Our Online Year
The past 18 months has been tough in countless ways for people. We’ve all suffered hardships like loss of income, loss of connections, and sadly, loss of life in some cases. With that perspective, it can make the loss of our regular hobby seem insignificant, but I’ve felt it, and if you’re reading this, I bet you’ve felt it a bit too.
Thankfully, the necessary lockdown measures didn’t mean a complete end to our ability to connect with friends, family, and even strangers and get some level of gaming fix. Tabletop Simulator (TTS) and Board Game Arena (BGA) have been helpful in a number of different ways for me. I approach gaming as both a fan and on a publishing team, and I can say for the sure that these programs got me through the pandemic.
As a Fan
I game with my friends. When I get together with my friends we’re likely going to play some games. In most cases that’s the reason we got together. Not being able to visit was tough, but it wasn’t long into the pandemic that I was introduced to Tabletop Simulator. I believe the first game I played was Quest for El Dorado. If you’ve never played a game on TTS, your first few can be exercises in clumsiness and frustration as you learn the physics of the virtual space. It’s a program that puts everyone in a digital space, in a forest, or a field, or even a church. Hey why not? The best part is that you’re sitting around a table playing Lords of Waterdeep, or Alien Frontiers, or Caylus. As you get to know TTS and its shortcuts, it gets a lot easier to use and overall much more enjoyable. I’d meet with my friends once or twice a week to play together and chat and laugh through Discord. Our board gaming fix got even easier when we discovered BGA. It started with fewer game options, but their library has been growing quickly. BGA has a lot simpler interface and while it’s not without its glitches, they’re minor in comparison to TTS. Best of all BGA is free for a standard membership (although I recommend spending the few bucks a month it costs for the full membership). On BGA, it’s much easier to find a game with strangers. I’ve had tons of fun on BGA playing everything from Puerto Rico, to Yahtzee, to 7 Wonders, and King of Tokyo. I even have a regular game of Splendor going with my folks.
As conditions around the world are improving and people are getting out and together more and more, I’m playing much less online games. My hobby gaming is reverting back to the real world and I’m so happy for that. Still, TTS and BGA were lifesavers for me. They provided a connection I sorely needed. I still hop on BGA and bang out games now and then.
As a Publisher
In my professional life, I work for Burnt Island Games and KTBG. Over the course of the pandemic, we had a few different titles go through the development, marketing, and Kickstarter stages. I can say with certainty that none of that would’ve been possible, or at least not successful without the use of TTS.
The first game we worked on at that time was In Too Deep, a sci-fi adventure game that needed a lot of development work. Complicating matters was the fact that co-designer Daryl Chow lives in Singapore. We made one attempt to play across Zoom, but it was quickly evident that that was not a solution. Moving to TTS saved the project and allowed us to make a game that we’re all really proud of.
We ended up working on a number of games in this fashion with designers all over the world. It made collaboration so much easier. In fact, it makes me wonder how we did development in the past without TTS. Over the year, Creature Comforts, Fall of the Mountain King, and Power Plants were all developed online (with some safe in-person sessions as well).
However, TTS didn’t just help with development. One of the best tools for promoting games is getting people to be able to play them. With the reduction or outright cancellation of major gaming events, we lost one of the most important methods for connecting with fans and introducing them to our games. Luckily, most shows successfully moved to online venues allowing us to set up demos from our own homes. Now, I would never want TTS to be the sole experience someone has with our games. They’re meant to be played in person. That’s one of the reasons we pay so much attention to the components choices we make. Games are tactile and TTS can’t replace that sensation. Still, being able to connect with gamers in some form and giving them the sense of how our games play is incredibly valuable. It salvaged a tough year and kept us going knowing that the work we were doing was resounding with people.
I’m sure many people had similar experiences with online games over the year, professionally and personally. I didn’t even mention some other platforms like Tabletopia and Yucata simply because I have much less experience with them. As we transition back to meeting in person (get vaccinated people), we’ll leave a lot of this digital world behind. However, it’s reassuring to know that we have a solution should we ever be forced into isolation again. It’s not perfect, but it allows our hobby to survive and even thrive under the most difficult of circumstances.