Victoria has designed Gladius, she co-owns Cat Quartet Games, and she worked for Wizards of the Coast!

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Adapting Games for Skype

For team building events, Victoria normally did things like play board games or video games in person or go for food. You can’t do those during a pandemic, so she originally tried playing Jackbox games with her coworkers. Eventually, they needed to do something else, so the idea to play board games over Skype came up.

The first game she tried was Just One. In the game, they basically had one person show the card to everyone, then they would all send their clues to a Clue Master who would take out any duplicates, then show the list of clues to everyone. The game was fundamentally the same, it simply required an additional step to deal with the online nature of the game. She even had 10-12 players play at once, as the regular game doesn’t go to that player count.

Adapting for the Virtual World

You want to design experiences and optimize them for the tools that you have. For instance, if you want to design a game to be played in Discord, you can utilize voice, video, and/or text channels. In fact, Discord can be a great option, as it can be a lot less awkward than playing some game in person.

Victoria has played online murder mystery games in Discord and they worked out really well, as the players can each have their PDFs in front of them for reference and it was a lot less stressful to approach people. In Discord, you can simply join a voice channel and hear the conversation that’s going on in the room, but it can be hard to do the same thing when you’re in person, especially if you’re shy or don’t know anyone else that’s playing.

With online gaming, there’s a lot less social anxiety and it can make for a more focused game. It can sometimes be easy to be distracted by minor things in a real-life game, like trying to figure out how to approach someone or how to find where other people are. If you don’t notice when certain people go into a room, you can miss out on a lot of a game! But with the virtual space, it’s a lot easier to keep track of everything and everyone. And hey, you don’t have to worry about your components getting Cheetos all over them from that one player…

Zoom or Skype VS TTS

Not every game is a good fit for Tabletop Simulator, and you don’t need to force every game to be on a more physics-based platform. You should challenge yourself to try to make different sorts of games that do interesting things.

For example, Victoria has played an audio-based escape room. At first, she wasn’t sure what it’d be like as escape rooms are so physical in nature, where you’re physically looking through a room and trying to figure things out. Instead of that, there was a person that described to you what you were seeing and you could ask them questions and have them interact with the room to see what would happen. It was really interesting as you could do things that you couldn’t in the real world, like time travel or have a really large physical space. With online tools, you can explore mechanisms that you wouldn’t be able to explore with a board game.

Virtual Playtesting

Playtesting has been extremely difficult since the pandemic started. There are definitely some nice things about virtual playtesting; for example, you don’t have to print and cut every time you want to make a change, you simply have to swap out digital assets! This saves a lot of hours that would otherwise be spent sleeving games. However, you do lose the ability to quickly update a game as you typically can’t just write on a card to change a number, alter a bit of text, or add an icon. This makes iterating small changes a bit more difficult than it would be with a physical prototype.

Also, fewer people enjoy online playtesting. It’s hard to stare at the computer all day and then keep doing that in your free time, and players just can’t play for as long as they would if they were playing in person.

One good part about virtual playtesting, though, is all the online communities. You no longer need to worry about location, as there’s a number of online communities with regular playtesting nights and regular online conventions. You can meet and interact with people that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to and experience conventions without spending a bunch of money.

TTS vs Tabletopia

Victoria uses both Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator, but for different reasons. For example, she only puts games on Tabletopia when they’re ready for the public to play. Tabletopia is free and can be easier for people to play who aren’t game designers. Tabletop Simulator is her go-to choice for games currently in development or for games with more features.

Games for Social Distancing

One of the downsides of board games going virtual is that a lot of people are staying inside all day. If you have a desk job on the computer, you no longer leave to go to meetings or to lunch, you just stay inside for everything. If you’re always on your computer or a video call, it’s nice to get a break from that by gaming outdoors a bit. There aren’t a lot of games that work outside, let alone at a distance, but it’s a less risky way to play games in person with friends as there’s more airflow than there would be inside.

Any games where you don’t have to see another player’s information can work well when each player is 6 feet away from each other. It also helps to not have any shared boards, as each player can be in their own area. It can also help to play games that you’re really familiar with as you won’t be yelling at each other to ask questions.

Victoria once played in a Photosynthesis tournament, and in a COVID-world, Photosynthesis is a terrific game choice for her. It’s easy to play and she doesn’t need to be that close to the game board to play well and enjoy the game.

One way to make things easier while playing games so far apart is to get into the habit of verbally announcing everything you’re doing in the game. It’s a hard habit to start, but once you’re used to doing this, it gets a lot easier. It also helps to form this habit from a playtesting perspective, so that’s another bonus!

Two Player Games

Two player games are almost always one player’s skills vs their opponent’s skills, which is rarely fun if one person is simply better at playing games. This is fine for some two player games, but you don’t want to limit yourself. Think about what you can do for players that have the skillset advantage to make the game different. For example, Fog of Love is a co-op in a sense, but the main point of the game isn’t whether you win or lose.

Last Advice

Since we’re stuck at home for a while, try to think of fun things you can do to level up your skills. You can take online classes, participate in or organize an online board game jam, or participate in all of the online discord communities. You might not be able to go to conventions or meetups in person, but there’s still a lot you can do to get further with game design.

You can follow Victoria on the following:

Originally posted at Punch Board Media