By Louis Sylvester
It’s been a difficult year for tabletop gaming. All types of face-to-face gaming, from local board game clubs to casual gatherings of friends, were canceled because of safety concerns brought on by COVID-19. Nevertheless, there are ways for gaming to continue in locked-down households, online and even solitaire play.
Here are a few of my favorite games that can be enjoyed while still following safety guidelines and social distancing.
A game for online parties
Players who want to enjoy a delightful game with friends or extended family online using platforms like Zoom or Facetime should play Just One (3-7 players, age 8+). While I recommend buying the physical game, there is a free online version available at www.oneword.games that handles all the work, although you still need to connect via Zoom for audio/visual communication.
In Just One, players work together to earn as many points as possible for the group by helping one person guess a key word that everyone else has seen. On each turn, the guesser will pick a number between one and five, which will indicate the secret key word. The other players will look at a card (the online version handles this for players) and see the word listed after that number. Next, each player will write down a single clue to help the guesser figure out the word. For example, if the word was “rock,” I might write down the clue “Dwayne.” Another player might write “stone.” Once everyone has written down a clue, with the guesser’s eyes still closed, each player shows their word to the other players. Any duplicates are removed, so if another player also wrote down “Dwayne,” our two clues would be set out of play. Finally, the guesser opens their eyes and uses the remaining clues to guess the key word. But they get “just one” guess. If successful, the team earns a victory point. Then, the next player takes on the role of guesser. Once everyone has guessed twice, the game ends. Because a game of Just One is easy to learn, fast to play and full of laughs, you will want to include a session whenever you get online to chat with your friends.
A family-friendly legacy game
A legacy game is a tabletop board game designed to change permanently over the course of a series of sessions. Households looking for an easy game to learn that offers a competitive challenge and never gets old should try My City (1-4 players, age 10+).
From renowned game designer Reiner Knizia, My City allows players to develop a city through 24 stages of progress. Each stage is an enjoyable game, in which you place buildings on your individual boards in an effort to build the city that will earn the most points. Because it is a legacy game, every stage adds new rules and sometimes new cards, new buildings and stickers that alter play, ensuring that players never get tired of the experience. Furthermore, after each 20- to 30-minute game, you will make choices that customize your personal experience by adding permanent game elements to your board.
Although many competitive games can engender hurt feelings when a player loses, My City is perfect for households because each game offers rewards to every player. The winner earns victory points towards the final grand tally, and runners up earn stickers that improve their boards for the next game. Finally, even after passing all 24 stages, My City can still be played yet again as players can flip their boards and enjoy an alternate set-up that allows for repeatable play.
An arcade-inspired solitaire challenge
The biggest problem with isolation can be finding something to do by yourself that doesn’t include staring at a computer screen for hours on end. The perfect solution is the endlessly playable game Super Skill Pinball: 4-Cade (1-4 players, age 12+), a pinball simulation that is good for multiple gamers but is amazing as a solitaire experience. Choose from four different game boards, each representing a different style of pinball machine. To play, roll two dice and select one number to indicate where your ball has bounced. Using a dry-erase marker, you keep track of points, bumper hits and downed targets. When the ball falls to the bottom, use your flippers to send it back up to the top to earn more points. Clever play can open up score multipliers and even a multiball challenge in which you control two pinballs at once. The round lasts for as long as you can keep your ball bouncing, and you get three balls per game.
Whether you want to play a guessing game over Zoom, design cities with your family, or become a pinball wizard at your table, there are plenty of games available to help you have a good time until we can gather for game nights.
Sylvester is an associate professor in the creative writing program at Lewis-Clark State College. He is the co-author of “Legends of the Lost Causes” series, a rip-roaring adventure set in the fantasy West, available now. You can send him your questions about tabletop games at email@example.com.