I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve been in a serious “I only want to play video games and do literally nothing else” mood since quarantine started. Of course, we on the Sidequest team often want to play lots of games, so I turned to my fellow writers to ask whether there were any free or cheap quarantine games they recommend for this weird time of ours. We gathered our suggestions into categories based on quarantine moods, so hopefully one of these hits your quarantine games itch. If you’re looking for stinky games to play because, heck, why not play games that are questionable, we’ve got a whole other post covering that.
This is a free-to-play phone match-3 merge game. What this means is that, rather than in a Bejeweled-like fashion, where you match items and they disappear, the items in Merge Dragons! merge into higher levels of those items; so, for example, merging three single blocks of wood gives you a small stack of wood, and merging three small stacks of wood gives you a large stack of wood, and three of those large stacks give you… wait for it… a tiny garden that produces bushes (that spawn mushrooms, which also chain into larger mushrooms… you get the gist). I know, amazing! I find it incredibly soothing to match eggs to create dragons and prepare the space so that items will chain as they merge. Cleaning up my camp is a nice way to detox, too. There are pay-to-play components, but I haven’t spent a cent.
Wadjet Eye Games
This is my greatest personal comfort game that I like to play when I feel blue. While it is preferable to play it on PC, you can also download it on your mobile devices (iOS and Android). It is short in length, which makes it highly replayable. It is pretty atmospheric due to the neo-noir tone and awesome jazzy score. However, it is actually the second game of the Blackwell series by Wadjet Eye Games—I think you might need to play the first game, Blackwell Legacy, to enjoy it. I can assure you that it is a great series!
Android/iOS, Nintendo Switch
I have been singing inbento’s praises since I bought it about a month ago. It’s an adorable puzzle game about cats making bento boxes, and it is also $5. I have enjoyed every minute of the three-plus hours I have played it—the puzzles are very pretty, the soundtrack is very chill, and it’s perfect for playing in handheld mode on the Switch.
Marvel Puzzle Quest
PC, Android/iOS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Amazon Kindle
I feel like this is the only game I ever recommend to anyone, and you know what? I’m fine with that. Like Merge Dragons!, it’s also a match-3 merge game, you obviously use Marvel characters, and… I dunno. I’ve been playing it for six years and I’m still not tired of it.
“I Need to Emotionally Invest in Something That’s Not My Life Right Now” Games
The Arcana is an LGBTQ+ fantasy/mystery dating sim where you play as a magician’s apprentice seeking to stop the uprising of a second wave of a deadly plague with your romantic partner. There are currently three finished romance routes and three in development, each with their own unique take on the story, and two endings for each story, which gives The Arcana a lot of replayability. It’s free-to-play with some premium content—a lot of the steamier romance bits are locked behind in-game currency, which can either be bought or earned through mini-games. Also, free tarot card readings!
This is not a soothing game, but if you need some NOT plague-related excitement right now, it’s great. Also, it’s a great way to pass time, if you find yourself counting minutes, since it plays throughout the day. If you really need me to explain more on why, see this entire series.
Any Cybird Dating Sim
I have a secret (it’s not secret) love of otome games. I’ve played two by Cybird, Midnight Cinderella and Love and Magic in Wonderland, both of which are free on mobile. The nice thing about these visual novels is that you get super invested in these relationships that inevitably have a happy ending, even if it’s full of ~drama~. The games aren’t without their flaws (namely, why are there no other girls and why can’t I kiss said no other girls), but if you’re into very heterosexual romances that play out exactly as you expect, these are a nice break from the world.
ONE PIECE Bon! Bon! Journey!!
Bandai Namco Entertainment
In a previous life, I got really into the Candy Crush match-3 games. Eventually I broke this habit by starting grad school, but ONE PIECE Bon! Bon! Journey!! shattered any and all resolve I had toward match-3 and gacha games. The story is an abridged and cutened version of One Piece, and the levels are challenging but fun. Plus, I like that the puzzles and character abilities correspond to the characters’ in-story powers. I am not sure if people who aren’t fans of One Piece would enjoy it, but as someone who has beat all 162 available levels I can safely say it hits a great balance of puzzle-solving and mindlessly completing levels.
Games to Play With Friends Virtually
Crusader Kings II
Paradox Development Studio
Crusader Kings II, a medieval grand strategy game, was just released for free in anticipation of the upcoming sequel. This could also go under “I need to emotionally invest in something that’s not my life right now” because this game is a massive time sink. You can play as close (or as far) from history as you want: become king of Jerusalem or create a Welsh Jewish Empire or imprison your brother and steal his wife—the possibilities are endless! While only the base game is free, if you’re playing with friends you can use any DLC the hosting player has (so now is a good time to get into it if you’ve got friends who are already addicted).
Y’all know Roll20 is free to use? Like, you can upgrade your account, but you don’t have to. Similarly, online system resource databases exist for several major RPGs, allowing you to play the games for free. The only caveat for SRDs is they generally don’t contain lore, just mechanics. Still, that’s hardly a problem if you’re imaginative.
Sidequest’s former managing editor Naseem Jamnia used to do sciencey things, but they now slam their keyboard and call it art. Their debut novella, THE BRUISING OF QILWA, introduced their queernorm, Persian-inspired secondary world; their middle grade horror debut SLEEPAWAY comes out in 2025.