Board Games to play in self-isolation; Coronavirus, and how I learned to love the meeple

As I write this, humanity is entering uncharted territory. I say this not just because we stand on the precipice of an unprecedented global health crisis as the direct result of the Coronavirus, but also because the knock-on effects it will have on businesses, careers, families and more or less every other aspect of our lives will be significant and long-lasting.

Whether infected with the Coronavirus or not, hundreds of thousands of people will be expected to self-isolate away from public places, friends and loved ones in order to avoid spreading the virus, whilst those who actually are infected face even longer without contact from anyone. It won’t be long before this lack of human interaction — even the smallest microtransactions when making a purchase or thanking someone for handing over a drink — will take its toll on our mental health. Enter board games.

XCOM: The Board Game, set up and ready for play

I’m writing here to tell you that despite my best efforts over the past three years to make it seem as such, board gaming in itself is not important. What’s important is that through board games, card games and other “direct” interactions, many people fulfil their need for human interaction in an environment and setting that makes them feel comfortable. That’s what’s important about board gaming — it’s not the game itself, it’s who you play it with and how it makes you feel.

Whilst Coronavirus continues to affect the world, we need to find other ways to interact with each other that trigger the same feelings of fulfilment and satisfaction. For many, this void will be filled with videogames — and I can’t knock them for that — but for others, there has to be another way.

I’m not a doctor or a psychiatrist, but I think I know a thing or two about board games. For the rest of this article, I simply hope to make suggestions that might give you options to ease the boredom, loneliness, or lack of interaction that you might be feeling as the direct or indirect result of the Coronavirus.

I’m at home with my family, and we’re ill or self-isolating:

In this situation, you actually have the perfect captive audience for gaming, since in most cases you’re likely to be driving each other mad as you run out of options to entertain yourselves/one another. In this situation board games can give you a focal point that engages the brain in a positive way, and enables either cooperation and collaboration, or channelled and focused competition.

If you’re entirely new to board gaming, then a great place to start would be by checking out our previous “Introducing Your Friends To Tabletop – Which Games Are Best For New Players” article, which you can find by clicking on the title above. When I wrote that piece, I was specifically looking to include games that newer players might enjoy, and whilst there are now a number of other games that I might have included in the list, this is a good place to start.

If you are a video game fan and you’d like to take a break from your screen to spend some time with the family, then there are also a number of board games that specifically use video game mechanics, or that are based on popular IP’s such as DOOM or Fallout. You can find this list of games in my “Video Game Crossover — Which Tabletop Games Are Best For Digital Gamers?” article.

As a special mention, if you’re at home with just one spouse or loved one, then one of my favourite two-player games is Paris: La Cité De La Lumière, which I reviewed earlier this year and found to be absolutely captivating.

I’m at home on my own and I want to keep playing:

Solo play in board games is becoming more and more frequent, with a number of games actually focussed on solo play, and an even greater number that includes solo modes. Whilst we’ve never made a specific list of these games in a single article, we have reviewed several. If you’re at home alone and feeling ill or down, these games will help to keep your brain occupied with puzzle and thematic elements:

Cities: Skylines is a familiar brand for anyone who plays videogames, but in board game form, it’s also an enjoyable proposition. Since it is purely cooperative, Cities: Skylines – The Board Game can be played either solo or with friends, but in a specifically solo capacity, it’s all about building the best city and competing against your own high score.

Unbroken is a dedicated solo game that is simple to learn and fast to set up and reset. The possible downside given the specific context of self-isolation is that Unbroken is tough, and it has a relatively dark theme. Check it out if you want the excitement of facing down monsters and battling for survival, but steer clear if that sounds too grim to bear.

As a very direct alternative to Unbroken, it may also be worth taking a look at Set a Watch, which is very thematically and mechanically similar, and is also purely a solo game. In this one, the focus is slightly less on desperate survival and more on using team skills to great effect, but you’ll still be facing down a horde of terrible beasts.

Another title from the same designer as Cities: Skylines – The Board Game is Warhammer: Age of Sigmar: The Rise and Fall of Anvalor. This elaborately named game uses the full benefit of the Warhammer license to deliver a game in which one (or more) players chooses a faction and uses them to defend their citadel against seemingly endless hordes of enemy forces. Another dark theme, but one which is far less “personal” in feel than Unbroken, The Rise and Fall of Anvalor might appeal to fans of deep strategy games.

Whilst it seems that many of the solo games we’ve covered have the players tackling hordes of monsters, purely solo games do come with many different themes. One slightly heavier game that might appeal to the solo player with more time on their hands is Nemo’s War: Second Edition, which is a beautiful recent release that has several ready-made expansion packs should you enjoy the base game. In this one, you’ll pilot the Nautilus as Captain Nemo, managing your ship, crew and sanity as you tackle one of several objectives.

What about digital options? Can I still play with my friends?

Yes, of course you can. There are now hundreds of popular board games that have begun to make the switch over to digital formats. These digital versions generally allow both solo play and online multiplayer, with some being able to support local multiplayer via passing an iPad or controller, as well.

Before I dive into specifically digital board games however, let me also give you a couple of other options to consider. Firstly, the first time co-owner Dann Sullivan and I played Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, we did so over Skype, using two identical copies of the game. There are numerous games in the Sherlock Holmes series that would work in the same way, as well as a few other cooperative adventure games like T.I.M.E Stories. If you crave human interaction, then Skype or Google Hangouts could offer you a solution with this kind of game.

Linking the physical aspects of solo games and the idea of dedicated digital board games, it would be remiss of me not to mention Chronicles of Crime, which essentially covers both bases. This masterpiece from Lucky Duck Games has already been expanded twice, and there are three more expansions in the pipeline, so you’ll also have access to loads of content. As a solo or cooperative hybrid of digital and board game, this one strikes a happy medium for traditionalists and video game fans.

Getting into digital board games proper, you’ll have plenty to choose from. These digitised classics generally offer a low cost way to trial a board game that you’re interested in, but they do also open up access to multiplayer modes via the internet on most occasions.

If you have a Nintendo Switch, then you could cut your teeth on a classic like Catan, which is a slightly workmanlike take on the classic game, that at the very least does offer online multiplayer. If you’re feeling more adventurous and would like to check out a more modern take on the “eurogame” genre, then check out Dire Wolf Digital’s take on Raiders of the North Sea, which is a fantastic conversion of a great game.

Whilst there are certainly a lot more digital board games, two of my favourites that have excellent iOS and Steam versions are Yellow & Yangtze and Galaxy Trucker. Both of these games also have physical versions available, and the reviews I’ve provided links to cover both the digital and physical versions in quite a bit of detail.

Whilst the situation with Coronavirus continues to develop, the most important thing is that we all take the time to look after ourselves and our loved ones. First and foremost that means not spreading the virus further, and so whilst many of you will be tempted to use the extra time at home to meet with friends and arrange more games nights, I’d urge you to follow the local advice for your region.

To that end, most countries are still suggesting that people work from home, avoid busy or crowded places like pubs, bars and social events, and take care to wash their hands frequently. This can make playing board games challenging, but it’s also important to ensure that your mental health is taken care of, and so to that effect, I hope this article helps some people in some way to keep doing what they love or to find a new hobby that sustains them through troubling times.

CatanCities: SkylinesDoom: The Board GameFallout: The Board Game - New CaliforniaNemo's War: Second EditionParis: La Cité de la LumièreRaiders of the North SeaSet a WatchSherlock HolmesSpace TruckerT.I.M.EUnbrokenXCOM: The Board GameYellow & Yangtze
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  • Frank

    Great article! I will certainly check out some games… and playing Sherlock Holmes with two copies sounds really interesting. Will give that one a try 🙂

    One to add: Robinson Crusoe. One of the best solo experiences I ever had with a boardgame. Definitly recommended. And a lovely expansion which adds hours of fun!