Board Games via Skype

Hmm, that’s an interesting challenge. I’m sure I could search Google and find some board games that are routinely played via Skype, but let me ruminate on the problem a bit first.

How could this be done? I’ll think this through using Monopoly as an example.  One party (A) would set up the board and position the camera such that the other party (B) could see it; Party A would also be in charge of moving the pieces and placing houses/hotels onto the board.  Party B would roll their own dice, take deeds from their own set when purchasing property, and use their own bank.  When money was transferred from a player in one party to a player in the other, the debtor would return the sum to their bank and the creditor would take an equivalent amount from theirs.  When a player in Party B landed on a Chance or Community Chest space, a player in Party A would draw the card on his behalf and read it aloud.

As near as I can tell, Monopoly would work without requiring any modification to the game rules.  So would Carcassonne, if someone in Party A revealed tiles on behalf of the players in Party B and placed them (along with the associated meeples) in accordance with the wishes of the active players.  Viewing the board might be a pain for players in Party B, but it’s doable.

Here are a few others that use a central board, and would require parties to coordinate their moves/components, but could hypothetically be played via Skype:

The common denominator in the games above is the lack of hidden information. The problem comes when players draw items (such as cards) from a common pool (such as a deck), and these items are meant to be kept secret. Hence the exclusion of Settlers of Catan from the list above (development cards), and the main version of Agricola (Occupation and Minor Improvement cards).

To see why this is an issue let’s examine Scrabble, where each player has their own set of hidden tiles. Here again Party A could be in charge of the board, placing tiles onto the spaces dictated to them by the players in Party B.  But from where does a player in Party B draw to refill his hand?  If each party the tiles in their copy of the game, it messes up the distribution: you have twice as many Z’s etc., and you’ll have to play twice as long before you run out of tiles. If you only use one pool, and there are at least two players in each party, I can’t think of an easy way for a player in Party A to draw tiles on behalf of someone in Party B and communicate that information to them whilst keeping in secret from himself and others.

(If Party B was composed of only one person this could be done, though. Party A sets up a rack right in front of and facing the camera; replacement tiles are placed onto the rack without the drawing player looking at them. When the player on Party B plays, he indicates which tiles he’s using and where they should be placed, e.g. “the second, third, fifth, and sixth tiles from the left to spell ‘carbine’, intersecting ‘trundle’ at the ‘n’.”)

Given all this, the ideal game for playing over Skype would seem to be one without a central board, or common pool from which hidden items are taken. Dice games leap to mind, such as Roll Through the AgesDungeon Roll, and King of Tokyo (the superfluous board of which could be replaced by simply putting the in-Tokyo monsters in front of the camera).

Another category would be games in which each person plays from his own deck of cards. Dominion almost works (but when a player in one party bought a card, the other party would have to trash an identical card), as does Sentinels of the Multiverse (although the Villain and Environment decks are a “central board” of sorts).

Sentinels is also cooperative, which simplifies some aspects of playing over Skype. Other co-ops that should work well include Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, and Elder Sign.

What am I forgetting?

P.s. After posting I allowed myself to Google this topic, and there are fewer suggestions out there than I had anticipated. Most recommend playing via V.A.S.S.E.L. or similar service that mediates the game, with Skype there to facilitate the social aspect.

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10 comments.

  1. How about playing online versions of board games, but playing them together over Skype?

    Words With Friends comes to mind, you could set up Skype on your computer and then play Words With Friends on your iPhone. I believe there is also a networked version of Settlers of Catan that would work this way, but I haven’t looked into it very far.

    And there’s always chess, of course. It doesn’t exactly count as a board game I suppose, but people have been playing it remotely for a long time.

  2. Gauntlet of fools would probably work as all information is known. Same with Kingsburg, Tikal, and Pachisi. SmashUp would probably work, too, as players have deck choices early on, just one side would need to be the keeper of the bases decks.

    I think most of these games would work better with a setup at each end of the comms.

    RPG’s would work really well, too.

  3. A party game like Snake Oil would work; it has an Apples-to-Apples-ish game mechanic, but doesn’t require that people mix up their cards to conceal who played what. You might end up with some duplicate cards in players’ hands, but that’s not the end of the world.

  4. Thanks, Matthew! I, too, could have just Googled around, but it seemed more fun to bring this to you directly. :)

    The reason this even came up is because my husband and I used to play WoW with this couple; we’d all log into Ventrilo for some social time along with the game-playing time. But one guy’s WoW account got hacked, and we all kinda drifted into other pastimes, plus my severe tennis elbow makes it hard to play video games at that level.

    I will start floating some of these game ideas to our East Coast pals and see what we can come up with! I totally appreciate the suggestions from you commenters, too.

    I’ll do a little post-mortem if you like, to tell you what worked and where there were frustrations or pain points. :) To the fun!

  5. I think Suburbia, Blokus, Can’t Stop, and Pandemic would work. Rise of Augustus would work with two copies.

    Some games with hidden information could work if you briefly revealed it to the camera and all other players looked away.

    Some games could be easily modified to work such as Acquire or Alhambra with open stack.

    Party games with teams like Word on the Street would be good.

    Ultimately, I think playing online via iPad would be best. Online play could still be enhanced with Skype.

    Seems like there’s an opportunity for a Skype-specific game which utilizes the constraints of the video connection.

  6. I play games with a few friends over Google Hangouts every week.

    We use Vassal sometimes – the interface is kind of clunky and the modules can be frustrating to figure out, but we usually power through.

    When we’re feeling less forgiving, boardgamearena.com has quite a few good games, and it’s a lot easier to deal with.

    There are a few other similar sites, the notable one being brettspielwelt.de. BSW is…hard to pierce, especially if you don’t know German. We haven’t managed to play a game successfully there, but YMMV.

    I’ve thought about trying to play a board game with one of the tools for doing online RPGs like roll20.net. It wouldn’t fit for every game, but it might be doable for some. It’d definitely be a pain, though. They’re reasonably okay for actually playing RPGs, too.

  7. One I’ve played a number of times is Pathfinder. Sites like roll20 enable remote RPGs, but it’s not a casual/board game, of course. You could probably also do something like Cards Against Humanity. Duplication of cards isn’t as big a deal, and the person drawing the black card could discard a repeat and choose another, if s/he so chose.

  8. My family frequently plays Dungeons and Dragons via Skype with our mid-Western cousins. It’s as much about keeping the kids in touch as playing the game, but its good fun. We’ve been playing the same adventure for about 2 years.

  9. Another good co-op game that could work over Skype would be Castle Panic, since it is pretty much designed to be played with all the players cards face up on the table.

  10. There’s also Through the Ages, which was put up in a pretty good form at Boardgaming Online. One nice thing is being able to play a game over weeks, sort of like a play-by-mail.

    http://www.boardgaming-online.com/

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