Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Games Night in the age of Coronavirus

My Monday night table tennis club has been cancelled the last few weeks (since if you can't shake hands after a good match there's really not a lot of point to the thing), but thankfully our old college's weekly board games night has gone online via Discord and as old stalwarts they invited us along. I've missed the games and the people a lot since we moved, and reconnecting with them has been one of the much-needed highlights of the couple of weeks.

Discord is an excellent platform for this kind of group (5-10 people) to get together in a voice or text chat and play some games. We've been doing thrice-weekly catch-ups over tea and coffee and daily meetups to do the crossword together using the handy screen-sharing feature, and while it's not quite like seeing each other in person, it does a good job of simulating the collegial atmosphere of the common room.

Monday nights have proved a bit of challenge in terms of finding things that will suit everyone, but below are a few things that we've tried the last few weeks and how they've been received, presented both in the hope of sparking some ideas among things you could do remotely to stay in touch with your friends and family, and also to fish for any good ideas from among the refreshing mountain lake that is the Leaflocker readership's collective brains.

Jackbox and Drawful

Week one featured the old games night classics of Jackbox and Drawful, which aren't exactly boardgames but are the kind of interactive party games that are close enough if you squint. They take a decent player count with the added advantage of only the host having the own the game, and allow people to exercise their creativity, but they do require everyone to be both watching a stream and their own devices and are always plagued with network dropouts at inopportune moments. Drawful 2 is currently free on steam and I'd say it's definitely worth grabbing, even if personally these games aren't really my cup of tea, since they inevitably descend into either dick-jokes or in-jokes and once they do there's nothing that can be done but hope no-one asks to play again.


We're big fans of the co-operative 2-5 player solitaire-like card game Hanabi, so finding a good implementation of it online was a definite bonus. hanabi.live seems to tick all the boxes pretty well, letting everyone see everything that they need to one screen and allowing for all sorts of weird and wacky variant rules once you get the basics down. Personally I like it a little bit better than the implementation that's available on Board Game Arena, as like many of the games on that otherwise excellent site it struggles for screen real-estate, but either way you can't go too wrong. BGA can be a little tricky to get rolling with, but it has a bunch of good implemetations of good games available for free, and even more for those willing to shell out £2 a month for a premium account. It does seem like their servers are getting hammered pretty hard at the moment, so I'm not sure that they're all that reliable just now.


Codenames is always the goto for the start of a night, when you've got no idea how many folks to expect and might have people come in and out quickly. I don't really remember what board games nights were like before it. but couldn't imagine a meet without it now. While we couldn't get the discord bot that said it could play the game on our server to work properly, we were able to use Kodenames and were pretty pleased with the results, though there are a lot of  other options out there too. The words in this one seem a lot trickier than the ones in the official game, but not completely unmanageable.


Since we've been trying to keep costs down for people rather than require everyone to invest in standalone apps, we went looking for some slightly meatier options that could be streamed from one "games master" computer and didn't rely on hidden information, which led us naturally to another old favourite, Carcassonne. BGA has a version of this in their premium offering, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a well-programmed version available via Tabletop Simulator, which I've owned for ages and is a platform that I have generally found to be too much effort to bother with. Having everyone give me directions while I placed pieces for them worked pretty well, even if we had to manually score the inns and cathedrals expansion where it wasn't implemented. Today the Carcassonne app, as well as a buch of other Asmodee titles, was on a really good special on Steam, so I picked that up so that we can do the same thing on the legit version next time we try to play.


We played Istanbul the same way using the finely-crafted app they've got available on Steam for that one, too, and it worked very well. The only difficulty was the slight lack of surprise given by being able to see each others' cards, but since if we were sitting around the table I would have had to explain them all and give them away anyway, nothing was really lost. The worst thing that I have to say about this app is that it's a bit sad that they're not planning on adding the mocha expansion, because personally I think that adds a lot to the game.

We've had a good time replicating our little games group online, and it's definitely been something to look forward to in a period where the different days have tended to blur into each other a bit.

I have a few other tricks up my sleeve for future weeks, including this somewhat precarious double-webcam arrangement, but I guess I'll have to wait and see how those ones go. Let me know if you can think of any good ones that I've missed, or if you've secretly programmed the internet's first actually good 500 server and have been holding out on me, as it seems like we'll be meeting remotely for a while and I'm going to need all the board-gaming ammunition I can get.


Chestnut said...

Goodness... why didn't I think of Jackbox games for game nights? I might have to get some friends together for that. :) Thank you for the inspiration!

Unwiseowl said...

Any time! If you've got anything that works really well remotely, pass it on.