With COVID-19 restrictions continuing, 2020 has been the year when one of the most often-asked questions in the board game world has been “does this game work over Zoom?” So here at All Good Meeple we have started adding a “Zoomability” attribute to many products to give an indication of how well each game would play, with one or more players on a remote video connection link.
Before explaining further, there are of course sites such as Board Game Arena and Tabletopia which offer multiplayer computerised versions of many popular board games. But this article is all about trying to get as close as you can to playing your friends and family in person, using a boxed game over a video link without breaching any social distancing or group size rules that may be in place where you live, whether those people are in the next house to you or in another country. It requires at least one member of the group to have a physical copy of the game in question, and the ability to set up a video conferencing session on a laptop or mobile device, via Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Goto Meeting, Jitsi, Houseparty, or other similar service (paid membership may be required to get past time limits or feature restrictions on some platforms).
Not all games have been assessed as of end October 2020, but the Zoomability level is shown on the “additional information” tab for each product and you can filter the whole shop catalogue for this attribute, in the margin. We’ll get through the back catalogue in due course and will add this attribute for new stock as it comes in. The four levels are, Easy, Medium, Tricky, and Impractical (i.e. don’t bother!). Below are some descriptions of the sort of complexity involved at each level and the factors you may need to consider. It’s just our personal assessment and your mileage may vary, but if you have a neat way of doing remote play for a game that we hadn’t considered, please let us know.
Games with no playing area, where players can participate remotely with just their own camera, with players holding cards or written notes up to camera, and remote players using pen and paper and/or dice (or if appropriate, materials from their own copy of the game). Generally applies to most acting/talking, quiz or word-guessing games. Also dice games where the dice are rolled centrally, and both local and remote players make selections or take actions accordingly. Plus, some co-operative games where the remote players can give meeple-movement instructions and/or chip in with ideas and suggestions to the others. Might require some printing off of notes / score sheets for remote players.
You will need additional help or tools, e.g.
- Someone to manage and play remote players’ hands of cards/tiles (could be another player who remembers “not to look”, or a separate referee), draws new cards/tiles for them and moves their playing pieces
- Racks of some sort to show remote players their hands of cards or tiles on camera – remote players will have to give directions to someone to pick a card/tile (e.g. “third along from my left”) and where to play it
- A phone camera tripod to support an additional device showing the overall playing area and key game components held by each player (e.g. in Ticket to Ride, players’ remaining carriages) – that device would need to log in to the meeting as an additional attendee (disabling sound to avoid audio feedback)
- NB any card dealer role may not be able to rotate round remote players
Google “playing card racks” to find them in several online retailers for a few pounds each – they can also be found at retailers who provide products for the elderly and care homes.
Likewise search online for “iphone tripod selfie stick” and similar phrases – there are many available under £20.
- Requires some of the above but you may also need to have additional processes or controls to avoid remote players seeing other players’ cards, notes, drawings, etc.
- May require multiple cameras showing different elements of the game area, or focusing in on remote players’ card racks
- Egg-timer elements may need replacing with digital timer or app
- Remote players may need their own sets of dice or indeed own copies of the game, to be able to use some component or other
- Remote players may need to take written notes of ticket or victory point cards they have collected, notes of special cards that are in play for the current round, or goal cards applying to the whole game, and/or print off their own copies of game sheets for notes, scoring etc.
Very hard to replicate the game play over video conferencing, e.g.
- remote play may slow things down to frustrating levels or the amount of technical setup needed would be extreme
- large and complicated playing board with many pieces not easily visible remotely
- game requires close player interaction over a game board or playing area, placing of tiles or playing pieces or passing of items between players
- game requires speed of reaction or physical action, e.g. flicking, balancing, stacking and so on
- game requires drawing of cards or items from a bag or shared pool, depletion of which is part of the game mechanics
- game requires close observation of players’ faces and reactions which would be lost over a remote connection
Here’s hoping you find this zoomability guide useful in helping you to enjoy board games when you can’t be physically close to your gaming friends.