Send out a calendar invite.

At the arranged time, get everyone into your video chat system of choice. Zoom or whatever the current Google video meeting thing is should work fine.

What to play

There are a lot of options. I usually choose something that’s available for people to play for free, doesn’t take too long to explain, and doesn’t take too long to play. 20-30 minutes is ideal, then you can play twice in an hour. It also depends on how many people you have playing. Games that play in a web browser without addons are good because then it doesn’t matter if people are playing on outdated work computers.

The official version of Codenames is fantastic for this. It’s free, easy to understand, doesn’t require a signup, and supports up to 64 people in a room. Games are quick, people can drop in or drop out as long as they’re not the spymaster, and it’s a team game so it takes some of the pressure off. Two teams face off, each with a chosen spymaster who gives one word clues to try to get the rest of their team to pick the right cards, each containing one word that may relate to the clue, before the opposing team does the same.

Board Game Arena is another good option, they have a lot of games that anyone can play for free after they signup. Some games I’ve had success with:

  • Not Alone - hide and seek in space, one versus many.
  • Colt Express - an action programming game (add cards to a first-in/first-out queue and hilarity ensues) where you’re all robbers trying to grab the most loot.
  • Perudo - a Liar’s Dice variant with some nice bluffing opportunities.

You can suggest the above or see if people have other games they want to play. Mix it up and try games of different types to keep it from getting boring.

Things to keep in mind

  • Be ready and willing to teach people games.
  • Don’t be an overly competitive jerk. It’s fine to want to win, but don’t be awful about it.
  • Keep advertising the games and get new people to join. It’s a great opportunity to meet people across teams, departments, and create a welcoming atmosphere for people new to the company.