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Gaming Groups in a Remote World

As we all come to terms with quarantine and shelter-in-place orders being extended for longer than most prepared for (both emotionally and in terms of our stash of snacks), and for those of us who won’t feel comfortable venturing out into the crowds again for some time even after the shelter-in-place orders are lifted, many of us are realizing there are important parts of our life we’ve lived without for too long. No, I don’t mean “wearing pants.” I’m talking about our in-person game groups and group hangouts. It may be some time before we can get together like that again. Personally, I had several groups of people with whom I did different types of gaming sessions back when times were normal—everything from family game nights, to rowdy friend game nights, to intense and geeky game nights. I’d like to offer some thoughts on how I’ve adapted to “these unprecedented times” and filled the gaping gaming hole in my heart. First, like good IT pros, let’s define our terms, shall we?

What Are the Different Types of Game Nights?

  • Family Game Night: I would list this as anything family-friendly, and the difficulty of games is likely to be lower, so all ages can participate. What constitutes a difficult game for your family may be different than mine, and likely also depends on who’s participating. For us, it has mostly included games like Uno, Monopoly (if we have time and want to argue), Wahoo, Golf, Phase 10, Dominoes, Farkle, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, etc.
  • Rowdy Friend Game Night: Usually played while consuming party food and adult beverages, and often playing until the wee hours (well, at least that’s us). These games often aren’t safe for kids (but some of the games played here could be safe for kids if the participants could behave themselves). Games included in this list for us are Cards Against Humanity, Secret Hitler, Jackbox Party Games, any “After Dark” or NSFW versions of games like Taboo and Exploding Kittens, etc.
  • Geeky Game Nights: The difficulty of games involved in our geeky game nights ranges from “quick, easy, and can teach a child to play” to “we’ve been playing for four hours and still must double check the rules for clarification.” I’m sure no one will be surprised I include RPG games like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) in this category—which I only recently started playing. Other games I personally include in this category are things like Love Letter, 7 Wonders, Villainous, Arkham Horror, Betrayal on the House on the Hill, deck-building games like Dominion or Harry Potter: Battle for Hogwarts or Magik, Munchkin, people (or meeple) management games like Stone Age, etc. I could go on for ages. 😊
Now that I’ve made everyone sad about what they’re missing, let me please enlighten you to your options for remote gaming. My geeky game group was forcibly dispersed several years ago when two of the five members moved to Prague. We were determined to continue playing together, so we looked for options back then, and I’m happy to report we’re still playing together online all these years later. These options are now critical to game group happiness, so here is what I’ve found over the years. Even if the suggestions I offer below don’t work for your specific situation, I encourage you to search for yourself and find something that works for all your groups. Some of these are free to play and some have associated costs, so please check them out for yourself to determine worth to the group.
  • Individually hosted sites – There are some games out there with individual sites. Some examples of this are Secret Hitler and Dominion.
  • Downloadable versions in various app stores (like Steam, Epic Games, Windows store, etc.) – Examples: Cards Against Humanity, Pandemic, Uno, Monopoly, etc.
  • Game Hosting Sites – There are some enterprising folks out there who have worked very hard to put together online communities with digital versions of games (all types of games) that work very well. Typical on these sites, there are free accounts and premium accounts—usually there are additional games available for the premium version only, and some other things may be affected like maintaining game statistics, color preferences, etc. These sites have hundreds of games in their libraries available to play with strangers or friends (provided you all have accounts). My friends and I currently use Boardgame Arena and have tried Tabletopia in the past, but there are others out there.
  • If one person owns a copy of a game, there are options for sharing with others. Discord Go Live and Steam Remote Play Together work great for those party games. You can use Discord or a meeting application like Teams or Zoom to share cameras and/or support a voice call to still get those reactions in real-time.
  • Playing a traditional tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) is typically pencils, paper, dice, and people around a table. Games like D&D, Pathfinder, or Star Wars don’t need a physical tabletop to be an experience. Boiled down to the pure essence of these games is a theater-of-the-mind story; the extras (maps, tokens, minis, etc.) are completely optional. We’ve heard of people playing with nothing but a conference bridge and it works. On the other end of the spectrum are the fully immersive online tabletop alternatives. Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds are great resources for shared play. Each has their pros and cons, and neither will be a perfect fit for every group. Explore each path, like you would in an adventure.
I encourage everyone to branch out to continue the connectedness we previously had from our game nights. Hopefully, this helps show you CAN still do these things, just a little differently. This was specifically designed to talk about things besides video games, as those are mostly already designed for online multiplayer. I also love video games, but they haven’t gone anywhere. 😉 Please share your own experiences with remote tabletop gaming with us on THWACK. We’d love to have even more options for keeping the gaming groups alive! Shout out to Leon Adato and Kevin Sparenberg for their additions to the list (especially the D&D info). Happy gaming!
Chrystal Taylor
Chrystal Taylor is a dedicated technologist with nearly a decade of experience and has built her career by leveraging curiosity to solve problems, no matter…
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