All things considered, I am relatively new to modern board gaming but I have been exploring virtual vs IRL gaming.
I have been part of a game group for the last couple years. We would meet every other Tuesday down at the pub and play anything from Bananagrams to Smash Up! to Battle Wizards. It is safe to say that we have a wide and eclectic taste in games.
A typical game night would start with something quick and easy, to get those cogs turning and warmed up. Then we would progress onto something a little more complicated but one we still know, The Big Book of Madness being a firm favourite. Depending on how long the second game takes, we would either finish with something completely new or wind down with another quick game.
Naturally, I have not met up with my game group since March. In fact, our last meet was at my house for my birthday party. (I was lucky, my birthday fell just before lockdown!)
Thanks to Discord, we have been able to stay in touch and play Dungeons and Dragons during our usual game night slot and that is a slice of normality I have been very grateful for over these past months.
But it does not scratch that board game itch. An itch I did not realise just how badly I got until lockdown. There was only so much pestering my partner into playing Star Realms I could do! This is where the virtual table top has really come into play. Between Board Game Arena and Tabletop Simulator, I have been able to satisfy my need to play. Sort of.
The Virtual Table Top
There have been many great benefits to playing online.
Thanks to lockdown, my knowledge of modern board games has increased drastically.
I’ve gone from knowing a few beyond Monopoly and Scrabble to a veritable armada of game knowledge. Now, I have terms like “deck builder” and “worker placement” at my disposal to describe the games I like and search for new favourites. Since, I have discovered solo gaming, campaign board games, classics, new releases – and everything in between.
Personally, I find the online platforms are a fantastic (albeit lazy) way to learn games. I don’t have to worry about complicated scoring, that’s automatic. You also don’t have to worry about set up, you click a button and it’s done for you. I can focus my energy on what I need to do, what to click, where to place things. And I can do it as many times as I need to. When gaming in real life, you are restricted by time, set up, and the group desire. Where it might take me five consecutive plays to get a handle on a game, others in the group may already know it and want to move on after one play. Or vice versa.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, the point of game night is to enjoy yourself as much as possible. But I do find that it does make learning a new game difficult. I am one of those people who gets the game right at the end and immediately wants to replay and enjoy the whole thing again. This is where the online platform really comes into its element for me. I spent a whole day playing Carcassonne, trying all the different expansions and strategies kind strangers suggested. While possibly not the best use of my time, I really enjoyed myself. (Hey, it was lockdown, what else was I supposed to do?) As a result, Carcassonne is high on my list of games to buy as soon as I have the means. Plus all the expansions. What can I say; I’m a sucker for castles and dragons.
In fact, my “To Buy” list grows every day as a direct result of online gaming. Whether I am being introduced to new games by friends over Steam or clicking on one which looks pretty; it is the perfect opportunity to try before you buy. Seasons, Potion Explosion, Dice Forge, and Gaia are all waiting on my wish list. And that is just to name a few. I could fill this whole piece with just a long list of games I want to buy. But my shopping list does not make for interesting reading.
But it's Not All Fun and Games
Of course, with anything there are draw backs. It may be pretty cool to play with people across the world but the internet does allow for people to be mean for no reason.
It can be awfully off putting when learning a new game to have someone dismiss you in the chat. In a different language, no less. (Hello, Google translate is a thing!) Sure, most folk are lovely and it’s been wonderful to immerse myself into gaming communities. But you can’t beat a game night with your favourites.
I mean the people as much as the games. In my group, we have a hardcore, been part of the hobby for years member who brings wonderfully complicated games. We have a couple whose relatives keep donating ancient and bizarre games from decades ago. (And then we have me, the noob who only owns Patchwork but we won’t talk about that.) My point is, a wide range of games are brought to the table and we always have a great time.
The thing I miss most about gaming IRL are co-ops. I am not a massively competitive person. I was always the one who lost at games when I was growing up so I had to learn to be ok with losing or just not play at all. So when I learned about co-op games, it was like a whole new world had been opened to me. Complete with magic carpet and show tunes, I assure you.
With co-op games you need to be able to discuss tactics and strategies, which just does not work over the computer. Certainly not as well as with the physical game. Video chats can only do so much. You cannot enjoy the palpable tension of when you are so close to winning. The exhilaration of finally beating the board is dulled. It’s just not the same. A decent placeholder, sure, but not the same.
What is the Take Away?
Don’t mess with Maui when he’s on a break away?
Oh wait, we were talking games.
The take away here is that online and virtual gaming has been a great way to learn new games and keep the game night void sated. But you cannot beat the real physical game. From that exciting moment the first time you open the box, then punching all the tiles, and finally playing with all the beautifully crafted components; board games will always win. But virtual gaming does have some definite pros.
While my purse strings may disagree with this one, it is a fantastic way to get a handle on a game so that it is less of a risk when purchasing a copy.
I understand why games have the price tag they do – a lot goes into their design, production, and making the games durable – but as someone with a budget, sinking any amount of money into something can be galling. However, getting prior experience of a game is going to make it that much easier to click that “Add to Basket” button. And trust me, I will be clicking that “Add to Basket” button as soon as I can!
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