Resources for Gamers in the Era of Social Distancing (Article by Chris Wray)

Social distancing is interrupting countless game nights and events, and with an uncertain end date, many of us gamers are finding new ways to enjoy the hobby we love.  I wanted to write some of my discoveries and observations.  

Dale had an excellent and fun article about gaming in the era of social distancing a few days ago. I wanted to offer my own thoughts here, and a few more people chimed in below.

As a preliminary matter, many writers here at the Opinionated Gamers serve in the medical field, so thanks to them for their diligent work on the front lines!  Dale, Lorna, Tery, and everybody else I’ve forgotten, thank you for everything you’re doing right now!

The Impact on the Hobby

I’ve spoken to a few publishers and designers this week, and this pandemic (and the economic shutdown) is affecting gaming in various ways:

  • Some designers and publishers are having a difficult time assembling playtest groups, delaying some game designs.
  • Some publishers are suffering supply chain disruptions, particularly for games manufactured in China, delaying releases.  
  • In some countries, shelter-in-place orders are causing delivery and distribution problems for games that did get through manufacturing before the shutdown.
  • Distributors are having cash flow issues, as documented in this article on BGG.  
  • Large gaming events are being cancelled.  The Gathering of Friends (itself a major source of playtesting and game signing) was scheduled for mid-April, but it has been cancelled.  Convention season doesn’t usually start until May/June, and more and more events may be impacted the further this goes.  
  • Local game nights are being cancelled.  For instance, here in Missouri, all of the groups I know of have ceased having meetings, though a few of them have gone digital.

That may seem like a list of bad news, but the online gaming community is as strong as ever, and BGG and other internet spaces are great places to be a gamer right now.

Interestingly, some distributors and publishers (particularly in Europe) reported a slight surge in sales of family games as the crisis started.  Perhaps a silver lining may be seeing a new generation of gamers emerge and a renewed interest in family game nights!

For the latest news on the impact on gaming, I recommend following W. Eric Martin’s news posts over at BGG.  Here’s a direct link to the BGG News blog.  

Favorite Online Gaming Sites!

I am a long-time fan of online gaming.  Here are a few of my favorite sites:

  • BoardGameArena.com.  The site is a bit overwhelmed right now, since usage has reportedly quintupled since the pandemic began, so it helps to be a premium member, which comes at a very small and reasonable price.  But the site is truly exceptional and has classics such as 7 Wonders, Carcassonne, Hanabi, Puerto Rico, Race for the Galaxy, Terra Mystica, Through the Ages, and countless others. In an especially nice touch, it has audio chat if you want to play games with close friends!
  • Yucata.de.  This is probably my most-used site of all time, and it is free, but it is turn-based with no guarantees of live play.  But the site works well, and it also has several classics, including Castles of Burgundy, El Grande, Glen More, Imhotep, Las Vegas, Machi Koro, Russian Railroads, St. Petersburg, Torres, and many more!

There are numerous other sites I haven’t used, but the ones popularly mentioned are: (1) TableTop Simulator (on Steam), (2) Tabletopia, which is an app on many platforms, (3)  BoardSpace.net is a site for lovers of abstracts, including the GIPF series, and (4) boiteajeux.net, which has a lot of heavier titles. I’m hoping to check all of these out in the next few days.  

Gaming Apps!

I’m also a huge fan of gaming apps.  My favorite is the Ticket to Ride app, which has many of the expansions, plus excellent online play with enough users to easily find a game.  I’m also a big fan of the Agricola app (which I mostly use for solo games). I also love and recommend: Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Catan, Carcassonne, Ganz schon clever, Pandemic, Qwirkle, Splendor, Silver, Suburbia, Tichu, and Tokaido.  But there are countless game apps out there, and the iOS store (and probably other platforms) have separate categories for board games ported to digital platforms, so it is easy to sort through available lists.  

Resources from Publishers: Free Games and Expansions

As documented in this wonderful Geeklist, many publishers are offering free games or expansions via print-and-play.  Highlights include:

A couple of other big name publishers I talked to this week are working on these sorts of items, so we’ll update the list as we find out more! If you are a publisher, leave a comment and I’ll add you to the list above.

Other tips!

  • Try designing a game!  This is a good time to innovate from the comfort of our homes.
  • Reach out to people in your game groups and still say hi.  Even if it is a simple message via Facebook or Meetup or email, be sure to tell the people that you game with that you miss their company and time around the table.
  • Organize your game collection!  I had a lot of fun a few days ago sorting my game room.  
  • Play more games with your family!   I’m not much of a game collector, but even I had fun brushing off some titles that haven’t been touched in years with my family.  
  • Try some solo games!  My favorite solo games are Terraforming Mars and Agricola.  There’s an entire guild with over 13,000 members on BGG discussing the merits of one-player games!

But most importantly, stay safe, and if we’ve missed anything, be sure to add a comment for your fellow readers to enjoy!  Keep it gaming related if you can.

Comments from Other Opinionated Gamers:

Matt C: For specific gaming apps, put me down for Small World, Galaxy Trucker (solo campaign), and the afore-mentioned Agricola solo mode.  I often pull out my iPad on trips with teen group and get several people in on a pass-and-play game of Small World, it’s perfect for that use.  I’d point out Sentinels of the Multiverse, but it can be a bit much to keep track of all the moving parts in a digital medium.  I’ve gone back and played some Le Havre vs the AI lately after letting it languish awhile.  

One of my favorite ways of playing boardgames on my electronics is playing through solo “campaign modes” for games that change up the standard rules and allow me to explore new options.  In the past I’ve played many a game on the Star Realms campaign, gone through most of the Suburbia map locations, and even enjoyed for a bit the one of the Catan series of games.  The card “upgrades” from game to game in One Deck Dungeon is also fun to pursue.  Finally, for that quick one-off game I’ll open up either of the Ganz Schon Clever series and see what I can score. 

For online boardgaming, right now my first choice is Tabletop Simulator over on Steam.  It takes a bit more bandwidth than some (and I recommend using an independant voice chat option) but seems to work well.  The interface isn’t perfect, but is serviceable. I liken it to playing boardgames wearing gloves. Games I’ve enjoyed include Pixel Tactics, Spirit Island, and a recent game of Die Crew with some OpinionatedGamers.  

I’ll leave off with a note or two about pure digital games of note.  Fans of Civilization that have become grown-up and have no time for that anymore should check out Polytopia for phones and tablets.  It’s a great little “Civilization lite” game that really does capture most of the game and it’s playable in about a half hour or so. If you have an iPad, the old TowerMadness HD, is a cute little tower defense title where you defend your sheep from aliens.  What sets it apart is that you can play two players on the same iPad, with each player taking control of half the screen.  My son loves playing Starcraft 2 cooperatively and it’s now free to play.  The cooperative games give each player unique leaders and armies to use against different possible in-game missions.  All the commanders are free to use, but if you want to “level them up” past level 5 or so you need to purchase them. (Note, this is a cooperative mode, so you’re not needing to pay something for an advantage over an opponent.)

Jonathan F.: I have been trying a range of options with underpowered technology and slow internet. My advice is to split the voice off and run it from a different device, so perhaps voice via Discord on your phone or tablet (using data, not the same wifi as the laptop). Steam has some overhead, so if you need to consult the web, try using your phone instead of opening a browser on your laptop while running Steam/TTS.

If you do not get BrettSpielWelt working using the website, try installing the app (which needs java) – https://www.brettspielwelt.de/Community/Download/  for the FAQ, try http://www.brettspielwelt.de/Hilfe/FAQ/DownloadClient?nation=en  If you don’t get BSW working, it is BSW’s fault, not yours.  Try to get help – for tips for Die Crew, see here – https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/2399217.

Mark Jackson: I wrote on my personal blog about my solo boardgaming last week… while I enjoy a lot of apps for solo play, I really like the physical enjoyment of moving bits and cards around. (Matt mentioned almost all of my favorite apps – though he did leave out Race for the Galaxy, which has one of the best AIs out there, and Through the Ages, which is the only way I’m willing to play since the app keeps track of my pieces and does the math for me.),

A few games with solo modes in my collection that I neglected to mention:

  • Suburbia has a couple of bots, including one named for its developer, our own grand poobah, Dale Yu! (And if, like me, you splurged on the Collector’s Edition, it’s an excuse to get out that gorgeous set and let it eat up some table space.)
  • FITS and BITS both operate quite well as puzzles where you measure yourself against a scoring table.
  • Mage Knight Board Game may be at its shiny lumbering best as a solo game (it is just too darn slow with 3+ players).

Brandon K: I’ve been pretty lucky to be social distancing with my family, so I have not felt all that left out of gaming and contact via gaming. We’ve done the normal play via BGA or play via Yucata as well and I enjoy hanging out virtually with others, but honestly, most of my social gaming time has been from the computer or PS4. Both in regular gaming that I do, Overwatch and a few other games like that, but we’ve also been playing lots of Jackbox with family. Recent app that has been occupying my time has been Raiders of the North Sea, which has a fantastic online implementation for gaming with friends and strangers. Tabletop Simulator is on sale on Steam right now for $9.99 but I have never had much luck with using it or Tabletopia, so I have been ignoring them for the most part.

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5 Responses to Resources for Gamers in the Era of Social Distancing (Article by Chris Wray)

  1. Pingback: Resources for Gamers in the Era of Social Distancing (Article by Chris Wray) - Rollandtroll.com

  2. jeffinberlin says:

    I am working on several Roll-n-Write Print-n-Play version of some of my games, including Pandoria with Bernd Eisenstein! For some people who have asked for a solo variant, this will be it!

  3. Pingback: Resources for Gamers in the Era of Social Distancing (Article by Chris Wray) – Herman Watts

  4. Dale Yu says:

    FWIW, when I solo Suburbia, I have been known to lose to the bot. But I still kinda consider that a win :)

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