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Tabletop Tuesday – Gaming in Quarantine

It’s been a while since we’ve had a Tabletop Tuesday, thanks to the fact this author is an essential worker (as we mentioned in our last article). Despite my absence, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been thinking about tabletop gaming!

Last time we talked about the effect the pandemic had on the tabletop industry and community. This time, we’d like to talk about how gamers are adapting their hobby to quarantines and “stay-at-home” laws.

After all, the best thing about tabletop gaming is it’s usually a social activity, whether it’s two opponents in a wargame or multiple people playing an RPG. With the shut down of many meeting places, not to mention guidelines that suggest staying away from others, this creates a significant obstacle!

Let’s look at a few ways we’ve found to get your game on even when you can’t hang out.

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Digital Board Games

The easiest way to play your favorite tabletop game is if it’s been translated into a computer game. There’s a library of popular board games you can play online with friends, from Scythe to Ticket to Ride.

The best part of digitized board games is that you have everything you need, plus the app does all the hard work (rolling dice, tracking points, etc.). All you and your friends need to do is login and play!

One downside is that you’re limited by whatever games have a digital version. I’d love to play some Star Wars: Rebellion or Power Grid, but those aren’t available.

Another problem is everyone has to own a copy, and none of the money goes to your FLGS. It’s excellent you can load up Agricola and play with friends, but at that point, you’re just video gaming rather than supporting your tabletop community.

One final issue is that, if you’re looking for the social aspect of gaming, unless you’ve set up a separate audio chat or multiple screens for video chats, you have very little interaction. Many of these products don’t even have a text chat option, so it’s you against a faceless opponent, like so many games.

That being said, my own FLGS has used the digitized version of Blood Bowl to start a league and maintain interest from players. Although the store earns nothing out of it, this organized play online has proven a great success and kept the community thriving.

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Tabletop Simulator

Technically, Tabletop Simulator is just another way to play a digital copy of a board game, as it’s an app through which you play pre-programmed game sets. TS, however, has several advantages and disadvantages over digitized board games.

For one, TS is designed to act like its name: it is a virtual tabletop where you can simulate just about any game (or even table style and setting). You use controls to interact with items on the table, move around the space, etc., as if you were gaming for real (and it can be used with VR accessories!).

TS also has a more extensive library, with official game sets costing money (like Wingspan) but much more for low cost or free. Classic dice or card games are included with the purchase of the program, while the workshop consists of a community where people have translated their favorite games into TS format.

One downside is that TS is not as easy to use as a digital board game, where the app controls the pieces, score, traits, etc. You have to do all the “heavy lifting” yourself, from moving items to adjusting score trackers, like a real board game.

(This issue is even more prevalent in another tabletop simulator called Vassal, which is designed for wargames. It provides a great framework but is even less user-friendly than TS.)

Another problem is that, just like official digitized versions of games, TS provides no monetary support for your FLGS or local community. TS is more cost-effective for players, however, as the games are relatively cheap (or free), and the program is often sold as a package (so one friend can gift others copies to play together).

Despite this, if you want that tabletop feel, VTS does an excellent job of making you pretend you’re at a table. You can even leave everything set up for those super-long games that require you to spend hours (or days) playing!

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Playing via Online Chat

Many tabletop games don’t lend themselves well to video chats, even though apps like Skype and Zoom are growing popular. Without a way to see the physical board, pieces, cards, etc., it’s hard to play the game, especially if only one person has a copy.

One exception is tabletop RPGs, which find a lot of support through online chat and programs.

For many RPGs, you don’t need anything but yourselves and maybe a few websites. The GM keeps track of sheets (possibly through a Google Drive), and the players can use sites to share dice rolls.

For those games that require more visual displays, like maps and figurines, players can use sites like Roll20 or apps like Fantasy Grounds. Both provide the framework for hosting games, and many include official versions of an RPG that offer quick stat blocks, host sheets, track damage, etc.

I’ve successfully run numerous RPGs through online systems, from Zombie World in Roll20 to Age of Rebellion through Zoom. I will say, the more improv-like the system, the better it is!

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Real-World Gaming

Of course, if you don’t have access to these online services or aren’t tech-savvy, you can always do things the old fashioned way: play games in your house.

After all, people have been doing this for millennia, and there’s nothing like the real thing. Whether it’s a quick game of Fluxx or a long game of Root, there’s something to be said for playing tabletop on, well, a tabletop.

The significant downsides are you’re limited by who you’re with, where you’re playing, or what you own.

Have children? Your games are usually limited by their age and skill level. Only two of you? No 3+ player games for you. Spouse, significant other, or roommates just not into the hobby? You’re out-of-luck.

That’s why I’m happy for solo versions of games, whether built-in or through app assistance. I can play Star Wars: Outer Rim or Marvel Champions to my heart’s content, as long as I have the room.

Speaking of which, here’s hoping you have a clean space to play. Not everyone has the tablespace or wants to play on the floor, especially with animals and kids wandering through the place.

As for the final downside, your personal library, this is also a positive trait. Many FLGS are offering everything from limited curbside hours to delivery services – if they can receive the stock, they’ll be glad to sell it and get it to you.

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Adapting not Stopping

The point of this article is to show you how to adapt your tabletop gaming style to being quarantined or subject to “stay-at-home” orders. This pandemic has created a unique situation for many people, who might have free time to play but no access to people or places.

From digitized versions of popular games to a virtual tabletop you can play on, there’s always an answer. Some games require a little more work, while RPGs have more opportunities, whether through paid sites or basic video chats.

For those without access, or who don’t like the tech, there’s always gaming at home. You may not have the player pool you’d like, but from solo games to family time, tabletop gaming can be an excellent release for those suffering cabin fever.

Either way, gamers will find a way to keep playing. If you have a unique way you’ve kept the hobby alive among your friends or store, post it in the comments below!

As my FLGS says: “Keep calm and game on.”

About Brook H. (235 Articles)
Generalist, polymath, jack-of-all-trades... Brook has degrees in Human Behavior and Psychology and has majored in everything from computers to business. He's worked a variety of jobs, including theater, security, emergency communications, and human services. He currently resides outside Baltimore where he tries to balance children, local politics, hobbies, and work. Brook is HoH and a major Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing advocate, a lifelong gamer (from table-top to computer), loves everything paranormal, and is a Horror-movie buff.

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