Play Safer: One Year Later
Note: This is a follow-up article to one we wrote last year! For more ideas for safe, distanced board gaming, click to read, "Play Safe: Getting New Games During Quarantine".
Oh boy, pandemics are long, huh? Fifty-something weeks later and the loss of my weekly board game night still stings like a bumblebee on steroids. I’ve spent the last year searching, sourcing, and scouring the internet for new and exciting ways to play board games- at least to tide me over until I finish the proto-type of my COVID-proof four-person board game bubble-dome. And honestly, things have been going really well and I wanted to share some of my findings! With the digital board games. Initial testing on the bubble-dome has NOT been promising.
If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Skribbli.o is easy to set-up and even easier to play, which is appropriate since it’s an updated online version of Pictionary. Players take turn choosing one of three options to draw- they’ll be using a mouse (or their finger on mobile) so artistic talent isn’t the game-changer it usually is in drawing games. The other players type in their guesses and get extra points for guessing the right answer faster than their friends.
There are a few advantages to playing Pictionary online. You type all your guesses, so the game lasts until all players guess the word, instead of ending when one player says it out loud. It gets easier to guess the answer once other people start getting it right, because you can see other players’ guesses before they got the answer right- quite often there is a misspelled version of the word, which really only adds to the frantic typing and barely contained laughter.
There’s a good chance you’ve already heard of Vladimír Chvátil’s wonderful social word game- there have been twelve spin-offs since it came onto the scene in 2015. It’s been translated into twenty-two different languages, there’s a picture version for younger players, and even Disney, Marvel, and Harry Potter versions of the game available for purchase.
Codenames pits two teams against each other, so you need at least four players. The game comes with hundreds of double-sided word cards. Twenty-five are randomly selected for each game and arranged in a five-by-five grid on the table. Some cards belong to the red team, some belong to the blue team, and one card immediately disqualifies the team who selects it from the game. Which cards are what colour is a secret that changes every game and only one player on each team (the SPYMASTER) knows. They’ll give very specific clues to their teammates to try and help them guess which words belong to their team. It sounds easy, but each clue must consist of one word and one number- the hint and how many cards it applies to. Sounds easy, right? Just wait until you’re trying to come up with a clue for Cable, Coach, and Diamond, without your team guessing Victory, Hit, or Dollar.
This game is fantastic for entertaining a crowd, and if you haven’t played it yet, Czech Games Edition has made it available online, completely free. Big recommend!
A lot of publishers have responded to the pandemic by uploading digital versions of their games to platforms like TableTopia or Tabletop Simulator, but Dominion really takes it a step farther. One of the best deck-builders EVER has been made available for free online by the publishers- they made a website and a full client so that people can play with their friends. I’m going to repeat that: This is a full price board game, FOR FREE. It costs $75 CDN on amazon.ca right now. Of course, it’s important to consider that Dominion came out in 2008, it has eight expansions, and there were even highly competitive international tournaments for a while. When you play Dominion online, you only get the original version of the game.
What makes Dominion great is that when you’re setting up, you get to choose which cards will be available in the game, and which will remain in the box for another time. This means that even with just the base game, there are hundreds of card combinations you could use, often resulting in dramatically different games. And once you’re tired of those, every expansion for Dominion is available on the website with a subscription service. Unfortunately, this means you can’t own the expansions on this site, but the fact is that only one of your friends needs to pay four euros per month to access ALL of the expansions, which amounts to literally hundreds of dollars’ worth of games of one of the best deck-builders out there!
Look, I get it. Playing Pictionary online is pretty cool, but you’re looking for something a little crazier. You’ve got a thirst for adventure. You want to test your brains, your courage, and your sword arm. You, my friend, need a little vitamin D&D.
Dungeons and Dragons has existed in various forms since the mid-70’s, and a recent surge in popularity had made it the height of geek chic. Since the start of the Pandemic, people have been playing the granddaddy of all roleplaying games more than ever before!
The big problem with D&D is that you can’t just sit down and play with some friends. You need one person to learn all the rules, plan out an adventure, and control all the monsters and random citizens. The aptly named Dungeon Master, or DM, is obviously insane, and thus, in short supply compared to the number of players. This hurdle has left many a potential player out in the cold simply because they don’t know any DMs who aren’t already loaded up with players.
It’s not free, but the folks at startplaying.games have created an innovative service that links up players and DMs, so that players can always find a game and DMs get paid for their hard work. Prices range from $10-20 USD per session, which usually lasts 3-4 hours. Some DMs even run free sessions to teach rules and build characters. Not only that, but you can find DMs for other roleplaying games like Call of Cthulu, Pathfinder, and earlier editions of D&D. The service is fantastic, but any RPG experience is about the people you’re playing with. The best option is always to play with your friends, but this is a great way to dip your toes in and learn the rules.
It’s been a tough year for board game enthusiasts, but we persevere! This hobby, to me, is all about getting together with your family and friends. This is simultaneously more important and more difficult than ever thanks to the pandemic. Life’s not easy right now, but it gets a little easier when we spend time with the people who are important to us. I end this article with a call to action- call up the game group, set aside an evening, and reconnect with each other over a digital tabletop. You’ll be glad you did!