Facebook added games to its Messenger app a year ago, part of the social networking giant's efforts to keep your eyeballs glued to messaging app even when you're not chatting. Games are now solidly a part of Messenger: the app started out with 17 games in November 2016, and that total has swelled to more than 70 games, with '80s mainstay Tetris and a Star Wars-branded game the latest to join the mix. Expect the fun and games to continue into 2018 when Facebook says a Messenger-based version of Angry Birds will arrive.
To find a game, just open a conversation and tap on the game controller icon. (If you don't see it, tap the three-button icon to see more options — it's likely you'll spot the game controller there.) In addition to challenging friends to games, you can now live stream your Messenger gaming sessions via Facebook Live. And Facebook says it's testing the ability to let people play games with each other from within Messenger's video chat feature.
But which game should you pick? We've gone through many of the available titles to find which ones will spark friendly conversation between you and your friends — and which ones will end in awkward silence.
Anyone who spent far too much time playing Tetris on a Mac or PC in the late '80s, early '90s will be thrilled — or alarmed — that the tile-matching puzzle game is now on Facebook Messenger, ready to divert your attention on an entirely new platform. All the hallmarks of the classic game are here — the rotating, multicolored bricks, the quickening pace as you level up, even the jaunty Russian theme music. Tetris lends itself to the Messenger interface with simple controls that let you tap to rotate and slide to drop the bricks into place. So now a new generation can enjoy the greatest thing to come out of Russia since vodka.
It's safe to say that the Porgs — the owl-like critters that appear in The Last Jedi — have gotten mixed reviews from Star Wars aficionados. While some fans find the cooing creatures a cute addition to Star Wars, others would like to see the Porgs receive a Jar-Jar Binks style banishment to a galaxy that's even farther away. If you're in the latter camp, you're unlikely to warm to Porg Invasion, a casual game in which you help BB-8 shoo away the Porgs that have overrun the Millennium Falcon. And even if you're agog over Porgs, you still might find the gameplay a little too basic, even if Chewbacca's howls of protest provide some delights.
This is a classic game done right in Facebook Messenger. You've got only one chance to shoot the dive-bombing aliens and rack up the biggest score possible, but the controls are simple to master: Just slide your continuously shooting spaceship back and forth with a finger. Galaga on Messenger even recreates the classic game's Fighter Captured feature, giving you the chance to unleash double-barreled destruction when you free your ship.
One would think Pac-Man would be a natural for a quick casual game, especially since this is pretty faithful recreation of the Bandi Namco original. But the controls aren't very precise, so your little Pac-Man is likely to skid past all those power pellets and into a ghost's waiting maw. There are better ways to pass your time.
Another arcade classic makes a successful jump to Messenger, thanks to simple controls — just slide your finger back and forth to fight the alien hordes — and a nostalgic look-and-feel. Bonus points to Taito for recreating the '70s splash screen for the game, right up to the screen that invites you to insert a coin to play.
You've got a rack of letters that keeps filling up just as fast as you can empty it. Your challenge is to spell as many words as possible before all the tiles spill off your overstuffed rack. Words With Friends may like the challenge of coming up with short and sweet words, but I found I quickly ran out of playing space while my tiles piled up. It doesn't help that the game weighs you down with far too many vowels to truly flex your word power. Instead, try the standard version of Words With Friends, which is also available in Messenger.
You don't need a lot of bells and whistles to have a successful casino game — just compelling gameplay that follows the old casino adage of keeping the customers coming back to the gaming tables. Messenger's Blackjack iteration does this with multiple game modes: in Tournament mode, you're trying to collect more winnings than your rival players while a solitary Lightning mode challenges you to win the most money in just five hands of Blackjack.