In the past, we’ve talked about some tools to play role-playing games remotely. This time lets discuss something a little nearer and dearer to our hearts, playing board games remotely. Thanks to the internet it is a lot easier than you might think.
Game by Video Call
I mentioned using things like Google Hangouts or Discord for RPGs in a previous post. This can also work for some board games. For example, role and writes are pretty easy to do this way. As long as all the players have a copy of the scoring sheets, one player can roll the dice in front of the camera.
However, for games where players need to pick up and hold things like cards or tokens this sort of system is really hard to make work. Thankfully, just like for RPGs, dedicated systems now exist.
Virtual Table Tops
Just as a number of virtual table top emulators not exist for RPGs, there are also ones for board games. Two of the biggest, and ones that I have used personally, are Tabletopia and the Tabletop Simulator.
At their core both of these are physics engines that allow designers to create a 3d version of their games in a virtual space. Which players can then manipulate, picking up pawns, rolling dice, and so forth.
Tabletopia exists both as a webpage or as a Steam App. In both cases, it offers hundreds of games you can play for free. And for a low subscription, it offers access to tools for designers to build their games and offer them on the service. There are also some premium games and expansions that are also held behind the subscription wall as well. I personally have only tried the webpage version.
The controls are fairly easy to learn, and in most cases, games come pre-setup based on the number of players. It should be noted that there is no automation once the game begins. Players will need to reference the rules if they don’t already know the game. Thankfully, there is an easy button to bring them up. Though I have often found the display resolution of rules make them a little hard to read at times.
One huge benefit of Tabletopia is that with it being a webpage there is no software to download and players just need to access the internet and go to the site. I have found the matchmaking to be a little cumbersome at times, and of course, if your internet is slow you will run into problems such as getting kicked out of games.
Tabletop Simulator is downloadable on Steam, and you do have to pay for the base software. However, it goes on sale pretty regularly so its fairly easy to get it for under twenty dollars. Once you have the base you can download and place hundreds of games free from the workshop. Keep in mind that these are fan made reproductions of games, so they are not licensed by the publishers. There are also paid premium versions of games available as well, most running around 5-7 dollars.
In both cases many games have been provided with scripts that take care of things like setting up the game and in some cases some basic automation of simply rules. In general, though players will need to read the rules for the game and manually move things around just like they would at a real table.
I generally find Tabletop Simulator to be faster and more stable than Tabletopia. However, each player does need to own the base software to play. Which increases its overall cost. It does have to added bonuses, however. First, there is a rewind button that will let you step back through actions if you realize someone missed a rule, and you can perform a virtual table flip. Sending pieces flying across the screen in a way that is incredibly cathartic.
You can also find dedicated digital versions of many popular tabletop games these days. Asmodee Digital offers a large catalogue of popular games in digital form on Steam. Games like Ticket to Ride, Gloom Haven, Scythe, and Pandemic are available for prices ranging from five dollars up to thirty dollars. These dedicated versions exist as part boardgame simulator and part video game. The game keeps track of the rules and scoring for you so you can focus on strategy and getting right to play. Most if not all of them offer both single-player modes against AI opponents and online multiplayer options. You lose out on the flexibility of virtual tabletops in exchange for ease of use.
Whatever tools you end up using, I hope you are able to get some gaming in as we all continue to stay home. We all need some human contact, and there are few things better than a good game night.