Imagine you are stranded somewhere in the world with no idea where you are. All you can see is your local surroundings, the buildings, street signs, and people…oh, and you only have a few minutes to find your exact location on a map of the world.
This is the premise of GeoGuessr and other games like it. It has you narrowing down your location based on Google Street View images or videos.
During the last year, with the pandemic severely limiting international travel, these geography games have become one of the best ways to explore new places across the globe without leaving your house. Even when traveling is possible, it’s very expensive and time-consuming (planning the trip, countries requiring quarantining for a set of time when arriving), so visiting new countries virtually is a good alternative.
Besides these games being fun to play alone or with your friends, they have educational value, too. You will learn about the features that make a region unique and may soon become an expert in reading the land correctly based on the vegetation and architectural style alone.
The most well-known geography guessing game is GeoGuessr. The game randomly places you somewhere in the world with Google Street View images.
You can move and look around to find clues that show where in the world you might be. Then you place a marker on a world map and submit your guess. Depending on how close you got to the right location, it awards you anywhere between 0 and 5000 points. You can play alone or challenge your friends to see who is the ultimate geography king.
It’s possible to change the game settings, which alters the style and pace of the game.
Limit the time to 30 seconds or don’t allow moving, and it becomes much more of a guessing and intuition game. However, longer time controls and moving almost guarantee you are going to find some strong clues that narrow down your location. You can also choose between different maps. For example, maps focused on only locations in one country or continent or famous places.
Recently, GeoGuessr has introduced a battle royale mode where 10 players compete in a last-man-standing competition. The player who is the furthest away or the slowest to guess the correct country gets eliminated.
GeoGuessr used to be free to play, but in 2019 they reacted to increased fees from Google to use their Maps API and severely restricted the free version. Now, you can only play one free map per day, or you have to pay the $3 per month (or $2 per month when paying for a full year) subscription fee.
City Guesser is a great alternative to GeoGuessr, which I have played extensively with siblings and friends. The basic principle is the same as in GeoGuessr: you are shown a random location somewhere in the world, and you have to guess where you are.
However, City Guesser uses videos instead of the Google Street View images of GeoGuessr. This means that you are not in control of your “character” and you can only see what is in the video, which can be slightly frustrating when the filmer doesn’t focus on the object that would tell you exactly where you are.
Just like GeoGuessr, you can play alone or as a group and can control the number of guesses and the time limit per guess. Depending on your settings, the games can feel very different.
I personally like to use short time limits per round, which means little information is given, and you have to use your intuition to guess the correct location. After playing for a while, you develop a feeling of what region you are in based on the first impression. Architecture, street layouts and signs, billboards, and more can be valuable clues.
You can use longer time controls, too, if that is your preference. This gives you minutes per round. You’re more likely to come across a clue that either tells you the country or city or at the very least narrows it down to a few possibilities. This is where a decent knowledge of the world comes in handy. If you know a lot of cities, landmarks, currencies, languages, and more, you are more likely to get it correct.
At the moment, there are only a limited number of cities in the game, so when you play it a lot you may see the same video multiple times. However, the game is free to play and you can submit your own videos to add more locations.
One of the best benefits of playing geography guessing games is that you will inevitably learn new things from different areas around the world. You will learn to recognize languages (even though you may not understand them) or pick up on certain architectural features of a region. Even plants and soil color can be helpful indicators to narrow down your location.
Once you have played a few rounds, you will develop a sense of where you are that can even override hard clues you see on the map.
An easy example is being presented a Chinatown in a big American city. Before you come to that realization, you will note the writing, architecture, and road markings that will help you distinguish if this is a location in Asia or in the US. So you go with your gut — San Francisco’s Chinatown. Winner! Guessing correctly is a great feeling!
You begin to become a pro at reading the locations to the point you can end up being on an empty road, in the middle of nowhere and correctly guess Australia because you recognized a eucalyptus tree.
These games give you the opportunity to learn not only the geography, but recognize flags from all over the world, top-level domains, and major city names.
Other Geography Games
Besides GeoGuessr and City Guesser, there are other geography guessing games if you’re not too fond of the subscription payment model of GeoGuessr or the restricted movement of City Guesser.
Geotastic is a GeoGuessr clone that can be played for free (for now). It relies on donations to cover the Google API fees, and it keeps track of how much quota your games have consumed. So you can place a donation to cover your costs after a few games. You can also use your own Google API key to pay for your games. Creating a Google Cloud account gives you an initial free credit of $300, which covers a few years of games. Even I am thinking of switching to Geotastic from GeoGuessr, placing a donation once in a while to cover my costs. This way I can pay for my games and support the developers without being stuck with another subscription.
If you have a Google API key and some technical knowledge, you can self-host a GeoGuessr-like game. GeoGuess is an open-source implementation of GeoGuessr, that you can install on your own server and play with your friends.
Finally, there is another game that puts a spin on the classic GeoGuessr formula: Hide & Seek World.
Instead of getting a random location, one player picks a spot and hides there, while the other players see his location in Street View and have to find him. However, just like GeoGuessr, it has an extremely limited free version and offers only a subscription-based payment model to upgrade.
Many people including myself love to travel. However, traveling is expensive, takes time, and has become more difficult considering the pandemic. If the last year has shown us anything, it’s that we cannot take travel for granted.
GeoGuessr and other games like it offer the unique opportunity to discover the world from the comfort of your own home. You can learn a lot about geography and compete with your knowledge against your friends in a very fun and educational way.
You also get to see parts of the world you normally wouldn’t get to see. Maybe they are dangerous areas, uncommon tourist destinations, or just very far off the beaten path. Just like a road trip that leads you through multiple regions, traveling virtually exposes you to more than just the perfectly manicured tourist towns.
Travel from the comfort of your own home and defeat your friends with your newfound geographic knowledge and intuition.
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