I’ve been slowing down at reviewing. I’m finding I want to spend more time with games – games that are old, or I don’t really want to write up, I just want to play. I still have a few things in the pipeline – in fact, I’ve been meaning to share my thoughts on Oceans: Evolution and Dale of Merchants with you. I got a good bunch of plays under my belt, outlined some thoughts, was going to start writing more fully. But, March got weird. Here we are in 2020 enduring a pandemic of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. I’ve never lived through anything like this – through what will be a major part of history books someday soon. Through something that our pal Matt Leacock wrote an op-ed about, even! So I’m not really sure what to do with myself overall. And when it comes to gaming, things certainly have had to roll with the punches.
There’s a lot to be said about how board gaming and mental health intersect. Games allow us to congregate, to socialize using a conduit we are comfortable with. Games allow us the headspace to step away from things that are otherwise giving us anxiety or causing depression (or both!). So when the world throws us a pandemic curveball, that puts our collective mental health on high alert. When you combine that extra stress of life with the fact we now can’t congregate, it really leaves us all grasping for something or somehow to make things bearable. There’s a lot of folks who are self-isolating with families who are using gaming to great effect in their homes, but for a lot of us we’re missing our regular meetups, having friends over, and conventions are being postponed or cancelled.
So, I’m experiencing a lot of conflict about telling you about games right now. Do I want to review things and encourage you to pick them up? Maybe they’ll just sit on your shelf while we wait until gaming get togethers are a thing again. But also, why do I want to tell you about a game that you may spend money on when the world is topsy turvy and it’s hard to justify non-essential spending? It’s the devil and angel taking up residence on my heavy shoulders — on one hand, why wouldn’t you want to know about a game you’d be interested in trying? On the other, why would I encourage you to either spend, or get together for games? Extending beyond what I’ve already played to review, being someone who puts out board game content is a weird position to be in right now. Hot new games are waiting for the table, and I’m not sure when they’re going to get there for me to experience them and pass on my thoughts to you! And in general, they’re not on web platforms to play so I could even try to pivot to that to do my due diligence.
There’s a great bunch of stuff out there to play online though, and so I’m just trying to satisfy those parts of me as a gamer that love to play and chat with friends while I do that. A good while ago now I wrote up a piece about online play, which is still relevant to this day (although many platforms have added a lot more games now, and are beefing up their capacity for all of the players online right now). AnnaMaria over at Girls Game Shelf wrote up a guide on sites for online play that includes some I’d not heard of before, though! And you might not have seen Mikhail’s write up of games to play online, so check that out. A couple of weekends ago after a get-together on Zoom with friends I dashed together some thoughts about basic games to play that are accessible for most, including suggestions for ways to connect and chat with friends. And that latter part is really the key of us all shifting and adapting to online play – seeing each other and chatting around the “table” like we normally would. Physically distancing, but not socially. Unless I specifically organize it, I don’t normally play games online and boot up a video chat as well – it’s usually just a quick invite on a site and playing back and forth. But even your normally socially distant writer is missing her friends and adapting to compensate! And yes, I’ve not just played on sites like Yucata or BGA with friends as we chat, but also played through an app on my device while video chat is up on my laptop next to me. (If you want to read about my thoughts on apps for Android, my write ups are here from 2015, 2016 and 2019!)
And of course while a lot of us are getting digital, there’s a good chunk of folks still utilizing the analog. Families gaming together, obviously, but also solo gamers reveling in their natural surroundings, as well as some bridging the divide of doing play-alongs like a game of Welcome To – roll & writes are generally well-adapted to this setting, after all. There’s been publishers putting together bundles of games for sale, special releases and cool bonus content – someone has actually thrown together a geeklist on BGG with publisher offerings for Covid-19 stay at home gaming! One thing that’s clear is that we want to grab onto our hobby and our friends and co-conspirators and hold on for dear life, because it’s a lot of what’s keeping us going right now.
I do, however, want to wrap this up with a somewhat practical thought. While there’s a lot of consideration of this self-isolation period meaning we have extra lots of time to do things, it’s easy to forget that it’s just as important to take care of yourself and have downtime. I certainly don’t want people to expect more content out of me just because I’m not going anywhere and besides, what else is there to do? And I don’t want people to feel like they should be spending their free time organizing games and playing during their spare time, because we’re in a really stressful period right now. Be gentle to yourself – read, cook, laze, take a bath, watch video games, etc.. do whatever you need to. And mix that in with some games when you feel up to it, and feel up to socializing. When this is all done, we’ll learn how to get back to the table and into the groove of it all, don’t worry!