Gaming Resources to Take Advantage of During a Global Pandemic
Unless you’re Patrick Star and literally living under rock or a cast member of Germany’s Big Brother, you’re probably well aware of the COVID-19 pandemic and all the mess that comes with it. Large portions of the population have been instructed to work from home if they are able to. Part-time employees and full-time hourly employees may find themselves temporarily out of work altogether. Worse yet are the school closures that have kids at home while their parents either attempt to continue to work from home with their children or look for work while trying to keep food on the table. Without any clear picture of how long we’ll be socially distancing ourselves and taking so many precautions, it’s difficult to plan more than a few days ahead. All of this is to say that we could really use a mental break from the Coronavirus concerns. Thankfully, there are companies out there who are making games more accessible to consumers to help battle the inevitable cabin fever.
For our readers who prefer board games, social distancing is going to be a lot harder. Both organizational and personally organized game nights are being cancelled as a way to minimize potential exposure to the virus. Anyone who relies on those groups to get their game on is going to have a bad time.
However, there are a few publishers are going out of their way to make their games more accessible to consumers. It may not help with the reduced player count, but there are solutions for that as well.
Print and Play
Print and play games might be the best way to scratch the game itch on a budget. Many publishers will permit their assets to be printed from home for free or a small fee, allowing players to enjoy their games and avoid paying retail prices.
PNP Arcade is a great resource for locating print and play titles. Games like Mint Works, Two Rooms and a Boom, and The Artemis Project are all available to downloaded and printed from PNP Arcade. Just the other day, Button Shy Games added four of their games to PNP Arcade making Handsome, Potions Class, Why I Otter, and Wonder Tales all available for free download.
If you read our most recent Tabletop article, you know that we’re a big fan of Hive. Hive has a dedicated fanbase on BGG that is not only creating custom expansion tiles, but also re-themed artwork that makes Hive more attractive to those who don’t love the bug aspect. All of the re-themed versions of the game are available to print and play under the files tab on Hive‘s BGG file page.
If pen and paper RPGs are more your style, DriveThruRPG is loaded with downloadable PDF copies of Dungeons & Dragons, Shadowrun, or Arkham Horror books (among others). Should you be new to the genre and want to use some of the additional time at home as an opportunity to get your feet wet, DriveThruRPG has a plethora of free and pay what you want options which are a great low-risk place to start.
As one might expect, all of the above only works if you have other people at home to play with. If you happen to have the luxury of living alone, you might find it a little more difficult these days to get someone to come by. Instead, you might want to consider looking at one of the many digital board game options that are available.
There are plenty of digital adaptations of board games that are available on Steam or mobile devices. Asmodee Digital has a growing catalog of digital adaptations available on Steam, mobile devices, and Nintendo Switch. Gloomhaven, arguably the industry’s most popular board game (and a personal favorite of mine), is available in Early Access on Steam and is a great way to play the solo while we wait for this crisis to blow over. Other games like Terraforming Mars, Catan, and Scythe are also available in a digital format and can be played either with other people or solo against bots.
But if you’re looking for more flexibility for your dollar, Tabletop Simulator is the way to go for a low price of $19.99 on Steam. The core of Tabletop Simulator comes with plenty of classic board games like Chess, Checkers, and a few card games like Poker and Blackjack. All of the above can be played online against other users in either private or public lobbies with text and voice chat. There’s no substitute for sitting around a table and socializing face-to-face, but when everyone is staying home to stay healthy, voice chat capabilities are a very welcome feature.
There are a lot of options for small cost DLC that add new games like Wingspan or Zombicide for low DLC costs ranging from $5.99 to $9.99. But like all things board games, the user base has formed a community of modders who build their own complete digital versions of popular board games and upload the completed projects to the Workshop to be add for free. Through the Workshop, full collections of games as large as Kingdom Death: Monster, Gloomhaven, and Arkham Horror LCG have all been upload with full copies of rule books and all of the expansions. It’s a great way to play some otherwise expensive titles for free with complete strangers or a group of friends without having to go anywhere.
Similar to Tabletop Simulator is the web based program, Tabletopia. Tabletopia functions much in the same way, but does not offer modding support. Instead, you’ll find that board game designers will upload digital prototypes and demos of titles as they play test or promote Kickstarter campaigns. In response to COVID-19, the creators of Goetia: Nine Kings of Solomon have made their game (currently on Kickstarter) free to play on Tabletopia. It’s a great way to demo the game before inevitably backing it.
One of the hardest parts about being a board game fan is completing those long campaigns you began so long ago that you don’t recall who was in your group in the first place. I’m guilty of doing that with both Gloomhaven and Kingdom Death: Monster and have completely given up hope that I’ll ever complete Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. More often than not, it’s because I live in the transient city of NYC and at least one person from the original group moved away. No matter how hard we tried to continue, the group dynamic always feels too different when we’re a player down and we would eventually drop our campaign and never look back.
But other players are more determined than us and have begun using video conferencing tools to keep campaigns going even from afar. The Gloomhaven subreddit is filled with cases of players doing just that. Just the other day there were two posts from users u/oflaughter and u/DarthMalak216 sharing their different remote play setups. While it is ultimately a great solution, remote play doesn’t work very well for any games that have hidden information. On the other hand, this is a great solution for playing cooperative games like Spirit Island, Machina Arcana, or 7th Continent.
Affordable Games for the Kids at Home
I’d also like to provide some recommendations of easy to learn games that could help younger kids occupy themselves without the assistance of an adult who is no responsible for fulfilling the roles of both caretaker and employee simultaneously. Finding affordable ways to keep kids entertained for hours on end is not an easy thing to do, but
The Century series is a very simple competitive game that’s easy to learn and can be taught in about ten minutes. It’s basic deck building and set collection mechanics are made even easier by the lack of text in the game. All information that is needed to play is displayed on brightly illustrated cards using simple set of color coded icons. There are multiple versions of the game on the market but my personal favorite, Century: Golem Edition, was just recently reprinted and is widely available for around $30.
Galaxy Trucker is another great one for kids that will keep there attention with quick tile grabbing as players race against the clock to construct a space worthy ship out of spare parts. The game consists of three rounds of ship construction and then adventure cards that determine the types of peril that player’s ships will endure. After everyone’s junk ships have been properly destroyed by asteroids, players add their points, wipe the boards clean, and move onto the next round with more time to build a bigger and better ship. You can check out our review for more details and find Galaxy Trucker readily available on Amazon for around $30. Should it be a hit, there are plenty of expansions that add more variability available at affordable prices.
Another favorite of ours at WTMG is Fire Tower. We made fast friends with the creators during their design process and have been enjoying their work ever since. It’s an excellent quick play game for four players that has ease of access at the heart of its design. Each game last from about thirty minutes to an hour depending on how many players there are. Fire Tower is available from the creator’s company page, Runaway Parade for $49.
The next two games are a bit more dependent on the energy levels of kids. For those that are a little older Mysterium may be a great fit. In Mysterium one player takes on the role of a ghost who is trapped in our realm until the mystery of their murder has been solved. Without speaking the ghost must communicate with a group of psychics (all the other players) by giving them clues in the form of cards with abstract art on them. The psychic players will then have to work together to solve the mystery of the ghost’s murder within seven rounds or doom them to never rest in peace. In many ways Mysterium is simply a version of Clue that has eliminated the competitive aspect. Either everyone wins by helping the ghost find rest, or everyone loses.
In the case where your kids are younger or have a lot more energy, sitting still for Mysterium may not be the best solution. Instead, Quelf may be a solid option. It has a fairly low rating on Board Game Geek mainly because in no way is it a gamer’s game. It is however a great game for kids with energy. Each turn, players role the die to move to one of several color coded spaces. After completing their movement, players will draw a card of the matching color and act out whatever the card says. It’s a quirky game that will ask players to say, “I reckon” after each sentence, balance a shoe on their head, or have a thumb war. It’s a very simple premise but has proven to be great fun at parties and would be a great way to help kids get their energy out. Even better, it’s the cheapest game on this list coming in at only $15.99 on Amazon.
As playing video games with friends doesn’t require people to be in the same room, social distancing has little impact on console and PC gamers. However, we are fickle creatures and will sure to seeking out the next new release fix or cheap deal on a game to fill our surplus of time. There are a few ways to get some free and/or cheap games to keep yourself busy in the coming weeks.
Epic Games Store
For those who didn’t already jump into the Epic Games Store marketplace, now is the time to do so. Each week, they update the market place with two to three free games of varying degree. So long as you have an Epic Games account, you can log into the store and add the free games of the week to your account library to download at any time.
Between now and Thursday March 19th at 11am, Epic Games is offering Anodyne 2: Return to Dust, A Short Hike, and Mutazione for free. While I have yet to play any of the current offerings, you can’t go wrong with free games.
On March 19th, the free offerings will change to the better known Watch Dogs and The Stanley Parable. Even if you don’t plan to play them right away, be sure to log in and grab the freebies while you can and keep and eye out for what next week’s games are when the listings get updated this Thursday.
Additionally, Fortnite isn’t the only title that Epic Games offers for free. Dauntless, Auto Chess, Battle Breakers, Magic The Gathering Arena, and The Cycle are also available as free to play games. Regardless of what your opinions of any of the above games are, you’ll likely be very grateful for their accessibility in the coming weeks, so take advantage of the free games and their voice chat capabilities. For some of the people working from home, it may be the most social interaction they can get.
Steam may not have as many free games available, but there’s always something of interest in sale. At the time of writing this, both 2K and Ubisoft are having sales where some of their most popular IPs are heavily discounted, including some of the newer releases.
2K currently has Borderlands 3 on sale for half off its retail price. Or instead, you can purchase The Borderlands Bundle which includes all four games for $60.90. Meanwhile, Ubisoft has slapped huge discounts on the Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and Tom Clancy franchises. Far Cry in particular has some great prices for those who haven’t already picked those games up in the past. Far Cry 2 is only $3.99, Far Cry 3 is $7.99, and Far Cry 5 is $14.99.
For those who need a hit of something brand new, patience will be the name of the game. There are a few really strong contenders coming up this month and next for those who have the patience to wait.
March 20th – DOOM Eternal (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch)
March 31st – Persona 5 Royal (PS4)
April 3rd – Resident Evil 3 (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
April 10th – Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)
April 28th – Gears Tactics (Xbox One, PS4)
All of the above can be pre-ordered via their respective marketplaces and your typical online retailers. However, pending further escalation of the current health crisis, it may be wiser to begin purchasing digital rather than physical copies to avoid any potential disruptions to distribution processes.
That’s all for now but we will be updating this article with new information as the creative minds of the gaming community come up with new ideas for our new surreal existence. But in the meantime, happy gaming, excelsior, roll crits and all that. Most importantly, just be sure to take just as good care of yourself mentally… and wash your hands!