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Board Games in the time of Coronavirus

Life under quarantine can be difficult. Trying to stay safe while working from home or traveling as an ‘essential’ worker, worrying about friends and family members, parents home schooling kids, and a constant influx of confusing and often contradicting information. Stress is constantly rising, and many of our ways of dealing with it have been stripped from us.

What’s a gamer to do when the FLGS is closed, your local gaming club is not meeting, and you can’t head over to your friends house to play? Take to the internet of course!

Now, as many people will tell you, these solutions aren’t quite as good as what we’re giving up. When they are what you’ve got though, you make do and accept that it helps take the edge off being trapped at home.

For the avid TCG players out there, most of you know there is ususally an online version. Pok√©mon has an online version. Yu-Gi-Oh has one. Magic: The Gathering has two. And that doesn’t even count the unoffial sites players often use to overcome issues like building an online collection in addition to their paper one or having to pay tournament fees. Heck, there exist games like Hearthstone that exist solely online for additional options. Of course, these programs are often lacking some of the benefits of sitting down and playing with your friends (limited chat functions, having to navigate menus to do things like change or update decks, the lack of your favorite format, difficulty playing a specific person, etc.), but if you are looking to keep your skills sharp until the tournaments start back up, these are your best option.

Similarly, tabeltop RPG fans have options as well. There are the more video game-esque styles like DDO or the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 or Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines 2. MMOs like World Of Warcraft or Eve Online have existed for years and usually have at least one heavy role play server. For those who perfer a more personal, less scripted game, there are countless forums and sites dedicated to running online campaigns with varying amounts of support. Google Hangouts and Discord are popular for people with dedicated groups who can’t meet in person but like to play at the same time, and of course Roll20 is a popular choice.

What about board games though? True, most board games have some sort of phone app, legitimate or copy-cat, that allows you to play said game against AI. Many of the good ones also allow you to play remotely, although even then it is often asynchronous and without any sort of in-game communication feature, meaning a single game can take days to play. You could try to stream play on something like Google Hangouts where one player sets up the board in their home with a dedicated camera on it and everyone plays remotely. That can be difficult though with games that have hidden information or require players to keep track of their own resources without them right in front of them.

Instead, more and more boardgamers are turning to Tabletop Simulator. TTS is a program designed to allow players to create and play boardgames online, with other players, in real time. Relying heavily on its online mod community, you can download game packs for many popular games and play them with your friends. Zombicide, Scythe, Arkham Horror, you name it, someone has likley made a mod for it. If you can’t find what you like, well with time and effort you can recreate it yourself. The program can handle hidden information, random effects, even automate game actions like moving monsters or restocking supplies.

Of course, it isn’t without its issues. Certain actions can be clunky, like placing your train on the right track in Ticket to Ride or accidently picking up a whole stack of cards when you try to draw one. Sometimes snap-to functions that are too close to each other can have undesired consequences (I can’t count the number of times our group had to dig through card piles in Catan to pull all the sheep out of the wheat pile for example). Sometimes a piece of imported art isn’t entirely clear at the provided resolution. And heavens forbid the server you’re using to host the images goes down. It can make the game unplayable.

Will any of these options replace in-person play once life returns to normal? Probably not. Even without their issues, there’s something different about sitting around a table with your friends to play a game that playing online just can’t replicate. Even so, it’s good to know these options are there when you need them. And sometimes, flipping the table online can be just as satisfying as in real life.