As most people adjust to staying at home during the coronavirus outbreak, many are realizing that there are only so many hours you can spend staring at screens each day. Board games are providing a natural reprieve and a way to be social with those you’re isolating or quarantining with.
Board game stores are seeing a surge in business and phone calls as we increasingly spend our time at home, so much so that, even before any local governments ordered the shutdown of nonessential businesses, businesses like the local chain of toy-and-game shops Child’s Play, Capitol Hill’s Labyrinth Game Shop and Silver Spring, Maryland’s Dice City Games had either closed their sales floors or converted shops to pickup or delivery only, with some even offering virtual shopping concierge services over video chat.
Games can teach us about the situation we’re in, particularly the cooperative strategy game Pandemic. “When you see the way this echoes out (in the game), you get to see why you probably should be staying in,” says Child’s Play owner Steven Aarons.
To help keep you occupied while inside, we asked Aarons, Labyrinth owner Kathleen Donahue and Dice City owner Jimmy Cooney to recommend games for different scenarios, whether you’re alone, with roommates, part of a couple, have children of differing ages or just want to play something with your friends online.
For people who live alone or anyone self-quarantining:
It’s up to you to catch a prisoner who is trying to escape from jail by digging tunnels in Bandito. Although the card game can be played cooperatively with up to four players, Donahue most often plays it solo. “I’ve been obsessively playing,” she says. “It’s really good for puzzle people who like strategy and spatial reasoning games.” The cards all have tunnels on them, some of which have multiple openings, and some of which lead to dead ends. On each turn, you must play a card, connecting tunnels as you go (amping up the replay value). “You’re trying to somehow manage to build this network of all of these cards, where they’re all dead ends or they all loop back on one another,” she says. “You’re trying to close off all of the openings, and sometimes it gets really hard.”
In this solo adventure card game based on the classic novel “Robinson Crusoe,” you are Friday and you’re trying to help Crusoe get off your island. “At the beginning, he’s not very skillful,” Donahue says. “He keeps coming across all these hazards. He needs your help fighting them, and to improve his abilities so that he can get skillful enough to leave your island.” Fans of strategy games like Catan will enjoy how challenging the game is – especially when they’re trying to kill time in isolation. “This is the first solo game I’ve ever played that feels like you’re playing a European-style game, but in a solitaire version,” Donahue says. “It’s a hard game to win.”
Four couples or roommates:
One timely and relevant choice for Washingtonians is the new two-player, card-driven game Watergate. One player takes on the role of President Richard Nixon, the other, a journalist: Together you relive the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s by drawing cards and trying to outwit each other. “Nixon can win a couple different ways,” Donohue says. “He wants to get the most influence or (control) the press, and the press is trying to connect informants with proof to get to Nixon.” The game can play out in different ways, allowing you to rewrite history. But depending on which cards are used – over a fast-paced 30 to 60 minutes of gameplay, it is grounded in reality. “All of the cards are based on truly historical things that happened, or people,” Donahue says. “I learned a ton when I played. I knew the basics and stuff, but there was a lot in there that I didn’t even know.”
For families with young kids:
– Monkey Around
If you’re looking for a game that a 2-year-old can play with slightly older siblings (and parents), Monkey Around is a strong choice because it encourages children to get up and move, Aarons says. Cards prompt players to make different movements – like hopping or marching – while holding a banana-shaped bean bag. “It’s good because 2-year-olds aren’t good at sitting,” Aarons says. “If you’ve got an older sibling, it’s going to be something that’s going to hold their interest more than some of the other things at that age.”
– Kids on Stage
Think of Kids on Stage as charades for children. Though it’s aimed at ages 3 to 5, the game has universal appeal. “What’s important is finding games that parents will more likely enjoy doing with the kids,” Aarons says. “Kids can tell when the parents are more engaged.” Players use a spinner to move around a board, then draw a card that has a simple line drawing of an object, animal or action that they then need to act out. “It’s really easy for the child to understand,” Aarons says, noting that it’s also good for building communication skills. “I actually can remember one time in my house where we had a 2-year-old, a 5-year-old, an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old all playing this together. Because it’s charades. And a 10-year-old will still play charades.”
For families with older kids (or group housemates):
– Sushi Go!
A card-drafting game modeled after 7 Wonders, Sushi Go! has a simple concept and a universal appeal, because of the cute, cartoonlike playing cards. “You’re in the restaurant and you’re trying to grab sushi as it goes by,” Cooney says. The object of the game, which is played over three rounds, is to collect different types of sushi to make maki rolls or sashimi sets, passing along cards you don’t want to your opponents. “Somebody who likes strategy games or heavier games, they’ll still play Sushi Go!,” Aarons says, noting that the game is recommended for ages 8 and up and can be played with 2 to 5 players. “People really respond well to games that are simple and easy to pick up,” Cooney adds. “It’s not Dungeons & Dragons. It’s not spirits and monsters. It’s just sushi. It gives you that sense of normalcy. And you probably aren’t going out to eat sushi right now, to be honest.”
– Say Anything
If you’re sick of playing Cards Against Humanity over and over, Bethesda-based North Star Games has a game that recalls that millennial mainstay. “Except it’s not dirty, but you can make it dirty if you want to,” Donahue says. Each round, a judge asks a question, like “What’s the one item you can’t live without during a quarantine?” and then everyone writes down their answer on an individual whiteboard. The answers are revealed and the round’s judge secretly picks their favorite answer, while everyone else tries to guess which they chose for points. “So even if I write down a really stupid one, or I think my answer is horrible, if I see something else I like, I can bet on it,” Donahue says. “It works out to where you’re actually encouraging people to vote for the one that they think other people are going to vote for. And it makes people think about who they are. That’s why I really love it for families, because it’s a great way to get teenagers to actually talk to you about stuff.”
For friends who can’t get together in real life:
– Dungeons & Dragons
$20 starter set
The timeless tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons is having a bit of a pop culture renaissance right now, according to Cooney, with new starter sets based on characters from Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and Adult Swim’s “Rick and Morty.” Although D&D is often thought of as being played in a basement stocked with Mountain Dew and Doritos, the experience easily translates to the digital space with videoconferencing apps such as Zoom: Everyone just needs a starter set that comes with a rule book, character info and dice. There’s even a new guide book, “Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount,” that’s based on a players’ group called Critical Role, which live-streams games on the video platform Twitch. “D&D is all about being a dungeon master, writing a story and setting up that story to challenge players to really use their logic, their wit to solve problems,” Cooney says. “D&D can be as abstract or as on the nose as you want. People are playing quarantine campaigns, some are playing in a completely utopian escapist world.” The game is also good for isolation because it can last as long as you want, useful in a time of uncertainty. “I’ve known some (campaigns) that go for years,” says Donahue, whose store is planning to host campaigns for customers via Zoom.