Wednesday is the start of Passover. This year, like lots of Jews, I’m organizing an online Seder. (There’ll be Hillel sandwich screenshots, Ten Plagues emoji, and screen-shared singalong slides with the lyrics to “Chad Gadya.”) There’s one aspect of the festive meal, however, that would seem to be impossible for a Seder party that is video-chatting in from several locations: The afikomen hunt, in which a special piece of matzo is hidden in the room for all the children present to try to find.
Because the afikomen hunt is one thing I am unwilling to surrender to the coronavirus crisis, I decided to make my own version, inspired by the classic board game Clue, so that families can play over Zoom, Skype, Houseparty, or FaceTime. To win, three to six players or teams compete to answer who hid the afikomen, how, and where. Was it Cousin Haley, under the couch cushions? Uncle Al, behind a picture frame? Mom or Dad, perhaps, inside a book? Or Rabbi Franklin, propped against a pet, grandparent, or baby?
I sketched the basics out on Saturday morning and field-tested everything via Zoom with my own extended family that evening, our third consecutive Saturday Zoom game night. My niece in Detroit won, besting my sister and her boyfriend in Brooklyn, my parents in Pasadena, California, and my wife and daughter here with me in Missoula, Montana. (It turned out that Elijah, that rascally prophet, had hidden the matzo, crumbled around the house plant.)
There are no technical requirements for each team, besides a video call service and phones or text-messaging devices. The running time should be about 45 minutes (so consider speeding through the Four Questions to save some time!). As the virtual game host, I didn’t have my own turn, which meant I could eavesdrop on the action, answer gameplay questions as necessary, and dash between the living room and kitchen to do some dishes, since this is still Passover after all.
From personal experience as both a kid and an adult, I’d argue that the ritual of hiding the afikomen is, in part, an effort to keep young minds and bodies engaged through a lengthy Seder. Right now, though, we’re all as pent-up as a 4-year-old—which is why the virtual afikomen hunt is meant for players of all ages. I won’t pretend a board game isn’t a stationary activity, but it should, along with the rest of your video-connected meal, get your blood moving. After all, with its constant cross-talk, glitchy pauses, and rare peeks inside another’s home, what is the Passover Seder but the original Zoom meeting?
Others have also devised virtual afikomen hunts this year, including online scavenger hunts, hidden picture games, and even a Zork-like text adventure. I’d argue my version is much more personally interactive, like the holiday itself. (If you’re Christian, you can use these rules to stage a digital Easter egg hunt, with names, methods, and locations changed to your liking.)
Will I miss the in-person afikomen hunt? Perhaps. But constraints breed creativity. Growing up, I attended typical family Seders outside Chicago and New York. In 2002, I moved to Montana and hosted my first Seder for the two other Jews I knew in town—one of whom forgot to come. Year by year, participation increased: four of us, eight, 11, 16, and so on, until we finally broke the living room barrier and had to rent a larger space. Shepherding a dozen infants, preschoolers, and adolescents through the service meant constant enticements: songs here, treats there, and finally the great afikomen hunt. Locustlike, the young bloods would have mowed down the rental property if I held a traditional search, so I offered variants, like having them call out when they found something that starts with each letter in the word afikomen: “Apple—A!” “Flower—F!” The best idea came from my rabbi: have the kids spend an hour hiding the afikomen. Then the adults can search for it as they’re cleaning up.
This year is no different. We’re apart but together, mourning but celebrating, unleavened and yet, we hope, on the rise. Hag sameach, and good luck playing.
Someone has hidden the afikomen. But who? And how? And where? To find it—and win this game—you must find the answers!
1 game host and 3–6 players or teams
Everyone must be on a common video call, such as Zoom or FaceTime. The game host and each player or team must have a phone or other way to receive texts. Every player or team must have the others’ contact information, in order to text one another.
For the host: an envelope, 21 cards, and a player/team card pile. Print/cut out in advance. (See below.)
For each player: a notebook sheet. Printout optional. Can be done via a notes app.
1. The game host sorts the cards into three groups: Suspects, Methods, and Locations. Shuffle each group. Unseen by others, pick one card from each group and put it in the envelope. This now contains the answers to the questions: Who hid the afikomen? How? And where?
2. The game host shuffles together the remaining cards. Then, still unseen by others, “deals” them in rounds to each player or team by placing them atop their designated space on the player/team sheet. (It doesn’t matter if some players or teams have more cards than others.)
3. The game host texts each player or team their cards.
4. Players or teams mark the cards they received on their notebook sheet (for example, with an asterisk). Be sure to mark your cards so you can distinguish them from information you receive in the game.
5. Because the cards are in your hand, they can’t be in the game host’s envelope—which means none of your cards were involved in hiding the afikomen!
1. Players or teams take turns in order by age, youngest to oldest.
2. On your turn, you make a suggestion. By making suggestions throughout the game, you try to determine—by process of elimination—which three cards are in the game host’s envelope. Example: “I suggest the afikomen was hidden by Uncle Al under the couch cushions!”
3. You make your suggestion to a specific opponent. That opponent looks at their cards to see if they have one or more of the cards you just named. If they do, they say “False” and text one of the cards that they have to you. Example: “Uncle Al.” All players or teams hear if a suggestion is proven false. But only you get the text. If the opponent you asked has none of the cards you named, they say, “I have no information.” Then you make the same suggestion to a new opponent. As soon as one opponent texts you information, it is proof that your suggestion is false. End your turn by checking off the card you received in your notebook. (You may find it helpful to mark the initials of the players or team who texted you the card.) If no one is able to prove your suggestion false, you may either end your turn or make an accusation.
4. When you think you’ve figured out which three cards are in the game host’s envelope, you may, on your turn, make an accusation. Example: “I accuse Rabbi Franklin of hiding the afikomen crumbled around the house plant.” The game host then checks the envelope. Important: You may make only one accusation during a game. If your accusation is incorrect in any way, you cannot go again, and therefore cannot win. You do continue to try to prove opponents’ suggestions false by texting cards when asked. You win the game if your accusation is completely correct. When this happens, the game host takes out all three cards and shows them for everyone to see.
5. A tip: When you make a suggestion, you may name one or more of the cards that you hold in your own hand. You might want do this to gain information or mislead your opponents.
The notebook sheet can be texted to all players at the beginning of the game. Or it can be shared and printed in advance. The game host should print and cut out the cards in advance. Yes, Grandparent, Pet, and Baby are locations, not suspects. Because that’s funnier.