How Coronavirus Will Change Board Games (7 Guesses)
June 3, 2020 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Both terrible and beautiful things have happened, are happening, and will continue to happen. Nothing will be unchanged, including board games. Yes, the coronavirus will change board games. That’s what I want to talk about today.

1. Solo and 2-player games are going to be massive.
2. Board games will become more popular because they feel like luxuries but are inexpensive.
3. Board games will become more popular because people need human connection.
4. Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia will spike in popularity.
5. The coronavirus has ended traditional board game conventions for the foreseeable future.
6. Many small publishers are going to close.
7. Super small board game publishers will have the best chance they’ll ever have to succeed.
posted by Etrigan (46 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
My wife just packed all of our games away (none are fit for two players). It was a sad occasion.
posted by Ber at 8:49 AM on June 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

All good points and I think there are more. Local game shops, especially those that depend on food and drink sales, are in real trouble. Yes some are pivoting as much as they can - we got a growler of cider curbside from Mox Boardinghouse last week - but it's going to be a struggle and a lot of shops will close. Game designers and publishers who depend on LGSes to do a lot of their marketing for them will need to step up.

Games that have a novel or interesting remote group play mechanism are going to show up and a few will be smash hits. Come up with games that not only don't suck when you aren't in the same room but are actually more fun and cool and you are going to rake it in. I was thinking the other day that games that have a correspondence element are going to spring up - maybe legacy games that come with stamped envelopes you drop in the mail? - and also maybe games that exploit the fact that you can turn off the mic and discuss things with people in the room without opponents hearing.

I think it's about to be a really interesting time for board and tabletop gaming, yes. If anything this article's predictions were too safe.
posted by potrzebie at 8:52 AM on June 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

5. The coronavirus has ended traditional board game conventions for the foreseeable future.

I mean, you could swap "board game" with "comic book", "video game", "electronics" or heck, "propane and propane accessories" and you would still be correct.

My birthday usually happens the same week as New York Comic Con but I'm not planning for any party near the Javits this year.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 8:55 AM on June 3, 2020 [5 favorites]

can I keep the books?
posted by clavdivs at 8:59 AM on June 3, 2020

We use tabletop simulator. At first it was definitely a hassle, but now I’d say it moves just as fast (maybe a tad slower) than a normal in person board game. Very workable.
posted by triage_lazarus at 9:17 AM on June 3, 2020

Maybe this is a good place to ask the tabletop game nerds... which games work the best virtually right now, and where can we play them? I have Steam, but as yet I don’t have much of a feel for it.
posted by eirias at 9:54 AM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite] is a great site for playing Codenames remotely.
posted by rikschell at 10:00 AM on June 3, 2020 [9 favorites]

In addition to general purpose programs like Tabletop Simulator, there are some board games (such as Sentinels of the Multiverse) that have purpose-built online versions.
posted by jedicus at 10:02 AM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I purchased It's a Wonderful World last year and was very excited about it. Pre-Coronavirus, I had only played it once with my wife and daughter (who were at best lukewarm about it). Once the quarantine started, I discovered there was a solo mode and, man, that game really helped get me through the first six weeks.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 10:14 AM on June 3, 2020

We've definitely invested more in card games (but not much in board games). Our kids are big into Cover Your Assets, and Exploding Kittens. The old kids and adults love Unstable Unicorns. Not to mention Cards Against Humanity (Family Friendly Edition).
posted by blue_beetle at 10:18 AM on June 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm half-way through teaching a graduate seminar on gaming. Initially I planned to have a week of tabletop gaming, but have had to redo that since COVID-19 drove the class online.

We played A Quiet Year using Zoom and a Jamboard, which worked well. Not a heavy ruleset by any means, and it was playable without any physical props on the student side.

We played a tabletop Civil War game ported to Steam, fort Sumter. This didn't work well. Students were overwhelmed by rules and needed a deeper intro to the topic.

I downloaded Tabletop Simulator and hope to figure out how to use it.
posted by doctornemo at 10:21 AM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've joined Board Game Arena to get my fix of gaming with friends - or strangers. But I've been playing electronic and online versions of boardgames for years - I learned how to play Settlers from non-profit clone in 2006. I don't have anyone in my house who plays games like I do, and even before the virus, I only had time to get together to play physical board games every few months, if I was lucky.

I don't know - do online adaptations count as board games? They do to me - they are still very different in their play to video games, even turn-based ones. There are still the same abstractions and simplifications and patterns of thinking. They are less social, of course, unless you have an audio chat. That's a big difference.

BTW - I recommend a Discord audio chat for Board Game Alley. There is an inbuilt at-table audio function for premium accounts, but it was buggy and closes the minute the game ends. With a separate chat, you can talk about what game you'd like to play next.
posted by jb at 10:28 AM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

As a person who is very proficient with computers (software developer) and who has also published boardgames (indie), I will say about Tabletop Simulator that it's ... good and bad? The interface is incredibly dated and janky, it feels like something an undergrad would create for a class project. It's also of a piece with a lot of boardgame-adjacent stuff I've used over the years, where something with a lot of community enthusiasm ends up in being the go-to for a given task/need/etc even though it's kinda a mess.

But: there's a lot of mods for games out there on it, and the stuff that came before it (like, say, Vassal) are so hideously bad that they make TTS' kinda-bad-but-workable UI seem like a triumph.

The tools are kinda simplistic, but I will also say that taking all the art assets from one of my games (card game) and implementing it in TTS was not very hard. Not sure I'd ever publish it, I was mainly interested in the process, and mostly it's making sure you have images in the right size/layout and importing them as card decks or tiles or whatnot.
posted by tocts at 10:32 AM on June 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Tilt Five is an augmented realty system that is squarely aimed at this issue. The company's primary focus is on board games. On the discord channel developers are talking about ways one player's physical game pieces could be virtually displayed on the remote player's game board, and visa versa. Another topic of discussion is implementing a virtual rule books and interactive help systems so new players can quickly learn the game. They have partnered with various game developers, including Tabletopia.
posted by Sophont at 10:34 AM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

More collaborative two player games, please. I do not like having to fight my spouse.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:35 AM on June 3, 2020 [20 favorites]

I’ve And having fun playing Arkham Horror: the Card Game over zoom with a friend. It’s very flexible, handling 1 to 4 players easily. Our remote set up is a little wonky, since we both have to set up the board and periodically check in to make sure we haven’t made mistakes, but it gets the job done. We trade off enemy card and chaos bag (the randomizer) management. Perfect? No. Pretty good? Yes.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:42 AM on June 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

More collaborative two player games, please. I do not like having to fight my spouse.

Here are some good two player co-op games, with a range of complexity, themes, and game mechanics:

* Sentinels of the Multiverse
* Spirit Island
* the D&D co-op board games (Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, etc)
* Codenames: Duet
* Arkham Horror: The Card Game
* Chronicles of Crime
posted by jedicus at 10:51 AM on June 3, 2020 [9 favorites]

which games work the best virtually right now

I have played the TTS mod for Star Wars Legion, a two player tactical combat game, and the mod is great - it comes with a tutorial. I did have an experienced Legion player get me oriented, it would have been more painful without this, I admit; but it's a fun game, very well implemented.

I have also enjoyed the separate paid Steam version of Twilight Struggle, again for two players (and NOT co-op!): also a good implementation of that game, and allows for fruitful one player games if you want to get up to speed on it.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 10:58 AM on June 3, 2020

More collaborative two player games, please. I do not like having to fight my spouse.

Fog of Love, if you can find it.

One Deck Dungeon, if you like D&D sorts of things.

T.I.M.E. Stories, if the idea of "play it over and over until you get it right" appeals.

All the various Pandemics are co-op, if a little on the nose.

The Mind, but I know more than one couple who damn near broke up over it, so be careful.
posted by Etrigan at 11:06 AM on June 3, 2020 [7 favorites]

I agree and disagree with some of his points, but just want to put a quick warning out for people that a significant number of TTS's mods are made by "fans" and are pretty much pirating a board game. The publisher, designers, artists receive no money from them in any way, but TTS does, as it is a paid program.

And then when the publisher does a cease and desist and has the mod removed, it makes the players very angry because they paid money, often for access to that single board game, and I understand their feeling, but, it's not authorized, and I support (especially indie) publishers moves to protect their property.

So it's kind of a bad scene to promote in its current incarnation!

Also "spirit island" is the best two player game around. It's not very good at any other player count in my opinion, but it SHINES at two!
posted by euphoria066 at 11:09 AM on June 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Are their solo board games? I would be interested in this.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:12 AM on June 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

My rule for tabletop or vassal is does one of the players own a copy of the game in question? In which case I'm ok with playing virtually. I believe that's also GMT's preference for instance, and they are quite good about providing vassal implementations.

My biggest issue with Tabletop simulator is all the skeuomorphic design that really adds nothing but annoying complexity to trying to run a game. I can't tell you the number of times I've knocked chips over accidentally simply trying to move pieces across a board. In real life there's a lot of other clues to help prevent things tumbling, but with just a simple mouse you lose all that feedback and thus are at the whim of the board I guess. I understand that some games need that physics simulation but not all do, and it really gets in the way when not needed.

As for solo board games, yes! I recently bought Charlemagne, Master of Europe for instance, which is solo only. I would say both Hollandspiele and GMT games are my go to for solo versions. I was just looking at both the Hunters and the Hunted, where you play a U-Boat captain on patrol, and can combine them for a full campaign.
posted by Carillon at 11:32 AM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I, too, will only use TTS or Vassal when at least one of the players owns the physical game.
posted by Slothrup at 11:35 AM on June 3, 2020

My partner and I like co-op games and "sandboxy" two-player competitive games. The latter are games where you're generally not DIRECTLY screwing over the other player, but maybe building your own stuff and perhaps competing a little bit for some common resources. Worker-placement games tend to be fairly low-stress competition: there are usually multiple priorities, and getting beaten to a move just means shifting to a secondary priority.

So, here's some favorites of ours:

* 7th Continent (Co-op! Or solo-play! Also, actually published now (for $60) so you don't need to spend $300 collecting kickstarter artifacts... unless you really want to.)
* Hanabi (Co-op, 2-player is great.)
* Race for the Galaxy (The epitome of sandbox-competitive. No direct attacks unless you play with a particular expansion with some optional rules. Endless replayability.)
* Wingspan (Very sandboxy.)
* Agricola/Caverna (Quite sandboxy; take turns placing workers. Caverna is probably the better game, if you've played neither.)
* Terraforming Mars (A bit more competitive... Occasionally wipe out your opponents plants with an asteroid. Board is pretty big with two players, so geo-positioning doesn't tend to be suuuuper aggro. Also has a fun one-player challenge mode. Endless replay value.)
* Lords of Waterdeep (Lots of replayability, a worker placement game an order of magnitude more fun than I expected.)
posted by kaibutsu at 11:37 AM on June 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

Are their solo board games?


This is a good roundup, by the same guy as in the FPP. I'd also recommend in particular Button Shy Games, which has not only a lot of good small games that were designed as solo from the ground up, but has a really good designer who specializes in making solo versions of their other games.

A lot of games are getting "automata" that are basically algorithms for what the other players "should" do, including Wingspan, to varying levels of quality.
posted by Etrigan at 11:40 AM on June 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Board Game Arena and Tabletopia I think are both legit in terms of licensing. Overall I prefer the app-type approach of BGA to the more literal, simulated in 3D space approach of tabletopia. The latter can feel like attempting to play a game with chopsticks, dead drunk. Although quietly moving my opponent's pieces miles offscreen was very enjoyable.
posted by ominous_paws at 11:42 AM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I thought of one he missed and left it in the comments: dice cups.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:46 AM on June 3, 2020

Point 2 was kinda weird. Even as someone who likes board games a fair bit, I really don't think they feel like a "luxury" at all. Nor are they inexpensive unless you only buy a couple games and play them dozens of times. Most of the time in my experience you buy a 50$+ game and end up playing it maybe twice a year at best. Or never, if you end up disliking it.

I do agree that there's likely to be a boom in 2-player games and online board games, and possibly small game publishers, and I'm looking forward to seeing what new things come out of that!
posted by randomnity at 12:18 PM on June 3, 2020

Board Game Arena has licensed all of its games.
posted by jb at 12:25 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Saw it referenced above, but without a link:

Vassal Engine

More on the wargames side of things, but allows for both live and PBEM/Asynchronous play. And there are quite a lot of non-wargames in the modules list.
posted by Windopaene at 12:47 PM on June 3, 2020

It has been pretty horrible for chess. Sure there has been a rise in online play and even some uptick in the viewers watching chess oriented streamers; but generally it’s a catastrophe. The largest operator of chess tournaments in the US, The Continental Chess Association has canceled all their events and had to refund everyone. I doubt they have reserves to weather this. Local chess clubs and chess centers are screwed because most of their money comes from after school and camp business, the rest of it from holding regular rated tournaments with small entry fees. Obviously that’s all gone. Some are trying to hold online tournaments— but there is so much cheating and likely cheating that most don’t feel comfortable charging entry fees or giving cash prizes.

I worry that when things finally open up again it will take a long time for the infrastructure that supports over the board play to reestablish itself. Especially outside of places like Saint Louis where a generous benefactor will keep the lights on.
posted by interogative mood at 12:59 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

While not a board game, my wife and I play nethack "together". We sit in the same room, each logged into a remote server. We kibitz, trade ideas, strategies, anecdotes and queries. There are the occasional vocalizations of glee, incredulity, wonderment and far too often, abject defeat. Between us, we've been at this silly game for about six decades. Retirement and the lurking plague outside our door have only served to immerse us deeper and deeper into this delightful mire...
posted by jim in austin at 1:04 PM on June 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

Local game shops, especially those that depend on food and drink sales, are in real trouble.

For a while at the start of the pandemic, our local was doing a thing where they'd send you a game to borrow along with your meal if you made a pickup or delivery order. It seemed like a pretty clever idea, but it looks like they've stopped doing it, and I'm worried they won't be able to compete on food and drinks alone.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:18 PM on June 3, 2020

Some resources/ideas I've found not mentioned in the thread so far:

Dominion online: Says it is the official place to play Dominion online. The base card set is free, expansions require a subscription.

Shut Up & Sit Down:
Review of 1 player games
The Amazing World of 1 player print and play games

More of the Very Best Solitaire Print and Play Games

I have Steam, but as yet I don’t have much of a feel for it.

Steam is a just a giant retailer for games; you purchase them through Steam and then download and to play (I'm guessing you know this, but I'm trying to be careful). Here's their list of things tagged as "Board Game"; I own Lords of Waterdeep via Steam, and it seems like a good port and has options for online multiplayer.
posted by nubs at 3:36 PM on June 3, 2020

2. Board games will become more popular because they feel like luxuries but are inexpensive.

I disagree. Board gaming can be a shockingly expensive hobby to keep up with.
posted by Beholder at 3:59 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Board gaming can be a shockingly expensive hobby to keep up with.

The Venn diagram of “board game players” and “board game collectors” is not a circle.
posted by Etrigan at 4:35 PM on June 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

All the various Pandemics are co-op, if a little on the nose.

posted by larrybob at 5:23 PM on June 3, 2020

There was a humble bundle a week or so ago, with lots of good stuff in it. Carcassonne, Small World, Potion Explosion, Scythe, Mysterium, Love Letter, Twilight Struggle. Not sure if it's still happening, but, it was a great deal.
posted by Windopaene at 6:01 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Pretty interesting! I have ruthlessly purged my boardgame collection, which I sometimes regret but not really. All I've got left is my (FF version) WH40K Relic collection because I enjoy it solo and it is better than Talisman (don't @ me), Gears of War because it's out-of-print (and good), and The Isle of Cats because island, and cats. All are solo-able but cat island and, oh, Cat Lady, are for my partner and I to play together.

My main reason for falling out of the boardgame habit is because of the stupid amounts of plastic that most modern games contain. Even card games have fallen out of my favour, because being who I am, I sleeve everything, which is also plastic.

In summation, boardgames are a land of contrasts, and it's good that people enjoy what they enjoy, and Scythe is massively overrated.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:48 PM on June 3, 2020

That is what Kickstarter, and stretch goals, and FOMO, and exclusives, have wrought upon the hobby. There used to be risks involved in a publisher putting out a game. Now, if it funds, doesn't matter if it's crap.
posted by Windopaene at 7:08 PM on June 3, 2020

So my partner and I along with some friends have been playing the online version of Sentinels of the Multiverse (purchased through Steam) even before the Pandemic LARP started, since it simplifies the bookkeeping immensely. In answer to some questions raised here :

I don't know - do online adaptations count as board games?

I think so in this case, since it's a faithful emulation of the game, down to displaying the cards turning.

More collaborative two player games, please.

Are their solo board games?

Sentinals is collaborative, from solo to five players, following a super team coming together to fight a supervillain and its minions. My partner and I often do a two - player game, each of us playing two heroes.

So um, I like it a lot. And we always need new players.
posted by happyroach at 9:10 PM on June 3, 2020

Sentinels of the Multiverse is crappy without at least 3 heroes, and I think the rule book even says so. Two players work better if each takes two heroes, and you can solo it with 3 or more.

My usual big yearly gaming con was memorial day weekend, and obviously got cancelled. But I've been doing a lot of discord roleplaying in my larp community, and some jack box games with family, so it's not so bad.
posted by gryftir at 9:41 PM on June 3, 2020

There are many great solo or low player count games with lots of different themes to play. Play as a well funded CDC member preventing a pandemic. Harken back to when the news could impeach a corrupt president. Celebrate an early postal service. Provide a socialist service for the good of the public. Expand our public transportation. Explore political corruption. Ferret out some fascists. Don't comlicitly follow the fascist leader. Empathize with those who suffer in war. Free people from slavery. Step into the role of a revolutionary fighting an evil empire. Fight the good fight as antifa. Join space force and reckon with infighting weakening humanity.

(Tammany Hall, Transamerica, Battlestar, and Secret Hitler actually need larger groups.)
posted by ridogi at 7:41 AM on June 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh and oversee a collapsing empire. Steer a ruderless ship.
posted by ridogi at 7:54 AM on June 4, 2020

As far as online gaming I've also been using horsepaste and BGA. Other good ones are Spyfall, the very silly Lies Game, and Yucata (tons of games, mostly euros free with donations)
posted by ridogi at 8:00 AM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Seconding Yucata and Boardgamearena, I am either hearthpig or haardvark on there if anyone wants to hook a brother up.

the pinnacle of my social season outside of e.g. family holiday committments has been a trip to columbus OH in late june for origins, the fact that we can't go this year is probably my biggest petty personal heartbreak of the covidiocy.

(also while I am not personally a fan, my gaming group has been playing Chronicles of Crime on zoom with a designated game runner to apparently good effect.)
posted by hearthpig at 5:35 PM on June 4, 2020

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