With the world recently becoming a real-life instance of Pandemic Legacy Season 3, we’ve suspended our in-person GameDays until everything blows over. We’re all sheltering-in-place and finding new ways to play together while apart.
Board Game Apps
The easiest and most reliable method is official board game apps, available in droves on Android and iOS, as well as some on Nintendo Switch, individual websites, and Steam. This is potentially the most expensive option, as you may be buying each game individually, often with additional costs for expansions.
Even with this expense, the games still cost a fraction of physical price. In addition to AI opponents and challenges, we’ve also found that apps have clarified rules for us and offer great tutorials. As we’ve mentioned before, some of our favorite apps are ones that involve a lot of moving pieces. Playing something like Through The Ages on tablet is like having a digital game butler presenting you with everything you need, right when you need it! Many of these games have online multiplayer, where you can either join with strangers or friends.
One way to disperse the cost is to use family groups to share apps. We’ve joined our Google Play accounts in a Family group, so that we can buy the app once and all play it. In addition to paid apps, your Google play family also shares TV shows, movies, and books. You can choose what to share to your family, and there are often sales on games.
And, there are many games available for free! Lots of classic board games have free versions that may include multiplayer. There are modern games that are free as well, such as Onirim, Onitama, Ascension, Fluxx, and Isla Rica (a Puerto Rico clone). Publishers have also been offering games at steep discounts or free on different platforms: Tokaido, Gang of Four, and Between Two Castles are some that have been available for free recently, with many more being offered on sale, like Scythe, Isle of Skye, and Carcassone.
We’ve seen lot of people lately using video chat to play together while apart. We briefly considered this so that we could continue our Clank! Legacy play-through… but decided against it. There are certainly many games that are simple enough or can be easily managed, but we don’t think this particular method is for us. I think we’d be more likely to host a This Game is Broken style quiz show than actually play a game over video chat.
We tried two tabletop sandboxes this week, both available through Steam: Tabletop Simulator($19.99) and Tabletopia(free). Tabletop Simulator has a lot more in-game options (and physics, and table flipping), but we couldn’t stop TS from dumping us from the server as soon as we tried to start a game. Tabletopia is also free to use, offering a subscription service to unlock premium games and run more tables at once. We found Tabletopia to be a bit more stable and easy to use.
There are a fair amount of games available for Tabletopia, but their catalog is no match of the steam workshop’s avalanche of user created content for Tabletop Simulator. While it may be a bit more finicky, we don’t regret the purchase. Tabletop Simulator also offers a four pack for $60, bringing the price down to $15 each. At first blush, that seems expensive… but it’s the price of one game, with the ability to play thousands. Subscriptions for Tabletopia are more individualized, at rates of $5 to $10 a month. Once you have a subscription, you are able to play premium games and “setups” – for example, a two-player game may be free, but a 3 or for player “setup” may be a premium feature.
Either one is a great way to try out games before buying them, in addition to being a great way to maintain your board game habit while apart. We’ve also found ourselves playing solo games, and using them to learn and test games before playing as a group.
While some games or apps may have a built-in chat feature, there are a number of services to use to communicate while playing. Our game group already used Slack, with separate threads for GameDay planning, general game chat, and random asides. For playing online, we used a Steam voice chat, which worked pretty well once we all found headphones. Google Meet and Skype are rather ubiquitous and easy to use as well. Discord is quite popular in the video gaming community, and could be another good option to try while playing apart. Overall, this depends on your group and what they will be most comfortable with. Even a regular old phone call could work!
Aside from being able to play board games, we’ve enjoyed staying in touch while apart. If we weren’t getting together to play a game online, we may not have called one another just to chat. Inevitably, as we wait for our turn or linger after a game is complete, we share what we’ve been streaming or reading and how our jobs have adjusted.