Remote Board Gaming

I didn't get into board games until I started grad school and met, among many other board gamers, my friends P&H.  These are the kinds of board gamers who maintain their own cabinets of games, consistently sorted by title, size, or (most recently), color.  They are active in their local board game conventions, they host board game nights at their house, and P even writes some of his own games (some of which may appear in future posts).  They were excellent conduits into the world of board gaming.

As life tends to, we ended up far away from each other.  I've been on the East Coast for almost two decades now, and they made their way back to their original West Coast homes.  As a result, our opportunities to play board games together became limited to the increasingly infrequent visits we'd make to each other.  We started trying out the online version of some of our favorite games, like Ticket to Ride.  However, while it supported the strategic aspects of game playing, the social aspects were lacking, even when we supplemented the game app with the phone or Skype.  It also limited our game playing to those that have active apps, and those weren't always the ones we wanted to play a lot of.

A few years ago, however, we decided to try our hand at playing remotely over video teleconferencing.  After trying out Skype and Facetime, we have settled on Google Hangouts as the medium, but really, any of these services will do.  We typically have three cameras going: one on me, one on P&H, and one on the main board, which invariably P&H maintain.  However, though we keep a camera on that board, we've found it important to keep local copies at the remote site (which in my case, is my place) as well, which means the ease of synchronizing those boards is important when selecting a game to play remotely.  Other requirements include having open resource collection (randomly drawing from a common deck is just impossible to keep synchronized, at least without sacrificing the hidden resource aspects).  Because this is an opportunity for us to catch up with each other despite our busy lives, it's also useful to have a social aspect to the game, which makes cooperative games very attractive.

P&H go a little beyond me in setting up for remote gaming.
I just have a laptop going on my dining room table.

Below I list the games we've played so far in our monthly get togethers (there are only six because we typically play each game multiple months in a row: Fury of Dracula, the first game we played in this manner, last us almost an entire year before we moved on to other options).  You'll find them ranked in order of ease of playing across multiple remote sites and should not be misconstrued as a ranking of how fun each game is (they're all fun, but really, I will never turn down an opportunity to play Flash Point, and it's only number 3 on this list).

1. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

Players may keep their own investigator notebooks
or work with a shared murder board.
SHCD is not strictly a board game per se, and its lack of board means it lends itself very nicely to remote gaming.  It's a cooperative game in which the players attempt to solve a Holmesian mystery in as few leads as possible, matching up performance with the great detective himself.  Each player takes a turn as the lead investigator, deciding which lead to follow up on that turn, then looking up in the casebook what information they find at that location.  When the investigators decide they know enough to solve the crime, they stop, answer a number of questions in the back of the casebook, find out what Holmes did to solve the case, and take score.  It works best if each site involved has its own copy of the game so that everyone has the ability to look directly at the map of London and the casebook.

2. Fury of Dracula

It's useful to add atmosphere to the game, though playing in the dark
kind of defeats the point of videoconferencing the game.
This was actually the first game we played over VTC.  Given its hidden movement aspects, Fury of Dracula lends itself nicely to having the players be in different locations.  One player is Dracula, moving stealthily (he hopes) across Europe while the other players, in the roles of vampire hunters directly from Stoker, try to track him down and end the threat before the Count becomes too powerful.  Since I was in one location and my friends were in another, we found it logistically easiest to have me play Dracula every time, which got a little old over time.  This allowed Dracula to set up his board in the relative open (the Dracula board was not being videoconferenced), tracking hunter movement on his own board as well, while the hunters were able to use their board to track their own movement, the information they had regarding Dracula and his minions, and any theories they had about Dracula's movements.  The only board synchronization needed is when the hunters discover something in a city or when they are able to find out one or more cards in Dracula's trail.  Over the course of several games, we explored different combinations of strategies, such as Dracula trying to hide for as long as possible or Dracula attempting to attack poorly equipped hunters early.

3. Flash Point: Fire Rescue

We've survived some pretty close calls over time.  We've also
failed to survive some pretty close calls as well.
While most remote games require boards at each site that are mirrored at least to some degree, we found it was not needed for Flash Point.  The board and pieces are big enough that we were able to play with my friends' board on camera, while I wielded nothing but the requisite pair of dice on my end.  The cooperative nature of the game, in which each player plays a firefighter attempting to put out flames and rescue victims before the structure afire collapses, lends itself well to a friendly get together.  The game has high replayability, and it's our go-to any time plans for another game go awry.

4. Concordia

Concordia supports remote game play by keeping the
knowledge of which cards each player has common.
Concordia starts the set of games needing some degree of synchronized, mirrored boards across sites.  Players compete with each other to amass the most powerful business empire in the Roman Age, taking turns playing action cards that establish colonies and effect trade in different ways.  To effectively manage the game across the video link, each site needs to keep a copy of the overall board as well as the stores of each player.  In our games, I would sometimes try letting up on the synchronization and just using the video feed of the remote board, but it became very easy to lose track of board progress that way.  In terms of synchronization challenges, the only aspect that requires specific bookkeeping are the assortment of action cards placed on the board for open purchase.  However, the amount of work to keep this up is minimal, as the cards are randomized in subsets, making search for the next card to place on the board straightforward and quick to accomplish.

5. Lewis and Clark

Blessed are the games that
number their cards to make
synchronizing them easy.
Lewis and Clark scratches a history itch that we all share, and I'm particularly interested in the Lewis and Clark expedition.  In this game, players control a portion of the expedition's crew in a race through rivers and mountains out to the Pacific Ocean, recruiting helpers, trading for supplies, and building the expedition's transportation capabilities over time.  The game is relatively easy to keep synched across sites, with the one challenge being keeping the cards that are commonly available for acquisition by the players, which are numbered and require a short search (made shorter if you put in the effort to keep the secondary sites' decks sorted).  Over time, it became easier to not synchronize everything from the primary board, tracking through the video which meeples are placed where, but maintaining a local copy of the card layout to make examining them to decide which to recruit into the expedition.

6. Castles of Burgundy

See those little numbers at the bottom of several tiles?
Yeah, they create a lot of work.  So does the fact that each
farm animal tile is unique.
Castles of Burgundy is a nice tile placement game that supports remote gaming because all resources are common but the tile placement is individual, with each player maintaining their own mini-board.  We played this with the main central board synchronized across sites with each player maintaining their own personal mini-board.  Synchronizing all the mini-boards would increase the complexity of keeping the game straight significantly.  As it is, the sheer number of different types of pieces that might be put out on the board, especially the innovation tiles, which are individually numbered, makes it a lot of work to keep the boards synchronized.  The wide variety of strategies each player can adopt increases the replayability of the game, probably beyond that of Concordia and Lewis and Clark, but Castles is ranked last of the options because of how much setup work is required to make keeping boards synchronized possible.

JL Franke is a fan of both hard science fiction and hard fantasy.  He has been collecting comics for over 40 years and has been an on-and-off active member of online fandom for 25.  Those interested can find other writings at his personal blog,  When not geeking out, you may find him at a baseball park or cheering on his favorite college and pro football teams.  In his spare time, he is chief scientist for a research and development laboratory somewhere in the Washington, DC greater metropolitan area.

Remote Board Gaming Remote Board Gaming Reviewed by JL Franke on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 Rating: 5
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