This year has been unlike any other, and one of the biggest changes in my life is the cessation of regular gaming. Due to social distancing requirements, there has simply been no chance for face-to-face gaming with any of my usual groups since about March. However, as restrictions are loosening (though to different degrees and at different speeds) all over the globe, some of my friends and colleagues are starting to discuss how to get back into the hobby that we love.
We’re still trying to write about games as much as we can here on the Opinionated Gamers, but due to the natural slowdown in early summer (because if this were a “normal year”, we’d in the doldrums of the game release calendar, awaiting the late summer surge of US releases and pre-Essen releases), there isn’t as much to write about right now. Additionally, even if there were lots of new games now, the opportunity to play them is significantly lower right now… Heck, we’ve been so desperate as to have organized a Can’t Stop tournament online followed by a Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament!
So, I took a poll of the Opinionated Gamers, and below I have copied their response to the question of “What are you doing right now considering returning to gaming?”. The responses are varied, and each gamer has made the decision that feels right for them, taking into account a multitude of factors including where they live, the particular coronavirus conditions in their area, their own relative health, any local restrictions/recommendations made by their respective governments, etc. I think it is an interesting cross-section to see how different gamers are approaching this issue.
If the respondents are willing, I would like to revisit this in a month or two to see how things have changed. At this point, at least for me, I have no idea what to expect for the rest of 2020. Everytime I think that things are settling down into a new normal, something else comes up.
One thing that stays constant is how much the mailman hates me. I can’t wait to get back to gaming so I can work on the growing stack of games just waiting for me to get them to the table!
Dale – located in Ohio
Right now, we aren’t gaming yet. Haven’t played in person games with my regular group since about the first week of March. Ohio has been “reopening” for about three weeks now, and thankfully, we are not seeing a rise in cases here. That being said, I work in a hospital that is in the top 10 in the state in Coronavirus cases, and they has been a strong motivator for my group to not meet yet as I am really worried that I might be a high risk of potential spread to the rest of my group. I’ve been trying to play online once or twice a week, and while it’s been enjoyable, it is clearly not a replacement for real gaming. My family (mostly my kids) will play off and on with me, but it’s sporadic. I am hoping that my local group can at least start a discussion soon about when they might be ready to be near me, but honestly, I am not yet ready for that, so I haven’t brought it up yet with them. I have cheated on my regular group a few times by meeting up with a colleague of mine from the hospital. We both are already at a high risk of exposure due to our work, but we feel that we share the same risk, and we are comfortable with the prevention measures each has taken to stay safe while working at the hospital. This has led to some 2p game nights, but not that many yet.
OG #2 – Australia
I think the last play with people outside of the house was in February, but possibly earlier. Ironically we have all been really busy this year and even more so during lockdown., so very little time for gaming. For the last three weekends we have set up a Zoom session and BoardGameArena with a couple that are our normal main gaming friends.
At some stage they will come and visit for physical games, but there is no timeframe on that as yet. Compared to pretty much everywhere except for New Zealand, Australia has been relatively lightly impacted by the pandemic but it is a nasty disease and better safe than sorry.
OG #3 – Missouri
The last big gaming group meetup we had was the middle of March, we all met at a BnB in a small Southwestern Missouri town and played games all weekend. I’m not sure that we thought it would be the last time we’d all get together and play games for awhile, but it had to be in the back of everyone’s head. Since that weekend, gaming has predominantly been with my family and online. About a month or so ago, I started inviting a friend over now and then to play games and enjoy dinner and we’ve been sporadically doing that, but gaming really isn’t the end all of those meetings, it’s the fact that we need human interaction. This week, June 17, I am hosting a game night though. I’ve invited over three folks who I know took every precaution that we did, and weren’t out putting themselves and others at risk. So we’re going to sit down and have our first post-Covid game evening and see how it goes. I did make sure that everyone knew that if they were more comfortable playing with masks, we’d certainly do that, but I’ll also make sure to have plenty of hand sanitizing soap and such available while we sit around playing games. Just as I was organizing this,of course Missouri is named as one of the states with cases on the rise though, instead of in decline.
OG #4 – Massachusetts
The last face to face games I played were on Wednesday, March 11th. Salem schools closed on Thursday, March 12th. I’m both eager to return to hosting and very reticent at the same time. I typically host up to ten people each week at my house. Since mid March we have been meeting virtually each Wednesday. This has actually allowed our group to expand beyond its usual size. Several weeks saw more than a dozen attendees. While virtual game night has been nice, but it is far from a good substitute for social gathering around a game table. One other good thing about virtual gaming is it has provided an opportunity to play a lot of older games that have been pushed back by newer games. I’m hoping to host again very soon. Massachusetts has seen the key metric surrounding the virus steadily in decline as we are slowly opening back up. When I do host, I will likely scale back to a very small group of three to five. I’ll take advantage of nice weather and play on my porch rather than in my house. I’ll also give more consideration to the game and try to play games that don’t require a lot of cross handling of shared components.
OG #5 – West Virginia
We have been going for about a month and throwing discs with three or 4 of us on weekends. It was made pretty clear on the post when we started that we wanted everyone to have followed the rules of quarantine to minimize exposure to the group. And, if you did not feel comfortable, don’t come. I put hand sanitizer and paper towels on the counter and in the bathroom, so people don’t have to share a towel and we always have paper supplies, cups, plates, etc. which are disposable for snacks. We do have a few compromised people in my group…..old age, cancer survivor, etc. We have about 12 on the mailing list and used to get around 6-8 players regularly. Now, we are 4 – 5 for the last 4 weeks. Most people have just not responded they will be coming to play except the 6 people that try to make it. Two people have specifically told me that are not comfortable getting together right now with that many people.
It really feels like gaming as normal. We are not wearing masks or anything and have had no issues so far. I have had to go into work a lot more lately and we are with temperature checks and masks in common areas. And, I have eaten out in restaurants several times. I will add and important tip. West Virginia has been socially distancing since 1863. We have very few cases and the state is almost fully open at this point. Pools are open, restaurants at 1/2 capacity, movie theaters, etc.
OG #6 – (near Washington, DC)
My last face to face gaming was sometime in February. I definitely would have played well into March, but we were in the midst of a move, so I was too busy. And by the time things had settled down, we were well into the World of Social Distancing. There’s been no question about getting together, as none of my gaming friends are comfortable with FTF gaming yet. But even if they were, both my wife and I are high risk when it comes to COVID, so I’m being extra cautious. As a result, it might be quite a while before I resume normal gaming. Who knows, maybe a year? As long as the infection rates remain relatively high and there’s no vaccine, I plan to stay away. I dearly miss FTF gaming, but it ain’t worth dying over. And my wife isn’t a gamer, so there’s no one here in lockdown to help me scratch that itch. Thankfully, I have discovered online gaming (I did very little of it prior to this) and am having fun with it. The problem is, some of the online implementations are pretty bad. So the choice of games is limited, but it’s much better than nothing. For a while, I was getting in much more gaming post-COVID than before the virus hit! So ya gotta love technology.
OG #7 – Ohio.
I am part of Dale’s group so everything he said applies to me. Given his possible high risk of exposure I am comfortable with not playing face-to-face. I have played a handful of times on yucata.de with discord for voice with my monthly church group. It is ok but I definitely miss the in person experience. I would like to try some more online, real-time gaming but am reluctant to play with random people. Despite my first round elimination in the OG Can’t Stop World Championship tournament I really enjoyed it. I have no idea when we’ll get back to our regular weekly gaming but am really going to enjoy the hell out of it when it happens.
OG #8 – Indiana / Overseas
My kids are still at the age where going out for an evening is tricky, making me rely on gaming with my tween kids or interactions with students at work or church. This means I’m often playing with newer gamers and I don’t get many long, complex games to the table. My situation is a bit strange, as I’ve been in Europe for the duration of the confinement, which made real-time online gaming difficult. While I have managed to get in some turn-based online board games, it was somewhat disappointing (except for the OG Can’t Stop World Championship.) On the plus side, I’m slightly more in-time with a friend in the Pacific which led us to play a bit online with Tabletop Simulator, which then morphed into an ongoing role-playing game including my boys and his eldest (on Roll20.) We’ve been able to play almost twice a week, which is the most frequent I have ever met for an RPG. One game event of note is my annual all-day boardgame party I throw for my birthday. This year I had it all online, which worked pretty well. I started in the am with my Pacific friend, and the finished it out with friends in Indiana. With voice chat it was a decent substitute, albeit without the nice snacks. Going forward, parenting combined with a continued desire to practice social distancing (my youngest is slightly at risk) will mean online boardgaming will probably be my mode of choice for some time to come. On the plus side, that may be others’ choice as well, which could very well mean I get in a bit more boardgaming than usual.
OG # 9 – American Midwest
I’ve always gamed primarily with my family, so the pandemic has not had a large impact on my game time. I had 107 plays in May 2020, for instance, compared to 89 in May 2019, 99 in May 2018, 101 in May 2017, and 48 in May 2016. A couple of my game groups just started meeting again, and I’ve joined one, but not the other. That said, the pandemic has dramatically changed the mix of what I’m playing. New games have come to just a trickle, so I’ve been playing a lot of classics like Agricola, Alhambra, Carcassonne, and King of Tokyo. Without my game group that enjoys the heavier games, my plays have trended lighter.
OG #10 – Tennessee
After quite a bit of discussion with the folks who host (we have four regular hosts and two who fill-in when needed), we delayed the start of our game nights until the final week in May, four weeks after the Tennessee “stay at home” order was lifted. Two hosts did not yet feel comfortable resuming their hosting duties, so we are alternating between the other four — including myself. I hosted my first game night in over three months on the first Thursday in June. We had 10 gamers in attendance and everyone said they felt comfortable and safe attending.
We are fortunate in that East Tennessee and the Knoxville area where we reside has very low numbers in comparison with other major cities in the state (Nashville and Memphis having the highest infection rate). Before resuming our get-togethers, I sent a lengthy email to all of our members stressing that hosts would take extra precautions, which included separating tables, limiting attendance, going with individual (as opposed to group) snacks and beverages, having wipes and hand sanitizer readily available, etc. Masks would be optional. I also emphasized that no one should feel any pressure to attend. This was a very personal decision and there would be no pressure or judgment.
I would say that we have about 60% of our “regulars” who have begun attending, while 40% have elected to be more cautious. So far, things are going smoothly and no one has contracted the virus.
OG # 11 – Tennessee
We’ve been extremely careful – which means I’m not getting together with my long-time group of friends/fellow gamers. Local meetups have gone online but I’ve done very little online gaming (compared to some others) – with the notable exception of getting a chance to play with some of my old crew across the country. My playing has actually picked up since I’ve got both boys home with my wife & I… and my wife has been playing some with us as well.
I’m not sure when I’ll feel comfortable with face-to-face gaming outside the family… but I believe I’m better off erring on the side of caution at this point.
OG #12 – Massachusetts
My regular game group meets monthly, and I was last there in January (although they met mid-February; I just had a prior commitment that day). It isn’t meeting again before August, since the library where we hold it is closing their conference room until at least then. I am not sure I’d be ready to go back before then anway. I work for a hospital (although I am lucky to be in a role where I can work from home), and I take the advice and knowledge many of the experts in infection control have shared to heart. I also am in a higher risk category, so I am not in a rush to dine out or attend any social gatherings, including boardgaming, just yet. I am lucky to be quarantined with my husband, who is also a board gamer, so we’ve been getting games in regularly on the weekends, and I’ve been able to join a friend’s weekly game group now that it meets on-line. We have talked about whether we’d be comfortable inviting a friend over for gaming if we know that friend has been social distancing, and we may decide to do that later in the summer. Until then, I am watching the news to see how things play out as things start or continue to reopen; here in Massachusetts we are in the early stages of the return to “normal”.
OG #13 – London, England
I used to meet four times a week but have not done so since early March. Online gaming, solo gaming and playing all sides as well as an occasional game with my wife have replaced the regular gaming. All 2020 mini conventions have been cancelled. I binged on gaming in April with 140 plays but found that too much so halved it since then. I found online gaming only satisfying if I could see faces, which I do on Monday nights now. Face to face gaming will only resume when I am assured the risk is minimal as my wife is in a higher risk category. None of my regular groups have plans to resume anytime soon, so my guess is September at the earliest. I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t join in until 2021.
OG #14 – Vermont
On the weekend of March 14-15 I had two gaming sessions, one with a close friend and another with four of us. For the following two months I did only online gaming, primarily through BoardGameArena and using Tabletop Simulator. We are fortunate in Vermont to have had an aggressive response to Coronavirus spread which has resulted in around 150 known remaining ‘active’ cases and one hospitalized individual statewide, testing of around 1,500 individuals daily, and average daily positive test results of around 0.3% (about 2-4 new cases found daily). In this environment a few weeks ago a group of four decided to reconvene for one weekly play of Clank Legacy; the first session being held on a porch and the next two weekly sessions spreading us out around a ping-pong table in a space opened to the outdoors with multiple running fans. I am the single person in the group and the others also have families of somewhat overlapping ‘bubbles’. This has felt comfortable, even as we continue to wear masks and try to avoid excessive handling of shared components. I have no expectation of expanding to a more typical gaming group type event soon, and have not pursued gaming with two other friends who would be willing but are a bit younger and practicing a less safe lifestyle. For now, the decision to play face to face is re-evaluated weekly, prior to our one game session.
OG #15 – Pacific Northwest
I’m in the no game group for a while category, but I have an awesome game-playing family.
OG #16 – North Carolina/Germany
We have been living in the U.S. this year before moving back to Germany in a few weeks. Because of our impending move, we are continuing to refrain from most social interactions. If one of us even gets a fever, we would probably not be allowed to fly back to Germany until we are healthy again. Before the lockdown, I was thrilled to join the Game Designers of North Carolina and playtest prototypes every couple of weeks, as well as attend a couple of local conventions. Since March, however, we have only met virtually through Zoom a couple of times. I playtested a friend’s prototype once on Tabletop Simulator, although I still have not put any of my own prototypes there. I also playtested with a friend over Skype with multiple webcams set up. And I’ve played “finished” games with friends—some who live around the world on Boardgamearena.com occasionally. But the most rewarding experience has been to work on a roll & write version of Pandoria with my co-designer, Bernd Eisenstein, who is still back in Berlin. I made the suggestion while we were both in the strictest phases of lock-down. It gave us the opportunity to connect and collaborate again, as well as offering other gamers a free print-and-play version of our game that they can play over the internet with their friends. The game is also different: in addition to removing the “meanest” element of the board game, it also offers new challenges, and we even developed 3 different versions: the complex gamer’s version, the more streamlined “family” version, and even a solo version! Because of this, it has taken us several months to balance, but it has been so much fun to play the game with each other every week—something we would never have done without the pandemic.
OG #17 – Australia
I miss our gaming buddies terribly, but I can’t risk any social contact even though Australia has largely, so far, through early and comprehensive lockdowns, missed the disastrous effects that have been seen elsewhere. My mum, who is 83, had a stroke in mid April, so I need to make sure I am healthy so I can visit her to provide care and support. Also, I’ve already had the COVID swab once and am not keen to go back for seconds. The dryer repair guy who came this week was the first person other than the four of us who live here to enter our house since mid March, although our younger daughter is back at school. Fortunately, my employer is in no hurry to get us back onto campus, although teaching large classes and supervising student research entirely online has its own set of challenges.
We have played online games with friends a few times, which has been marvellous, with a Zoom call to keep us chatting as we play. But really I’ve played very few games, because my workload has increased so much and [my spouse] has also been flat out. It’s ridiculous that in a house full of games, with willing opponents, my gaming time is restricted to Animal Crossing, but that’s definitely the game of the year for me so far. I’ve probably spent almost as much time at home on LoveIsland as I have Terraforming Mars!
I am looking forward to being able to have small numbers of people in the house again, but I think that’s probably a month or more away, even if the curve holds, and then it really will be one or two not more. I met a friend for a walk and a chat a couple of weeks ago, and I’m hoping to do more of that soon. Sharing pieces and sitting around a table in a closed room (it’s Winter here) just seems waaayyyy too risky when we’re still washing groceries before we bring them into the house. I feel very strongly that it is our responsibility to stay home to protect people who can’t, so I would much rather be overcautious. It’s a small annoyance for us, but the cost of one of us getting sick and potentially spreading it to my mum or to others is extreme.
I’m relieved that major cons and events have been cancelled – think how ‘con crud’ spreads and then think again – but am hopeful that there will be enough progress towards a cure or eradication that we might safely start to see some events again next year. I missed trips to France, Finland, and the USA this year, so I hope that it will soon be safe to travel again. Essen is very much on my mind.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor
(If any reader would like to share their own situation and decision, please feel free to email the blog and I’ll collate a second round of opinions on the question!)