GAMING WHILE QUARANTINED
by Eric Brosius
Normally my gaming attention focuses on new games I’ve played, new games I want to try, and favorites I want to play more often. 2020 has been totally different; I’ve played no more than half a dozen new games. But I’ve learned many new things!
Of course, this reflects the quarantine. My last ordinary gaming event was a meeting of my Monday group on March 9. However, I’m playing more while quarantined than before. There have been changes in what games I play, how I play, who I play with, and how I think about things. The changes didn’t all come at once — I’ve made them gradually, and I’m sure I’ll make more.
My first play while quarantined was Race for the Galaxy which I played using the app on my iPad when a friend invited me. I bought the app long ago, but hadn’t used it for years – in fact, I’d been playing almost nothing on line. I updated the app and bought the two new expansions that came out since I last played. Since I record plays, how do I treat games played on line? In the past I didn’t record them, but I decided to start recording on-line games played with people I know. I knew I had to think differently in these new circumstances, and changing my play-recording habits helped remind me to do different things for health and safety reasons as well.
Race for the Galaxy is a Top 10 game for me. Unfortunately, my rate of play had plummeted – in 2019 I played it only 9 times. For 2020 I set a goal to play at least 20 times. Through March 9 I already had 19 plays – a big increase! But since then my play counts have exploded. I’ve played 210 times since March 9, and have now played more in 2020 than I have played any game in any previous year (my old record was 193 plays of Race for the Galaxy in 2008.) I’d rather play face-to-face, but since that’s impossible (not just because of the quarantine, but also because some of my new opponents live far away,) it’s a win.
I’ve also played a few games on Steam (an on-line game app platform for.) I got Through the Ages on Steam as a gift, but had never used it, even though it’s another favorite game. It’s a wonderful app, and I’m delighted that I have been able to play it, since it was hard to get face-to-face games even before the quarantine. The app does much of the fiddly work for you, so the game is easier to play.
Apps on Steam and my iPad must be purchased individually (though Steam often has half-price sales, so if you’re willing to wait for them, you can save money). There are also free apps made available by publishers – I’ve played Codenames that way a few times and it works very well. And there are hobbyist-supported sites devoted to specific games – I’ve played Titan, War of the Ring, and Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage that way, and I’m sure there are many other similar sites for other games.
There are also on-line sites that offer multiple games, so with one sign-up you can play many different games. I tried the first one when a friend invited me to play Saint Petersburg and Thurn and Taxis on the yucata.de website. I’ve known about Yucata for years, but why did I need to play games on a website when I had people to play with face to face! Well, as 2020 shows, adversity often increases our willingness to learn, and I knew I couldn’t play Saint Petersburg if I didn’t play on line, so I agreed to try.
The interface is a bit tricky and when I first used Yucata, the response time was slow (the user base right after the onset of the pandemic had ballooned to far more than their infrastructure had been designed for). But I didn’t care – I was playing Saint Petersburg again! I also got to play Thurn and Taxis against one of the best players I know, and I’ve been observing and learning. Usually we play “asynchronously” on Yucata. This means we don’t all need to be on line at the same time. We can take turns when we log on, so games usually take more than a day to play, with the speed of the game depending on the timing of player log-ons. I’ve played other games on Yucata (San Juan, Can’t Stop,) and an unexpected bonus was the opportunity to play Industrial Waste, a favorite of mine that few people play any more – except on Yucata. The website speed is gotten much better now that they’ve added infrastructure to manage the greater demand. Yucata is free, though one can donate to help pay the costs.
Another group invited me to play on boardgamearena.com, which has some things in common with Yucata. The games available aren’t the same, and it seems more suited than Yucata to synchronous play and less to asynchronous play. I’ve played Lost Cities and Race for the Galaxy there, though the Race for the Galaxy module is harder to use than the app (I mostly stick to the base game on BGA.) BGA is free, but unless you purchase a subscription ($2/month if you buy a 12-month subscription,) you can only initiate games of a limited subset of the titles that are available. My first plays were of games other people initiated, but I’ve bought a subscription now so I can initiate games no matter whom I’m playing with.
And finally, I’ve started to play games on brettspielwelt.de once again after being away from it for more than a decade. Back then I started having trouble with Java on my Mac, something that was needed in order to use BSW, but a friend recently helped me get back to BSW, and the problems seem to have been solved. I was able to play The Crew for the first time; we played 30 missions and made it through Mission 18.
Some people play on line using Tabletop Simulator, a “physics engine” that allows you to manipulate virtual components on a virtual table using your mouse and keyboard commands. It’s versatile – it’s easy to add a new game, and it’s good for prototyping. On the other hand, to me playing on TTS feels like playing while wearing boxing gloves, so I haven’t used it much. But I have used it some because games are available on TTS that aren’t available elsewhere.
When we play synchronous games we usually use a chat app like Skype, Zoom, Discord, or WebEx to talk with each other as we’re all on line at once. This isn’t strictly necessary, but being able to converse replicates more of the face-to-face experience. Our group settled on Discord, a voice-chat/text-chat/screen-sharing/streaming/messaging app, because it has better sound quality for us than Skype or Zoom, and because the text-chat capability allows us to post notes to each other for asynchronous games.
Not all my plays while quarantined have been short. I love 1846, an 18xx game. 18xx games are intricate, with hex maps on which players place tiles and tokens, and many financial transactions. We play using several separate pieces of software. BOARD18 is an app that depicts the game board and lets players place tiles and tokens. We use a Google sheet to handle the finances, and for 1846 we use a little app just for the private company auction. We had to stop our first game partway through because it took so long, but the second game was faster, and (with some Google sheet tweaks) we’re now playing quite rapidly. We play both asynchronously and synchronously. Once we learned to play 1846 on line, we moved to longer games like 1822MX and 1822CA, and as a result I’ve been able to play more and more different 18xx games than I was playing before. And more recently, we’ve started to use the site 18xx.games, which handles everything at once and even enforces the rules.
Most of my plays have been on line, but not all of them. Before the quarantine my wife Claire and I played 2-player games regularly — crayon rails games like Empire Builder, short games like Lost Cities, San Juan, and Star Realms, and a few of her longer favorites (currently Terraforming Mars, Clank! In! Space!, and Wingspan.) Since we’re quarantining together, we’re still playing games. In fact, we play more than we used to because we don’t go out much. We’re still playing those games. But she’s proposed a wider variety of games recently, so games like Pickomino, Notre Dame, Heaven & Ale, and Rise of Augustus, some of which we hadn’t played in years, have come off the shelves.
Although the quarantine has been a disruptive influence not only on life in general but also on my boardgaming activity, many tools are available to help manage on-line play. I’ve even been able to get plays in I’d never have gotten in if 2020 had been a normal year – more than 200 plays of Race for the Galaxy, 7 plays of Titan, 3 plays of Industrial Waste, and 2 plays of Through the Ages! – – – – – – Eric Brosius
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Other Fall 2020 GA Report articles