The teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. Their teammates try to guess words of the right color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin.
Codenames: win or lose, it's fun to figure out the clues.
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It doesn't need to be made only for two players but what works great at 2 players? One sneaky one that I like is Codenames actually. The alternate rules turn it into a coop and it's pretty fun to try and beat your own scores!
Since the beginning of March 2020, the single most popular landing page on Board Game Atlas was a simple forum post by user JamesReid860 titled "Good games to play over Zoom". And with a view count of 40.8K views to date, it's clear that board gamers all around the world are searching for ways to combat the physical distancing created by COVID-19.
Below, I put together a list that includes some of the most popular games from that forum post. It also includes commonly suggested games I've seen around other board game communities. Hope this helps make your next remote game night a success!
"Roll n Writes"
Whether or not roll and writes are still in fashion, there's no denying that it's one of the most suitable genres for remote play. Its low barrier to entry comes from simple rules, barebone number of components to manage, and often printable player/score sheets you can find online. Oh, and its near infinite player count. It only requires one person with the copy to point the camera onto the board state, while all other players come ready with their player sheet and a pencil (or pen) in hand. Besides the fact that you're not in the same room, it creates the same atmosphere of fun, relaxing game time that invites plenty of casual chatting.
"Players will become architects in the American 50's as they use combinations of cards and actions to construct the American dream real estate." (Also pictured at the top)
Tip: Players who are either unable to print out a player sheet or prefer digital can download the app and fill out the sheet digitally: iOS, Android. If it's an option, I'd always recommend going paper and pencil since that's the big part of the fun and relaxation.
"Players roll the Route dice and must then draw the subsequent results on their individual Route boards. Players score points for having long interconnected Routes, as well as connecting the entry points to their board, plus having Routes through the center of their boards."
"Each turn two ten-sided dice are rolled to make two 2-digit numbers. For example, a roll of 3 and 7 creates the numbers 37 and 73. All players write each of those numbers in a state on their map. The regions they can write in are restricted by three cards turned up in the middle of the table.
At the end of the game, each player draws a route on their map, starting with a low number and visiting adjacent states with higher and higher numbers. Players get a point for every state they visit.
Unlike roll and writes, word-based games may not support as high of a player count, but it's an ideal choice for large gatherings if you want people interacting together and getting to know how each person processes information. And while there are tons of word games out there, here are some of the best games to rise to the top (note that these games require hidden information and will require a bit of creativity and coordination work than roll and writes. I'll offer some tips for the harder ones).
"Just One is a cooperative party game in which you play together to discover as many mystery words as possible. Find the best clue to help your teammate. Be unique, as all identical clues will be cancelled!"
"The two rival spymasters know the secret identities of 25 agents. Their teammates know the agents only by their CODENAMES.
The teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. Their teammates try to guess words of the right color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin."
Tip: Have the player with the copy of the game setup the camera to give a top down view of the board state. Have all players download the Codenames Gadget App. The two spymasters for the round can generate an identical key card by entering the same code on the app (see images below).
"Wavelength is a social guessing game in which two teams compete to read each other's minds. Teams take turns rotating a dial to where they think a hidden bullseye is located on a spectrum. One of the players on your team — the Psychic — knows exactly where the bullseye is, and draws a card with a pair of binaries on it (such as: Job - Career, Rough - Smooth, Fantasy - Sci-Fi, Sad Song - Happy Song, etc). The Psychic must then provide a clue that is *conceptually* where the bullseye is located between those two binaries."
Tip: There was a recent post on Reddit where a user shared automated PowerPoint slides to help facilitate the game for remote play. This is the hottest word-based game around so don't glance over it! You can also check out Shut Up & Sit Down's latest review for their take on the game.
Bluffing games can be a hit or miss depending on the player's personality. You should really give this game a try though. One of the simplest, pure form of bluffing games around that's easy to DIY. You may be surprised to see who in your group has the biggest gambling spirit, or someone you probably shouldn't trust as often!
"Players will hold three rose cards and one skull. Add a card to the pile in front of you, and when you feel lucky, announce your challenge and declare how many cards you will flip. Cards that show a rose are safe, but if you expose your opponent's hidden skull, you lose one of your own cards. Keep your cards to the bitter end to win this clever game of deception and perception!"
Tip: Use coasters if you have them handy. Just make sure they have clearly distinguishable "front" and "back" sides that you can use as a rose/skull. You could also have the players bring out the artist in themselves and DIY the skulls and roses for fun.
With all that's happening around the world, maybe it's time to try out a game where you work together to accomplish the same objective? Note that these games will still require fiddling around to get the right camera view that captures the entire board state and the cards that each player has "drawn". The person who owns the copy will have to be more than willing to coordinate each player's moves, which will be quite frequent to be honest.
"Dare to discover Forbidden Island! Join a team of fearless adventurers on a do-or-die mission to capture four sacred treasures from the ruins of this perilous paradise. Your team will have to work together and make some pulse-pounding maneuvers, as the island will sink beneath every step! Race to collect the treasures and make a triumphant escape before you are swallowed into the watery abyss!"
Tip: Make sure to turn on some music to accompany the game! It will be a nice way to maintain a bit of the tension that gets lost from not having the tactile element of gameplay. Go to the linked game page and click on the melodice link to help you choose.
Pandemic (or whichever version you have really)
"In Pandemic, several virulent diseases have broken out simultaneously all over the world! The players are disease-fighting specialists whose mission is to treat disease hotspots while researching cures for each of four plagues before they get out of hand."
Tip: Similar advice as Forbidden Island. Plus, especially given the current times, be courteous and respectful of other players' decisions throughout gameplay. Besides, if a player makes a bad move, it will make the gameplay more "exciting".
If All Players Own a Copy
The games I'd recommend for this situation are similar in nature to roll and writes. Less player interaction, simultaneous turns, somewhat solitaire-like, but have satisfying gameplay. Here are the games that have been mentioned the most often. Games in this category may need a tiny bit of house ruling to address issues like limited resources and other minor issues, but it should work quite seamlessly.
"Toadstools, Mandrake, and African Death's Head Hawksmoth, Oh My! It is the 9-day Quedlinburg festival of quack doctors. Purchasing good ingredients for your brew can help you make the best "healing" ointments in the land, winning you fame and fortune! You can use that fortune to buy even more powerful ingredients to put into your pot. But be careful, one ingredient too many and your potion will explode!"
"In Tiny Towns, your town is represented by a 4x4 grid on which you will place resource cubes in specific layouts to construct buildings. Each building scores victory points (VPs) in a unique way. When no player can place any more resources or construct any buildings, the game ends, and any squares without a building are worth -1 VP. The player with the most VP wins!"
Tip: Unlike the way it looks, Tiny Towns is actually quite mean. The remote play will likely eliminate this aspect as players won't be able to observe one another's board state and try to ruin a good pattern. Actually, scratch that. If you really want to retain the usual dynamics of the game and don't mind not seeing each other's faces, then all players should point their camera toward their board.
Lastly, I wanted to give recognition to games that I wouldn't have thought of but were mentioned frequently enough that I thought it worthy to share.
"Have you ever had the desire to walk the streets of Victorian London with Sherlock Holmes in search of Professor Moriarty? To search the docks for the giant rat of Sumatra? To walk up Baker Street as the fog is rolling in and hear Holmes cry out, "Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot!"? Now you can! You can enter the opium den beneath the Bar of Gold, but beware, that may be Colonel Sebastian Moran lurking around the corner. You can capture the mystery and excitement of Holmes' London in this challenging and informative game. You, the player, will match your deductive abilities against your opponents and the master sleuth himself, Sherlock Holmes."
Tip: The publisher, Space Cowboys, have "material for remote play" available on their website. Here's the direct link to the google drive that contains the necessary resources. And here's the link to a comment by a Redditor who explained how his/her group approached playing this in remote.
Dungeons and Dragons
To be honest, I've never tried. But, it's been one of the most widely mentioned tabletop game options to play over video chat. Makes a lot of sense actually, and perhaps this may be the right moment for people who have been hesitant to jump on board!
And we're done! I hope at least one of these games will work out for your remote game night with friends and family. Stay safe everyone!
The table’s set, the guests invited, and music playing. “Nothing can go wrong with this game night” you think.
Until it inevitably does.
Planning a board game evening can be a massive ordeal and – time and time again – all of us keep running into the same issues and doing nothing about them.
So, here are the top ten mistakes everyone makes and some simple ways to fix them.
10. SETTING A FIXED START TIME
No matter where your evening is happening, we can guarantee that it’s going to take your friends time to arrive. Having a set start time can leave the lot of punctual people waiting for your friends to arrive and twiddling your thumbs. Try to set an hour or half-hour period for your friends to arrive and set up a games console or a few filler games to pass the time before the group appears in its entirety. This’ll keep things relaxed and create the perfect mood for the evening.
9. FAILING TO READING THE RULES
An absolute, complete cardinal sin. If you are hosting the evening, it’s essential that you know the rules of any games being played in full. This lets you teach efficiently and learning ‘as you go’ takes significant time. It can even border on being disrespectful if your friends have given up their evening to hang out. And – if you’re not teaching – try and learn the rules anyway. Along with giving you a winning edge, it can be incredibly useful when it comes to helping out with the rules explanation.
8. NOT HAVING BACKUP GAMES
You’ve got a game prepared, ready and…half the people pull out. Having a few back-up games for lower or higher player counts can help your evening go ahead despite disruption and not leave you forced to cancel. Some simple games like Codenames, Sheriff of Nottingham, and Decrypto can scale for a range of group sizes and be taught easily – letting you roll with the punches.
7. HAVING THE WRONG SNACKS
While it may be tempting to throw out bowls of sweets, chocolates, and crisps, we’d advise against it. Sweet foods can result in a sugar crash, making it difficult to make complex decisions or keep up with the state of play. A fantastic alternative is to provide your guests with dinner. Matt Lees of Shut Up and Sit Down produced a series called The Opener that includes simple recipes for hearty meals to accompany a night of gaming. This can help give the energy to support a long night and make ‘topping’ up with beer and other treats more palatable.
Are you interested in drinks? Check out TOP 10 GAMES AND THEIR ACCOMPANYING SPIRITS
6. NOT TAKING BREAKS
Even if you’re an iron-bladdered god amongst mortals that plays whole games of Twilight Imperium in one sitting, failing to encourage others at the table to take breaks will end up in disaster. We would recommend taking a five minute comfort break every hour or so and let people feel free to excuse themselves when needed. Remember that it’s important to be a flexible and generous host and accommodating your guests and speaking up for those that may be shy is essential.
5. FAILING TO PREPARE YOUR SPACE
No matter how much we may refuse to admit it, no one likes to play in a cluttered or messy room. A quick five or ten minute tidy can help square your materials away and ensure your game is set up and ready to play. Unfortunately, this can be a bit of a challenge for those of us living in smaller spaces or with limited time when coming back from work. Thankfully, rathskellers range of gaming tables are custom built for different room sizes, letting you make the most of smaller spaces or let your bigger rooms truly sing – speeding up set-up and breakdown after a long night.
4. NOT CONSIDERING DIFFICULTY
If your group is relatively new to gaming or struggles with complex rules, it’s probably best to avoid springing something difficult on them. If you’re not sure about what games to try, we would always recommend reviewing the complexity scores for each on BoardGameGeek. This tracks the overall ‘challenge’ of a game, including rules complexity, edge cases, and overall depth and effort. Anything ranked 1 or below is great for kids or younger groups. 1-2 is great for novices or groups looking for a simple gaming experience. 2- 3 is the sweet spot for many, offering depth without asking too much of new players. 3 and up is for groups that are familiar with heavier games, and anything ranked 4 or higher is not to be attempted without a hazmat suit and a set of prayer beads.
3. NOT CONSIDERING GAME TIME
One of the biggest disappointments for a games night is having to pull the plug before the end is even reached. A simple fix is to check the running time on the box and factor in any additional variables for your evening. For example, if you’re playing the Arkham Horror LCG, each player adds roughly an hour to the overall play time and first-time plays can take significantly longer if you’re not familiar with the rules. If the game can’t comfortably fit into the time available, maybe it’s better trying something else.
2. NOT KNOWING WHEN TO PULL THE PLUG
The one thing worse than cancelling a game night is holding one where people get tired, bored, and end up going through the options. This can be helped by letting players play an initial round and then ‘checking in’ to see if they’re still enjoying it or if they want to stop. Remember, while playing games is fun, the most important thing is to have a good time with your friends. And if that means playing something else, stopping the evening early, or just going to the pub – that’s fine too.
1. FAILING TO KEEP A DATE
Board games are unique in that they need a certain number of individuals to physically turn up to play them. Wrangling a night with a bunch of friends at short notice is incredibly difficult, which is why we would always recommend agreeing to hold a regular meet. This straightforward trick lets you play longer games, remain flexible to life changes, and avoid last minute disappointments. Once a month is manageable for most, letting you quickly build familiarity with a stable of games or share hosting duties. And it removes the stress of planning for the one organized person in the group. Try it, you’ll be surprised just how effective it is.
One of the hottest topics in the upcoming months will be the Spiel des Jahres 2020. If you're not familiar with this, here's an excellent article by user Isaiah Kim that will quickly get you up to date.
Widely regarded as the most prestigious award in the board game industry, this annual German award actually encompasses three separate categories:
- Spiel des Jahres: "Family-style" Game of the Year
- Kennerspiel des Jahres: Connoisseur-Enthusiast Game of the Year
- Kinderspiel des Jahres: Children's Game of the Year
The nominees for each of these categories are typically announced in May. And soon enough, you'll notice discussion threads popping up all over the various online board game communities, covering topics such as speculations of the nominees, predictions on which games will win it all, and possibly some complaints voiced here and there.
But in the end, the significance of this award is not just in the prestige. It's one of the major drivers in a game's number of sales, and a nomination alone can boost sales from a typical 500-3000 copies to 10,000 copies. A winner can even expect additional sales in the 100,000's.
With this in mind, here's a look at the Spiel's impact on the amount of exposure to its associated games. My method is identical to the one I used in my article A Look at the History of Shut Up & Sit Down's Impact on Board Game Trends, where I compared the number of views on a game page a week before vs. a week after SU&SD's review, and presented the % increase in traffic after looking into their 100+ reviews. (Note: I will only cover the winners starting from year 2014, as our database can't go as far back. I'm also leaving out Kinderspiel des Jahres, as I found it more difficult to see a significant impact on traffic to the game pages).
SDJ Winner - Camel Up (+640%)
Chaotic camel racing game where the players aren't the camels, but are the bidders in the race. On top of the camels' bizarre tendency to carry each other on their backs when they land on the same space, each player has a stake in the race and will do their best to intervene with the outcome. In the words of user nealkfrank, the ending of this game is like "Mario Kart of the board gaming world" in its unpredictability till its last moment. And the 2nd edition from Eggertspiele only adds onto this chaos by introducing "crazy camels" that run backward.
Rank: (2nd edition) #93 Family on BGG
KDJ Winner - Istanbul (+82%)
In Istanbul, players are merchants weaving around the alleys of the bazaar collecting rubies by delivering as many goods with their assistants. It will test your ability to efficiently manage your assistants to do your bidding while you go off to take care of bigger items. Of the games listed in this article, it has the highest complexity rating on BGG (2.59).
If you've never tried, you can find the digital adaptation on numerous platforms including iOS, Android, Steam, and even the Nintendo Switch.
Rank: #90 Strategy and #105 Overall on BGG
SDJ Winner - Colt Express (+1020%)
In Colt Express, players are bandits competing to become the richest outlaw in the Old West. All players are on a 3-D train and start out the Schemin' phase by "programming" a number of actions they will take for the round. Once the Stealin' phase commences, you can sit back and watch how everyone's best laid plans are soon foiled as the silly antics take place.
Rank: #81 Family on BGG
KDJ Winner - Broom Service (+300%)
As witches, players manage a handful of cards to gather potions and deliver them throughout the magical realm.
Rank: #91 Family, #290 Strategy, #459 Overall
SDJ Winner - Codenames (+29%)
This is a competitive word game where two opposing teams compete to get in contact with all of their secret agents first by discovering their codenames. Each team has an assigned Spymaster who possesses a key card that reveals the location of all of the team's agents, and he/she must give a one word clue to help the team discover their agents. Take a risk by offering a clue that will point to as many of the secret agents, but you may unintentionally alert the assassin instead.
Undoubtedly the most commercially successful game in this list, the simplicity of Codenames' formula has produced 10 different sequels and variations over the years, featuring themes such as Harry Potter, Disney, Marvel, and others.
Rank: #2 Party and #75 Overall on BGG
KDJ Winner - Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King (+196%)
As chieftains of famous clans, players compete to build the best kingdom by laying tiles of different terrains.
Rank: #23 Family, #138 Strategy, and #177 Overall on BGG
SDJ Winner - Kingdomino (+180%)
In Kingdomino, players compete as lords trying to acquire the best plot of land/terrain to expand their kingdom. Each additional land is represented by domino-like tiles with two sections, which can be added onto the kingdom by laying the tile so that at least one of the sections is adjacent to an existing, matching terrain. Players can't expand past a size of a 5x5 grid. Quick, simple, but satisfying puzzle game for the family with expansions and variants to increase difficulty and complexity.
Rank: #33 Family and #211 Overall
KDJ Winner - Exit: The Game (+167%)
Escape room experience in a box. Players work cooperatively to solve numerous puzzles by gathering different clues and objects. The award was given to three different Exit games at the time.
Rank: #19 Family, #42 Thematic, #195 Overall on BGG
SDJ Winner - Azul (+168%)
In Azul, players are tile-laying artists who draft various colored tiles from a shared supply to decorate their walls. Grab as many tiles as possible to make the best patterns and combos, but take too much and you will pay a heavy price for any wasted tiles.
Like many other Spiel des Jahres winners, Azul is a family classic with great staying power. It may not be for everyone though, because it does invite some potential for mean plays. And lastly, the starburst-like tiles provide some of the best tactile experiences you'll find in board games.
Rank: #1 Abstract, #2 Family, and #42 Overall on BGG
KDJ Winner - The Quacks of Quedlinburg (+2391%)
In Quacks, each player takes on the role of a charlatan trying to make money by selling off your other worldly potions. Players will simultaneously draw one ingredient from their bag and throw it into the their own pot, and the more ingredients you manage to fit into your cauldron, the higher its value. Be careful though, because if you draw one too many cherry bombs, your pot will explode and set you back for the round. Will you take the risk and keep brewing your mixture to experience the thrill of drawing those perfect ingredients? or bust and have less money to spend on quality ingredients to help your next batch?
This game introduced me to the bag-building mechanic and I immediately fell in love. It's a nice balance that satisfies the thrill seekers and those who love engine-building. This one was almost completely off the map on our 2018 google analytics until the Spiel announcement.
Rank: #7 Family and #83 Overall on BGG
SDJ Winner - Just One (+259%)
Just One is a cooperative word game where you and your team will take turns to help each other guess 13 different words. The catch is that the guesser will only have unique clues to go by, so before the big reveal of the clues, the teammates have to throw out all identical ones. So if the word is "Alcatraz" and the clues were "SF," "island," "prison," and "SF," you will have to guess the word based on the remaining clues "island" and "prison". That's on the tame side though—would you be able to guess "Mario" based on "red" after the clue "plumber" is thrown out?
I love the simplicity of Just One, and like many other word games, it immediately gets everyone trying to read each others' minds and anticipate their every move. And with only 13 word cards for the round, your group will likely want to go for another round right away to challenge your high score.
It's a great sign for success if it continues to sell out every time it comes back on the shelf at Target.
Rank: #3 Party and #182 Overall on BGG
KDJ Winner - Wingspan (+43%)
Wingspan was the talk of 2019. Contrary to its charming and harmless theme, it was a subject of extreme controversy but also adoration, and perhaps the most influential board game of 2019 in its ability to draw in an entirely new group of people into the hobby. It was featured across numerous non-board game media and sparked the interest of those in the sectors of science, nature studies, bird enthusiasts, and more.
It's a brilliant package that gets the details just right. It may not be the best game, or the most innovative, but Wingspan is proof that attention to the small details go a long way. Plus, it comes with a great story of Elizabeth Hargrave and her advocacy for more female presence in the industry, as well as the friendship of the two international artists who have known each other since school years.
Rank: #1 Family, #22 Strategy, and #20 Overall on BGG
This thought came to me from another post, so I thought I'd ask: What's your go-to gateway game when playing with people unfamiliar with modern board games? Of course, this will most likely vary depending on the person/people you're playing with, but I'm always curious to see what you guys find successful.
For me, here are some that are always hits (and again, I wouldn't play some with certain people):
- Survive: Escape from Atlantis
- Camel Up
- Castle Panic
- Colt Express
- King of Tokyo
I know, I know...that's a big list. But again, each of these fits well with a specific personality. The thing all these have in common is that they're relatively simple to learn, yet are very engaging, and I think that's important. What do you like to pull out for new gamers?
[Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition, Forbidden Island, Pandemic, Forbidden Desert, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases,...]
[Sheriff of Nottingham, Arkham Horror: The Card Game, Decrypto, Codenames]
[Wingspan, Kingdomino, Codenames, The Quacks of Quedlinburg, Just One, Istanbul, Broom Service, Exit: The Abandoned Cabin, Colt Express, Azul, Exit: Th...]