Playing Alone & with Others During Lockdown
By Stephen Harkleroad
Are you stuck inside with nothing to do? Maybe because of social distancing or a quarantine? Don’t worry—board games can still be part of your evening.
While it may seem odd that board games could be viable in a situation like the Covid-19 quarantine—given that board games are, by their very nature, social events—there are plenty of options for board game hobbyists to pursue while everything is in lockdown.
There is always solo gaming—solo gaming is a big enough topic to expand on later. In the meantime, co-op games make good choices; since most co-ops don’t require hidden information, nothing in the game prevents them from being played solo. Good examples of this are Pandemic, Castle Panic (defending your castle against a horde of incoming enemies), and Sentinels of the Multiverse (a pastiche of comic book superheroes attempting to defeat a villain).
However, most people in quarantine may simply want the interaction with other people. There are a few different options. All require access to the internet—sadly, playing by phone isn’t particularly popular. (Although, strangely, playing by mail is still a viable way of playing many games, although not very popular except by chess players and wargamers.)
The first option is to simply buy a digital game that has multiplayer capabilities. Different consoles and platforms are going to have different ways of buying this, but for PCs by far the most common way is via Steam. Steam, an application you can use to purchase and play games, is free to download—although the games themselves require payment.
Many popular games have digital implementations released in conjunction with, or close to, the release of the physical game. And since many of these games allow you to play against the computer, you can always play if other people are not available. These options are often also available as apps in the Apple Store or Google Play.
Several recent examples of online games are Splendor (a ladder-building game about buying gems that plays in about 10-15 minutes); Scythe (an engine-building game set in a weird alternate history in the 1920s.); and Through the Ages (build your civilization throughout history). Other popular games, such as Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, Terraforming Mars, and Twilight Struggle also have excellent ports to digital versions of the games.
Another option is an application called Tabletop Simulator. Tabletop Simulator is an application you can download (sadly, it is not free—the retail is $19.99, but is frequently on sale). It serves as a “universal” program to play any games. It comes with a lot of classic games such as checkers and chess, but, more importantly, allows individuals to create modifications you can download to play as well.
Most are free, some require a payment, and since they are developed by users they can be of varying quality. In addition, the controls—since they are intended to be universal—can seem counterintuitive, and you have to manipulate all of the pieces yourself as if you were playing in person. And most of the games are not necessarily sanctioned by the game designers.
Still, while it has a little bit of a learning curve and you’ll have to put some work into finding a mode that works, it also opens up an almost infinite amount of possibilities for playing with other people.
If you are good with party games, there are plenty of games out there intended for multiple players that, while not strictly board games, can easily scratch the party game itch.
The Jackbox series is a prime example—there are currently six Jackbox series, and each series comes with around five different party games. Each player must have a phone, but otherwise only one person needs to buy the game itself. As an example, one of the games, Quiplash, gives each player two prompts on their cell phone (such as “The worst thing to do at a wedding”); two random players get the same prompt.
After all prompts are completed, the game throws up the two answers against each other, and players vote on which one is the best. The games hit a wide variety of genres, so even if there is a game or two people don’t care for there’s still plenty of content.
How does one connect with all this?
There are plenty of options, such as Zoom, Discord, and Twitch, most of which can be used or at least modified to be useful to communicate during board games. Many of the applications listed above only allow for in-game chat options, so if you want to trash talk—I mean, strategize—with your fellow players, you may want to download one of those applications.
I’m partial to Discord—it’s free and pretty versatile—but regardless, make sure you have a decent headphone and microphone setup.
(A short shout out to role playing games—there’s lots of options for anyone who is into RPGs. The inherent nature of RPGs, where you are less dependent on visually seeing something on the table, means it’s easier to play over the internet. If you are into board games but have not really ventured into role playing games but are interested in doing so, this may be an opportune time.)
Playing board games online is not usually ideal. However, publishers have gone to great lengths to provide options for people, and now that it’s largely required for the foreseeable future, a lot of people have come up with creative solutions. It’s worth checking out.
Stephen Harkleroad has been playing board games since before you were born, statistically speaking. He wrangles spreadsheets for a living. His favorite board game is Dune, and he has most recently spent time as a Human Cleric (Life Domain).