Board Gaming While Isolated – Social Gaming In a Socially Distanced World

Join the Meeple Mountain team as we offer some suggestions for keeping the board gaming alive while maintaining a social distance during times of isolation.

For most of us, board gaming is an inherently social activity. We sit around a table with friends and family laughing, scheming, groaning, and sometimes even cursing. But what happens when gathering together isn’t an option? New babies, sickness, natural disasters, or even something as commonplace as a change in work schedules can throw a wrench into your well-crafted plan to defeat Amanda, Rafe, and Simone in games of Koi, Tiny Towns, or Altiplano.

The Meeple Mountain team has gone through all of these situations, and so we’ve compiled a list of resources and suggestions for ways that you can keep the gaming alive in your life during times of turmoil, uncertainty, and isolation.

Analog Gaming At Home

Gaming at home isn’t much different during a period of isolation than a normal game night, but since you’re stuck at home anyway, why not expand your horizons and try things you might not normally be exposed to.

Try Changing Things Up

If you’re reading this article, you’re likely already a board gamer. If that’s the case then enjoy the time you have with your loved ones and your existing board games. But given that you’re spending more time at home than usual, why not consider changing things up a bit and try games you might not normally play.

If you’re into heavy games like Lisboa, Terra Mystica, or A Feast for Odin then why not try some lighter games instead. Embrace the silly and give Happy Salmon a try; or break out Go Cuckoo and don’t drop the eggs.

The same goes for those of you into lighter games. We know you love No Thanks, Five Crowns, and PUSH, but the world of board gaming is both wide and deep, and there’s plenty of room to expand your horizons. Don’t just jump into a game of On Mars, but consider something middle of the road. Consider a game like Imhotep, Ticket to Ride, or even something lighter, like one of my personal favorites Battle Sheep.

Role Playing Games

Role playing games grew out of small wargaming groups that were confined to each other’s homes in the long winters of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Groups of young people would gather to try out a new rules system or modify an existing one to suit the idea they had concocted. Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, David Wesley, and Dave Megerry all built prototype games in these small groups that were later synthesized into what would become Dungeons & Dragons. Thanks to them you can build your own worlds and tell your own stories with your family or house mates without ever having to leave the confines of your house.

With the digital era, that is even easier. Many publishers have digital editions of their games available, so that you can download and play. Here are a few links that can get you started:

Dungeons and Dragons – 5e Basic Rules (Free)
Dungeonmaster’s Guild – Supplemental Material and Adventures for D&D (Price Varies)
DriveThru RPG – Digital Versions of Game Systems and Supplemental Material (Price Varies)

Solo Gaming

Everything we’ve suggested so far requires other people but let’s face it; sometimes you’re alone. That might be a blessing to some, while being burdensome to others. Regardless about how you feel about being home alone, you can still enjoy gaming on your own terms.

Modern board gaming has a wide range of options for those who need to game on their own. In fact, many multiplayer games now include options for solo play using a special set of rules for an AI player. It’s basically a script on how the invisible player behaves: do they always take the card on the left from a collection? Do they always move towards the closest yellow space? Will they always buy the most expensive tile they can afford? There’s a lot of reasons to play solo, in fact some people even use solo modes to learn how to play a game so they can teach it to a group.

Here are some resources for playing solo: websites, reviews and articles from people who embrace gaming alone.

Beyond Solitaire – Liz brings a fresh voice to solo gaming through her blog. She seems to have her finger on the pulse of the new gaming community, and I often find new games that I might have otherwise missed

Rolling Solo – Adam Smith does a great job of delving into new games from a solo prospective. In a little over a year he has amassed quite a library of videos, with new content posting regularly. I have seen games on his channel that I didn’t know had solo variants available.

One Stop Co-Op Shop – The name of Colin’s channel may say co-op, but the majority of his videos are solo games. He does an excellent job of going through rules, making some of the more challenging rulebooks easier to understand.

Print & Play Games

Looking for a project for yourself and/or the kids that will give you a new game to play at the end of it?  Look no further than the world of Print and Play games (PnP). There are many designers who create games and then put them out into the world for people to play free of charge.  You’ll need to download and print out files for these games (some PDFs are designed to be less ink-intensive).

If you’re not sure where to start, the BoardGameGeek PnP Community holds an annual contest. They have a listing of the top three winners going back to 2008.

Cheapass Games still has plenty of their games as free PnPs.

The PnP Arcade has games listed under headings (Solo, 2 players, Group, etc.) to make selecting the right games a bit easier.

Good Little Games has a list of PnP card games along with How-To instructions.

Todd Sanders has designed a number of really good PnPs that are well worth checking out.

Family friendly print and play escape games are a great way to keep the kids entertained.

Hey, even Trogdor!! has a PnP edition!

Digital Gaming at Home

Even if you’re stuck home alone, there’s still a whole world of digital board gaming out there for you. These digital board gaming options will have you drawing cards and rolling dice in moments.

Mobile Gaming

The last few years have seen an incredible rise in the percentage of people playing board games in general, but nowhere is it more obvious than in mobile app versions of well loved board games. From Carcassonne to Istanbul, Race For The Galaxy to Ganz Schön Clever, and everywhere in between; there’s sure to be a board game related app just for you. All of them include solo play, but some of the better ones allow for anonymous or even friend-based multiplayer.

You can check out our reviews of various board game mobile apps (we’ve even got a Top 6 of Apps for Android). Suzanne Sheldon of The Dice Tower, and numerous other board game related ventures, has compiled an exhaustive list of mobile board game apps with links to the platforms of your choice.

Play Board Games Online

If you’d rather not sacrifice screen size for convenience then look no further than some of the websites on this next list. They have officially licensed recreations of hundreds upon hundreds of the best board games on the planet. Many of them are free, or have inexpensive premium accounts. But all of them offer multiplayer options with your existing group of friends. And most of them are asynchronous, which means that you can take your turn when it’s convenient for you, and the next player games at their convenience. Sure the games might take a little longer, but you can make up for it by having 3 or 4 games going at once. 😀

Board Game Arena – One of the most popular online board gaming websites with titles like Carcassonne, 7 Wonders, Terra Mystica, Kingdomino, Stone Age, Puerto Rico, 6 Nimmt, and nearly 200 other titles. Primarily in English, but allows and encourages users to translate parts of the site into their own native language.

Boiteajeux – Features 60+ classic Euro games like Agricola, Concordia, Torres, Ginkgopolis. Offers English, German, and French translations.

Yucata – A good mix of over 150 lighter and heavier games. From Red 7 to Luna, Las Vegas to La Granja.

Boardspace – A collection that leans heavily on two-player abstracts. Play can be against other people or against their “Dumbots” (many of whom are not so dumb!).  Games run from classics (9 Mens’ Morris, Tablut, Fanorona) to the more recent (Hive, Micropul, Santorini) to the entire GIPF series.

YourTurnMyTurn – Although this site doesn’t look as impressive as some of the others, it does not require play in real time.  This means you can make a move, then be notified by email when your opponent makes a move. The Message feature at the bottom of each board is an easy way of staying in touch with people while enjoying a game throughout the day.

Tabletopia – Access to over 800 titles and the ability to play directly in your browser, or download Steam, App Store, or Google Play apps. Features titles like Secret Hitler, Wingspan, Santorini, Everdell, and hundreds more. Whereas the other sites on this list will run the game for you and only allow you to make legal moves, Tabletopia requires players to take care of all the upkeep themselves and provides no AI to stop you from getting the rules wrong.

Role Playing Games Online

You can now play RPGs online using a variety of platforms. It can be as simple or complex as you need. There are also digital tools to help you manage your game, character, and even roll dice for you! Lastly, if you don’t have a regular group, many tabletop platform sites have a mechanism for you to find a group to play in. A couple of terms that might help you decide what is best for you are “map-based” and “theater of the mind”.

Online Map Based Role Playing Platforms

“Map-based” (or “miniature-based”) RPGs are what come to mind when you think about Dungeons & Dragons. They involve a gridded-map and miniatures to show terrain and combat options. There are several platforms specifically designed for simulating a map-based game. Here are a few that we have tried:

Tabletop Simulator
Roll20
Fantasy Grounds
Astral Tabletop

Each of these has its pros and cons, so a bit of test-driving may be useful to find what best suits your group.

Online Theater of the Mind Role Playing Platforms

“Theater of the mind” describes RPGs where  storytelling is the focus. Games like the Vampire: the Masquerade, Call of Cthulhu, and Kids on Bikes fall into this category, though D&D can be played this way as well. Depending on your play style, certain platforms might suit your needs better than others.

Standard video conferencing platforms like Skype, WebEx, Zoom, and Hangouts are great for a simple game platform. Either audio or video, this works really well with theater of the mind games because it does not require anything to facilitate a map. Some storytelling games have even been developed specifically for conferencing platforms. ViewScream, a video-augmented role-playing game (varp), takes advantage of the camera and mute functions to make an immersive experience tailored to remote play.

Game Management

There are also several tools that can help you create characters, manage campaigns, and share them with your gaming group. Again, a bit of testing might be required as some of these are specific to a certain game or focused more on either the GM or the player.

Examples include:

D&D Beyond
Obsidian Portal

Keeping Up With the Hobby

Let’s be honest…even if you’re at home with other people you’re not likely to be gaming all the time. But even when you’re not playing, you can still be involved in the hobby you love.

Board Gaming Videos

Board gaming’s rise is due in part to the ease with which tabletop gaming content can be produced and uploaded to platforms like YouTube. If you’ve got 15 or 20 minutes, then check out some of these great board gaming related YouTube Channels.

The Dice Tower – The grandfather of all board gaming channels. Tom Vasel and his crew upload hundreds of videos every month, with dozens of different types of videos. From Board Game Breakfast and Top 10 Lists, live Q&As and How to Plays, The Dice Tower has you covered.

Watch it Played – Rodney Smith, the Mr. Rogers of board gaming, teaches you how to play the newest and hottest games, all with a smile on his face.

Board Game Geek – The world’s largest board game community also covers hundreds of games every month with coverage from all of the biggest board game conventions.

TheGameboyGeek – Dan King presents great board game reviews, with a helpful breakdown at the end of every video.

Shut Up & Sit Down – Clever, witty, funny, and occasionally irreverent, the crew at SU&SD will entertain you with their wonderful accents and biting wit.

Rahdo Runs Through – Richard Ham, aka Rahdo, board gaming’s rambler extraordinaire takes deep dive playthroughs of lots of great new titles. Make sure to stick around for the extended versions to get the full feeling of the game.

Meeple Mountain – I’d be remiss if I didn’t include our own YouTube channel. Our team member Brody Sheard does a killer job with video reviews of Kickstarter and retail titles. Plus lots of board game unboxings.

Board Game Podcasts

If you’re more of an auditory person, then board game podcasts are probably your jam instead. We’ve previously published our top 6 board game podcasts, so let’s take a look at some others that have recently struck our fancy..

Board Game Barrage
Rolling Dice & Taking Names Gaming Podcast
The Board Game Spotlight
On Board Games
The Family Gamers Podcast

In Closing

Even though you might be by yourself, that doesn’t mean you have  to game alone. Many of the options we’ve already presented are excellent when used in combination with a video conferencing solution. Apple’s built in FaceTime, Google Hangouts (Google Meet), Skype, WebEx, or Zoom all offer free or inexpensive video conferencing solutions.

Jump into a mobile game and video chat with your friends while you dominate them in Carcassonne. Log in to Tabletopia and play Scythe with your friends “live”. Or just chill on the couch and watch, listen to, or read some great content. The possibilities are numerous, you just need to pick one.

About the author

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Andy Matthews

Founder of Meeple Mountain, editor in chief of MeepleMountain.com, and software engineer. Father of 4, husband to 1, lover of games, books, and movies, and all around nice guy. I run Nashville Game Night, and Nashville Tabletop Day.

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