There’s no doubt that the number of people playing board games has increased recently as everyone stays at home. This is great if you happen to live with a big family, but not if there is only you, or possibly just a couple. Fear not though as we’ve been working with a couple of board game fans to work out how you can still play your favourite family board games via Skype, Zoom, Teams or anything similar.
I can’t promise that this will work for every game in existence, but it certainly will for some. It might not be quite as easy as all sitting around one table, but needs must at a time like this.
How we do it and what you need
We’ve tried to keep this as simple as possible, but there are a few things that you will need. One party (the one with the physical game) will need two cameras. We do this by making use of a phone camera and a built in webcam on a laptop. The phone is mounted on a tripod to give a top down view of the game board.
All players will need a pair of dice (assuming the game requires them) and paper and a pen. The way we play is based on trust and remote players keep track of how much money they have and what cards etc they hold.
Choose your game
We started off our online gaming with a classic – Monopoly. We figured that everyone knew the rules and people were familiar with game play and what the board looked like.
It’s fair to say that some games will work and some won’t. Some games are far more physical than others. Some are just far too complicated. Others adapt well. So far we have managed to play Monopoly, Ratrace and Careers without any problems. Simple games like Snakes and Ladders and Ludo would also work and we’re busy trying to work our way through our extensive game collection to figure out which other ones would too.
Games that require players to take cards and keep them secret don’t adapt well, but a game in which the cards you hold are laid in front of you in plain view of other player are perfect.
You always need preparation, but this is particularly important if you are playing a game that not everyone is familiar with. We scanned in the rules and sent them to all players in advance, along with a high resolution photograph of the board. Where it was applicable (especially in Careers) we also scanned in a copy of the player score card so that remote players can print it out in advance.
It’s also really useful to agree the rules beforehand, especially if it’s something like Monopoly where each family plays slightly differently with their own “house rules”.
I’ve already mentioned that the party that have the game itself need two cameras. One should be set up with a top down view of the board and the other to see the player(s).
If using Skype (as we’ve done) you will need two Skype accounts at the end where the board is. One that can dial into the call from the top down cabers (the phone in our case) and one for the second camera (our laptop webcam). If you are using Zoom you just need two Zoom accounts and to connect via both.
The same is the case for Teams, but the disadvantage of Teams is that the screen can only show four people at once, so if you have 4 or more players it will cycle through the people on the call. It’s also possible to use FaceTime, WhatsApp video etc, but just make sure you’re using something that you can actually use on all devices.
Once the call is set up, make sure that at the end with two cameras you mute one microphone and one set of speakers so that you don’t create an audio feedback loop.
Once everything is set up you can get on with playing the game. As I mentioned before, trust its key, so please don’t play with someone that you know likes to cheat in order to win!
Agree the order of play at the start of the game and I strongly recommend the party with the board sit and arrange the people on their laptop screen so that they are all positioned in the order of play.
Remote players use paper and pen to keep track of their money and also any cards that they hold in the game. At the end with the board we also created a named pile for each remote player so that their money was put in the pile, and money taken from it when they had to pay for things. This also meant that we could check that the remote player and the pile tallied up at the end of the game.
Remote players also had their own dice to roll, or they cold use a phone dice app which would then announce what they roll and prevent any opportunity for cheating! One of our players recommends the Dice app on Google Play, which allows you up to 6 dice and also a special die, should the game require it.
Play then becomes pretty straight forward, but with the player(s) with the board moving all the playing pieces around and reading things out to the remote players. Cards picked up are held up to the camera to prove it is what you say and remote players are free to ask plenty of questions as they go along.
Just imagine that you’re playing with your Nan at Christmas and she can’t see very well and needs a little help keeping up and that’s basically what it’s like. Once you’ve played a couple of games with her you’re used to helping and it becomes second nature! Honestly, after the first 30 minutes of play you really don’t notice it being much different to a normal game with friends.
The Verdict on playing boards games via Zoom or Skype
It is completely possible to play board games over Skype or Zoom during lockdown.
We’re actually blown away by how easy some of these games translate to being played remotely. With us mainly collecting vintage family games we’ve found that many of these adapt really well to being played this way. It won’t work for everything, but by being selective you can certainly make it work and enjoy board games nights with family and friends with just a bit of extra preparation.
If you’ve found other games that work well this way then please do leave a comment below to let us know. I’d love to compile a big list of games that work.
Huge thanks to our friends Gary and Lee for taking part in this online board gaming experiment with us and here’s to many more online games nights, possibly even after lockdown. Happy board gaming!