It’s the puzzle of 2020: how do you get all your friends living in different households across different tiers of restrictions together for a New Year bash?
Here’s a clue: try an online escape room. If you’re the kind of crowd that loves to crack open the board games along with the bubbly, this could be the perfect Covid-friendly alternative.
Teams are placed within a virtual room and presented with a mystery. They then have to crack codes or complete challenges to escape.
Here are seven of our favourites to get the party started.
Do you have years of experience digging out information about friends (and their partners) from social media stalking? Is your bookmarks folder filled with conspiracy theory videos? If so, this is the game for you.
Players are greeted by a strange video call from an older woman. She reveals that her neighbour, Ivy Isklander, has gone missing and wants your help finding her. From there the immersive thriller begins.
The internet is your crime scene and solving the mystery will involve hacking passwords, doing social media searches and trawling through the dark depths of Youtube.
Every in a brightly lit room behind the safety of your screen, the suspense will make your skin crawl. It costs about £55 to play and two to six people can join.
This is one for all the family, with a whole host of different scenarios based on everything from Peaky Blinders and The Sword in the Stone to the works of Shakespeare.
Whichever you choose you’ll have 60 minutes to crack the puzzle, which you can only do by working together as a team. Games are designed for two to eight people and can be played by anyone from the age of eight to 80 and beyond.
We particularly liked Shakespeare’s Script (from £55), where you’re thrown into 16th century London and awaiting the opening night of Shakespeare’s newest play at The Globe theatre. But there’s just one copy of the script and it’s gone missing. Can your team track it down?
The Hogwarts Digital Escape Room
If you were the person waiting eagerly for your Hogwarts letter the day of your 11th birthday, this is the game for you.
In this free-to-play game, you start out as a first-year student and get sorted into a house. But on your very first night at school, a school prefect locks you and your friends in a strange circular room. To escape you have to piece together the clues that have been left for you. Players can work together as a team or compete against one another to get out fastest.
The game was created by a librarian from Pennsylvania and is a stickler for detail, so even hardcore Potterheads will get caught up in its magical world.
Happily for those who aren’t die-hard fans, while the books provide the theme, you don’t need to know them in great detail to solve the puzzle.
This twisting and turning mystery from MacMillan, the cancer charity, allows you to take on the role of amateur detective – all while raising money for a good cause.
It’s free to receive the escape room pack: all you have to do is set up an online fundraising page and ask your guests to make a donation.
The puzzles aren’t too complicated and would be suitable for anyone aged 14 and above.
The charity also offers free packs so you can organise a fundraiser virtual horse racing night, quiz or a Whodunnit murder mystery.
Before lockdown, Mr X was one of the most popular escape rooms in the North East. Now the company has moved its challenges and riddles online, so players can still put themselves to the test.
They are tasked with hunting down a dangerous individual, Mr X, who is taunting them with cryptic clues. The tools at their disposal include Google, Twitter, Youtube, Google maps, Google street view and local websites.
Playing time is between 45 minutes and two hours and between two and six people can join. The company which runs the game, Escape Rooms Durham, asks players for a suggested donation of £10, which will go to helping staff who have been unable to work or struggling financially during coronavirus.
It also offers even harder escape rooms, including a sequel to Mr X where players attempt to hack into secret online databases, and a family-friendly Christmas option.
Murder on the 28th floor
Where escape rooms meet interactive theatre: Murder on the 28th floor is a Whodunnit with a difference. A team of talented young actors from the District Theatre are yours for the evening as they help you to solve a devious crime: a murder that has taken place in your office while you’ve all been working from home.
For colleagues who are playing as a team, you can actually watch the action unfold in your very office if your boss is willing to let the troupe have their run of the place.
To catch the culprits you’ll have to interrogate suspects and complete tongue-in-cheek games.
While other escape rooms can be rather dark, this one is a right out 40-minute romp that will have you spitting out mulled wine all over your laptop screen in laughter.
The group is currently taking bookings for offices in London, Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester but will try to cater to groups in other areas.
School for Spies
This game allows you to get together as many people as you like from anywhere in the world. Everyone joins via a video link and is greeted by a spy master who will give away clues and tips when needed.
The mystery you have to solve? The case of the disappearing professor, who has vanished from the world’s greatest Snoop Academy. You – budding young spies – have been tasked with finding them.
The company that runs the game, Puzzle Break, is based in America but offers slots to suit players across most time zones. They also have a game for wannabe hackers and one where you are thrown into a twisted fairytale world based on the work of the Brothers Grimm. The game costs around $30 (£22.45) per person to play.