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Gaming Against All Odds

One of the weirdest things about this entire pandemic has been that, despite us all being kept apart and in our homes, tabletop games have been doing incredibly well. We all seem to be buying and playing more board games, trading card games and roleplaying games than ever before, despite seemingly not having anyone to play them with.

Fortunately, technology has helped us get around the small problem of a global pandemic, and there are now plenty of ways to play your favourite tabletop games online.

Magic: the Gathering

Born out of necessity, Spelltable was one of the best things to come to the Magic: the Gathering community last year. Featuring a whole suite of tools designed to make playing MTG over webcam as easy as possible, it’s completely revolutionised how people play the paper game during lockdown.

Spelltable allows you to find and host MTG games, and includes everything you need from tracking life totals and Commander damage to scanning and searching the MTG Oracle database for cards on your opponents’ tables. While it was made with the Commander in mind, it’s really easy to set it up to fit whatever format you prefer.

You don’t even need fancy equipment to play. If you’ve got a phone or a webcam, a stand (which you can make yourself out of any fat pack box) and a Wizards of the Coast account, setup is really simple. Log in, join the game, position your camera so that it’s giving a top-down view of your desk, and you’re good to go.

If you’ve got friends who also play, setting up is as simple as sending the link to the lobby you’ve made. If you need to find others to play with, there are tons of resources to help you out. Your local game shop might be hosting webcam events, especially around the launch of new sets or during Friday Night Magic, and the PlayEDH Discord channel lets you make games with tens of thousands of other players.

We’ve had a lot of fantastic sets come out during lockdown, such as Commander Legends, Time Spiral Remastered, Kaldheim and Zendikar Rising. It’d be a shame if all your cards from this era went unplayed until lockdown was over, making Spelltable an absolute lifesaver for any MTG player.

Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and other TCGs

While Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! don’t have their own versions of Spelltable, it’s still remarkably easy to get games going.

For these games, you’ll want a similar setup, with a camera (or phone) and stand giving a birds-eye view of your board. However, instead of Spelltable, you can use the dozens of different video calling options to get games going. Discord, Zoom and Skype are often the most popular ones by far, as they’re free and easy to use.

For Yu-Gi-Oh! players, a whole scheme has been set up in response to the pandemic. The Yu-Gi-Oh! Remote Duel program allows game shops to set up events over webcam, using the game’s official card database to make searching for cards a little bit easier. Either ask your local or go to the Remote Duel Discord server to get started.

For Pokemon, there are unfortunately fewer organised ways of playing. Your best bet is to scour the usual Pokemon TCG community spaces, such as Reddit and Discord, and see if people are willing to play there. Once you’ve found an opponent, the setup is the easy part!

Tabletop RPGs (Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Shadowrun etc.)

While you can pretty easily play tabletop RPGs over a simple voice chat, like shown below, there’s a site that can really elevate your sessions: Roll20.

Photo curtesy of Helen Rickell

Roll20 is a service that allows you to host, join and manage your games. Whether you’re a DM and want to be able to share maps and visuals with your players for a more immersive experience, or you’re a player who wants an efficient way to track your character, Roll20 is a fantastic resource.

If you’ve not already got a party to play with, Roll20 also lets you browse and join thousands of different games, with loads of them perfect for newcomers to the genre. There are even professional DMs who offer their skills and experience for a small cost.

One of the best bits of Roll20 is its marketplace, which lets you buy everything from small assets to build up your world to full campaign books. Whether it’s a big name like Dungeons & Dragons (and its latest adventure book, Candlekeep Mysteries), Pathfinder and Shadowrun, or even one of the many small, indie one-shot campaigns available, you can generally find anything you want pre-formatted to work perfectly with Roll20.

The pandemic has forced us all to get creative with how we play our favourite games. I’ve been playing a huge amount of MTG Commander through Spelltable, while my friends have been carrying on their weekly sessions through Roll20. When there’s a will, there’s a way, and there’s usually a community-made tool to make it even easier!

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