Taking Turns

Iain’s subscription to Boardgame Arena, and purchase of Tabletop Simulator, was paid for with his own money.

The last two years have seen a seismic change in the way the community interacts with games. As the Covid 19 pandemic shut stores, closed conventions, locked down local meetups, and put a finish to us visiting our friends, we turned to the virtual to scratch our tabletop gaming itch.

Sites like Tabletopia, Boardgame Arena, Roll 20, and others exploded in popularity, while programs allowing the recreation of the tabletop like Tabletop Simulator appeared in everyone’s digital gaming library.

As months dragged into years, it became clear that these virtual tabletops were going to become a permanent feature in the future of the hobby. Suddenly it was easier to try out crowdfunded games before dropping money on them, prototypes were easier and quicker to iterate on, out of print classics became playable, and a worldwide community could come together across a digital tabletop. The purchase of Boardgame Arena by the behemoth that is Asmodee, shows that even the big players have realised that some of the future of tabletop lies behind a computer screen.

I was initially using Tabletop Simulator, but as time marched on I found myself preferring the environs of Boardgame Arena. Here there was no carefully sculpted 3D facsimile of my table, but the site did a lot of the ‘busy work’ that can make even my favourite games drag from time to time. The fiddly maths, setup, and other mechanics to deal with the administration of games was gone, and all that was left was actually engaging with the mechanics.

Recently I have started to use the asynchronous feature Boardgame Arena, meaning games don’t have to be played in one sitting. They can be picked up and put down as the participants need to. It has been a revelation.

Regular readers of this site will know I don’t really get on with the euro school of game design, I don’t even really like the term. This type of design trends towards low direct interaction, low dramatic moments, excellent puzzles, but very much in the multiplayer solitaire style of design. I’ve tried a few of these over the years and only Lords of Waterdeep has passed muster with the group I cater for.

That said I’ve always been ‘Euro-Curious’ and I firmly believe that critics need to push themselves out of their comfort zone. I have found the asynchronous function of Boardgame Arena to be the perfect way to learn and play this style of game.

Feast for Odin in play

I’ve been playing with members of our Discord community and have been taking the attitude of saying “yes” to any game suggested. Learning each game has been down to the individuals involved, and I have found myself using the excellent ‘Watch it Played’ to give me just enough grasp of the mechanics to get going.

One of the really nice features of playing with friends is that we can set an unlimited time for play. This has two benefits:

  • I can read over all the parts of the board before deciding what to do. Vital in a complicated game like Feast for Odin.
  • There is no pressure to ‘get on with it’ on my turn as there would be if we were sat around a physical table.

These two things result in me being able to experiment. The first game of Feast for Odin I just pushed the buttons to see what would happen. Did I make mistakes? Of course I did. It felt like it mattered less though. That first game was a tutorial. With no setup and tear down time, no need for the host to take time to explain the rules, I felt there was more permission to ‘muck around’. I never had the uneasy feeling of wasting anyone’s time.

I’ve got some game of Feast for Odin under my belt, explored history in Tapestry, embarked on a visit to Teothiucan, and I’m eyeing up others in the genre. These games mostly have low direct interaction, with the exception of Tapestry maybe, making them a perfect fit for the asynchronous style of play.

In fact this is so much the case that I am driven to ask this question. Is the natural home of heavy euro style boardgames in online asynchronous play? They fit so perfectly and seem so much more accessible on these platforms, that maybe this is where they have always truly belonged. What do you think?

I encourage all of you to push yourself into using these platforms to try out new games. I’ve been enjoying a genre I don’t usually get on with, and getting to see what I like, and what I don’t, within it. It makes me a better gamer, a better critic, and more understanding of different people’s tastes. Diversity in experience is just as valuable as diversity of community.

If you would like to come and play games with me on BGA you can join our Discord or find me under ihmcallister on the BGA site.

Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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