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How to Play Tabletop Games during a Pandemic

People gathering together in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic remains something to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Though meeting in person isn’t an option, there are options for people who still want to play their favorite board games and tabletop RPGs with friends. Check out our article How Extra Lifers Can Socially Distance and Gather Virtually.

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Here’s everything you need to make a digital board game night happen!

To get your digital game night started, first, you have to connect with your friend group. The best way to do this is with a voice chat application. This can be Skype, Discord, Zoom, or any other communication software. You will need a microphone at the very least and a camera if you feel extra photogenic. If you go with Discord, you should absolutely join the official Extra Life Discord community!

Once you’ve connected with your friends over your communications program of choice, it’s time to decide how you want to play your tabletop games! There are several great options for board games and tabletop RPGs out there, so let’s go over a few of them.

Tabletop Simulator

One of the most popular programs available on PC, Tabletop Simulator is a game that creates an environment around a digital table that multiple players can exist within. While the table comes stocked with a number of classic board games like chess and backgammon, the true lifeblood of Tabletop Simulator exists in the DLC and modding community.

Many board game developers have built digital versions of their games to be compatible with Tabletop Simulator. So many, in fact, that it can be overwhelming to find the right DLC or mod. If you aren’t familiar with how to download and implement mods, this might be daunting and confusing to learn. However, for those who can overcome that hurdle, the results in Tabletop Simulator deliver a game where players can manipulate pieces and cards in a digital space that even replicates the physics of those objects.

Tabletopia

If you are looking for something with a bit less tinkering, Tabletopia might be a perfect fit. The platform hosts over 1,000 board games ready to play online. These can be played in an internet browser on a computer or via an app on a tablet or smartphone obtained from Google Play or Apple’s App Store. The flexibility of Tabletopia allows people to play on whatever device they’d like as long as it has an internet connection.

For access to premium games, at least one person needs to have a Gold membership.

Another reason Tabletopia might be interesting: Game development. The site allows people to build their own digital board games with tools that don’t require extensive programming knowledge. This makes it a great platform for people who want to play games with their friends, see what all is out there, and try to make something new of their own.

BoardGameArena

For something with slightly more accessibility, check out BoardGameArena. Much like Tabletopia, it boasts an impressive collection of games that can be played on PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. However, one of the biggest distinguishing features of BoardGameArena is the ability to play on consoles like PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Wii U. While it doesn’t have game development capabilities, the differences in the interface from similar services might be enough to tip the scales in its favor.

Roll20

For those looking to run a tabletop RPG, Roll20 offers an incredibly robust set of tools. Not only can people communicate directly within Roll20’s desktop-based software and apps, but players can also use the service to run just about any tabletop RPG available. The site itself offers digital rule books that are directly integrated into their system, high-quality art assets to create maps, visuals, and a wide variety of ways to up the production quality or streamline the experience for players.

Game masters able to harness all of these tools will almost certainly be able to run a memorable campaign. Users can upload their own art assets or even implement scripts to automate game elements that might be tedious for the group.

Perhaps best of all for people tackling online play for the first time: Roll20 can be used for free. The company makes its money on people purchasing optional integrated content like art, maps, etc. However, the core features of Roll20 are available to everyone.

D&D Beyond

Launching in 2017, D&D Beyond represented Wizards of the Coast’s first foray into making their game available online along with rudimentary tools that enabled people to digitally play with friends. Over time, that idea has evolved and grown. Players can now download a fancy app on their phones or tablets, the site and app both include a high-quality dice roller, and a staggering amount of both official and homebrew content has become readily available. Brainstorming as a D&D Dungeon Master has never been easier than with a search bar connected to each individual entry in the monster manual, every 5e adventure at your fingertips, and a butt load of content made by other players.

The best part? Only the DM actually needs to buy the materials for the game. The DM can then turn on content sharing for their campaign and all players who join instantly gain access to everything the DM has at their disposal.


So, how are you going to play? #ExtraLifeTabletop Appreciation Weekend is the best time to gather virtually #ForTheKids and play some tabletop games.

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Don’t forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!