GAMING AT HOME

The quarantine persists.

It’s not safe.

Wear your mask.

It’s not over.

At least that’s what needs to be conveyed to most Americans still in the grips of an outbreak that could have been moderated if they took it seriously. I was recently on the phone with Noah from GameTrayz, and we got to talking about infection rates. His home state and my home province have about the same population, but where his state reported 19,000 cases and over 1,000 dead, my province is still under 2900 cases and 171 dead. We are slowly opening up and exercising caution while the US is heading down a dark, dark road.

Us introverts are lucky.  We don’t mind avoiding social contact, but not having a close circle of friends over has been an itching point, especially three months after the lockdown began.  If only this virus broke out during the winter. One saving grace is the outbreak did occur in a time with widespread social media and globalization. We can reach out and touch other individuals without ever leaving our homes or actually physically touching them. Thirty years ago, though the amount of propaganda would have been less and thus the misinformation under better control, people would have gone stir crazy if stuck with only corded phones and dial-up internet.

Obviously, social gatherings are employing Skype and Zoom, and video gaming has never been stronger, but I have been surprised how quickly geekdom has embraced the virtual tabletop scene. I have three friends that spend half of their week committed to a variety of virtual gaming events. 

Let’s start with tabletop role-playing games, specifically Dungeons & Dragons. There are many different websites offering services with the most popular clearly being Roll20, a platform even I have employed from time to time. Behind them would likely be Fantasy Grounds, a personal preference as they are one of the few sites that support my 5E title, Ultramodern5. There is also D20PRO (another supporter of mine), but when I did a Google search, I was astounded at offerings I hadn’t even heard of.  Foundry Virtual Tabletop. Astral Tabletop. Skirmish! Tableplot. Let’s Role. Talespire. Epic Table. Beyond Tabletop. And I know you’re going to say I am missing two, but I am holding those back for another 183 words.

Almost all of these employ the System Reference Document (or SRD) of Dungeons & Dragons to circumvent copyright. They offer premade adventures, character creation wizards, random number generators—basically every tool a GM or DM needs to run an adventure.  I admit I am not an expert on these platforms. I have used a few of them as I do prefer playing in person.  I only recently tried out Roll20, and like in real life, games are only as good as their group. However, it has been a fun experience as I seldom get a chance to play as a character (I have been a GM for 99% of my 35-year history with tabletop role-playing). If publishing a tabletop game, it’s almost as essential to get your system on one of these websites as it is to release it in stores.

Then we have the sites that replicate a board game experience (as there is a significant difference between that and pen & paper role-playing games), and there are a bunch of these as well. There is Board Game Arena, Yucata, BrettspielWelt, Tabletopia, Boite a Jeux, Happy Meeple, and Tabletop Simulator. Of those, there are claims that Board Game Arena has by far the largest player base. However, Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator are believed to be the better-looking sites.  I have personal experience with the latter two, and I will admit that Tabletopia is the most eye-catching site in this category, though registration is required and subscriptions mandatory if you want to host the majority of games on the site. Players entering a game you host don’t need to be paid subscribers, which is a godsend as it eliminates the barrier to entry. The games look great; there is impressive functionality.  However, Tabletopia isn’t the most stable platform. I would wager about 25% of games I hosted experienced a problem that made at least one player exit the game. On more than one occasion, I had a game I was hosting crash altogether. That being said, Tabletopia is the preferred platform for Kickstarter games wishing to show off their products to potential backers.

On the other hand, Tabletop Simulator is proving to be hugely popular for many gamers.  Although it does require to be purchased by all players, but once in, the number of games is massive. The reason for this involves the platform’s allowance for user-generated content.  Yes, users can submit games on Tabletop Simulator they don’t own the rights to. This has been controversial as you can still buy licensed games on the platform, but why pay when you can just get it for free, especially considering you paid for the program in the first place.

The point is the options are plentiful, and players have no excuse in not at least trying out some of these options.  Guaranteed, there will be a game you’ll want to play on a platform you’ll like, along with friends to play it with.  If you’re smart, you’re stuck inside, and what else do you have to do?