Story and photos by Corey Coolidge
Everyone is stuck inside. People can’t do the things they normally do, they have to hunker down to keep friends, family, and everyone else safe from Covid-19. Everyone has to change things up, change how we connect to others. Endlessly scrolling through social media may not be the best way to handle things. People need more than peeking in on another’s life; they need interaction.
Let’s bring back board game night. A quick search on the health benefits of board games brings you a treasure trove of list articles explaining why they think board games are good for you. Board games come in many varieties and styles, for example competitive games where you can crush your friends or cooperative games where everyone comes together to complete a goal. Simple, easy to understand games that even kids can play and complex indie games that really show off your brain power. If you don’t have a favorite board game, in this era where there are so many options, everyone can find one or find a new one.
It’s a great idea, but there are problems. Social distancing is still in effect, and you can’t invite a bunch of friends and family over for a game. The solution is online board game simulators. With them, you invite your friends and family to play with you online, or even make new friends playing with others who are looking for the same thing. It will take a bit of set up, so let’s get cracking.
You’ll want to first create a way to talk to each other during your games. Video conferencing is a great solution. Looking at the face of your opponent in a board game can give you an advantage if they have a tell or make your bluff more convincing. You’ll want to set up your favorite video conferencing with everyone involved, be it Discord, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or whatever you and your friends are most familiar with. Some of these services, like Discord, have integrated features with some virtual board games, so look out for those, as it can make your games even more enjoyable.
Once you have everyone on the same video conference, you’ll have to choose the best way to play the games you love. There are various ways to play online, and each has its benefits and flaws. Below are three of the most popular and well developed board game simulators so you can check them out and see which is right for you.
Tabletop Simulator (for Steam)
This is a powerful game with a basic name. Tabletop Simulator is just that: a virtual table everyone can play at. It is a game that has an up front cost of $19.99 per download or $59.99 for a 4 pack so you can gift a copies to all of your friends; they will need a copy in order to play. When you open the game, you’ll see a table that can be customized for whatever you’d like to play. It includes basic games like chess, poker, dominoes, and some puzzles, but Steam has an extensive library of games that can be purchased for it: titles both popular and obscure. If your favorite game isn’t in the list, there are ways to build your own game and a huge community of creators making content for every game you can imagine, though the learning curve can be steep. Another interesting feature is that it works with virtual reality headsets like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. While this is a powerful and versatile way to play board games, it can also be one of the most expensive, but, oh, does it feel great when you flip the table in rage.
A subscription-based service uses the browser or an app for tablets to play their vast collection of games. This means you can play on your laptop while your friend can play on their iPad or Fire Tablet. They have a limited free service that allows players to play their non-premium games, and then there are plans at $4.99 and $9.99 that expand the service into more premium content. The interface is extremely easy, so everyone can find the right game and jump in. There is a crazy amount of games here, many from big names in the board game industry, as well as independent creators. Board game creators are making new content for Tabletopia all the time through their Workshop, so there will alway be something novel to try out.
Another game simulator that is played through your browser. Board game Arena is unique in that the games here count points and objectives for you as you play. This makes playing games easier, as the mechanics are baked into the program, unlike other interfaces where you have to roll dice and understand how pieces move in order to play. Board Game Arena is completely free and has a real time or turn based option for playing. In real time you cannot pause the game. You must play in one sitting. The turn based option allows you to walk away from the game or take up to an hour for each one of your turns. There isn’t as much polish here as Tabletop Simulator or Tabletopia, but it can create more of a fast paced experience.
A number of other table top simulators out there have a lack of good titles to play, a harder to use interface, or language barriers that make it difficult to use, but then there are those programs that are for a more niche audience, which I highly recommend. Programs like Vassal, which is used for large-scale battle games, or Roll20, which has very few board games but is excellent for games like Dungeons & Dragons. These are powerful tools and useful if those are the type of games you and your friends like to play.
Whatever you are into, you don’t have to be alone. Call up your friends and family, and put together your best board game night ever.