How I'm enjoying board games while social distancing

Board games on a shelf
Board games on a shelf (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

I have quite a few hobbies that I invest a lot of time into: dodgeball, photography, camping, etc. But no other hobby of mine comes close to bringing me as much joy or fulfillment as playing board games.

Getting a big group of friends together for a day filled with board gaming around a table about once every two weeks or so is a pastime I deeply cherish — however, the pandemic has forced those board games days to come to a halt. Even though certain jurisdictions are easing restrictions, many people still have concerns about spending long periods together in an enclosed place, and that's understandable. So I started looking at ways to enjoy my hobby yet remain socially distant, and I have found some great ways to enjoy board gaming without having to be in the same room as my friends.

Solo board games

Board gaming is often thought of as a group activity, but that's not always the case. There are a ton of board games that you can play by yourself without needing any other players. Solo board gaming has become much more popular in recent years — partly due to the challenges of getting a group together consistently — and the pandemic offered me to perfect opportunity to dive into the world of solo board gaming. When it comes to solo board gaming, there are three main types: games with solo variants, cooperative games that you can play solo, and games designed for solo play.

Games with solo variants

Roll Player Gameplay

Roll Player Gameplay (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

Lots of games are designed to be played with two or more players, all competing to win the game. Whether that be collecting certain resources, defeating the boss first, or in lots of cases, obtaining the most points throughout the game, the concept of winning usually requires competition. Some great and talented board game designers have begun creating solo variants for board games such as these.

A solo variant is a separate set of rules that a game designer creates that allows you to play a game that normally requires multiple players by yourself. Sometimes these solo variants have vastly different rules that make playing the game solo a much different experience, and other times, the solo variant rules can be pretty similar to the normal game with just a few tweaks.

The great thing about having some board games in your collection that have solo variants is that you can play them with friends and by yourself, meaning you'll likely be able to get the game to the table more often overall than a game that requires more people.

One of my favorite board games that has a solo variant is Roll Player because the game is very similar to playing the game with others and doesn't require a lot of set up or additional rules to learn.

Cooperative games that can be played solo

Marvel Champions Gameplay

Marvel Champions Gameplay (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

Cooperative games are some of my favorite types of board games to play because working as a team and sharing a victory feels so sweet — just remember you also share in the losses. The great thing about a lot of modern cooperative games is that they can be played with only one person.

Since cooperative games don't rely on competition to make the game work, they rely on cooperation against a common enemy or obstacle, and it's an easy format to modify for just a single player. Rather than having all your friends be your team members, you get to play the game and be your own team — it sounds a little lame, but I assure you it's not.

Many cooperative games don't even need any rule changes to work as a solo player game. Instead, lots of cooperative games rely on just scaling certain variables in the game to the numbers of players participating.

For example, one of my favorite cooperative games to play solo is Marvel Champions: The Card Game because whether I play it in a group or by myself, it delivers a tense and fantastic experience every time. When you play Marvel Champions: The Card Game by yourself, none of the rules change at all, the only thing that changes is how many hit points the villain has and how many times the villain gets to attack each round because both of those variables are tied to the number of players. The more players you have, the more hit point the villain has and the more attacks he can make.

Games designed for solo play

Aerion Gameplay

Aerion Gameplay (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

Last but certainly not least, some games are designed to be played by just one player. That means right out of the box; you can read the rules and be ready to play a great game, just be yourself.

While there are fewer of these games being made than the other two categories, more and more have been popping up in the market in recent years, and Aerion is one of my favorites.

I love Aerion because it's straightforward to learn, comes with seven different expansions in the box, and you can play a game in only about 20-30 minutes. In Aerion, you need to build six airships by rolling dice in specific combinations to pick up the necessary materials you need. When you don't roll the right dice combination, you need to start scrapping materials, making it a fun push-your-luck type scenario throughout the entire game.

Solo games are typically pretty tough, and a lot of them are like an intricate puzzle that requires lots of brainpower — it's a fantastic way to enjoy board gaming and flex that creative thinking.

Digital board games

Carcassone on iPad mini

Carcassone on iPad mini (Image credit: iMore)

Although a big appeal of board games is the tactile nature of the medium, digital board games offer quick and easy ways to play some of your favorite games. There's a ton of great board games apps that have been made over the years, and a lot of them can be played on an iPhone or iPad.

Massively popular games like Ticket to Ride and Carcasonne have great apps that let you play against real players around the world, or even against computer players so you can play whenever you want. Plus, digital board games save you the hassle of having to set up or tear down a game, a process, that depending on the game, can be tedious.

Best board game apps for iPhone and iPad

Playing board games over video chat

How to make group FaceTime calls on iPhone and iPad

How to make group FaceTime calls on iPhone and iPad (Image credit: iMore)

I'll admit, playing board games like this can be a bit clunky, but a big part of what makes board gaming, so fun is getting together for social time with your friends. Obviously, not all games can work this way, but you'll be surprised and what you can do with a little bit of effort.

When it comes to playing board games over video chat, the simpler the game, the smoother it's going to run. Games like Yahtzee, for example, just require everyone to have five six-sided dice and the Yahtzee sheet of paper — which is you can easily find online. Then you can talk, hang out, and roll dice in turn order as you play.

My friends and I even managed to play a game of Codenames over Google Meet by having a camera on the code words so everyone could see them, and the code givers where just two people in the same household so then could both see the answer sheet. It only requires one copy of the game and an extra camera, and it worked pretty well.

Your mileage will vary on how successful this may be with your gaming group and friends, but depending on just how much effort you're willing to put into your virtual gaming session, you'd be surprised at what games you may be able to play over video chat.

If you want some ideas, head over the board games subreddit on Reddit, and you can see how other people have been playing games remotely.

Keep on keeping on

Although this pandemic has made playing board games with my friend much more difficult, it hasn't completely cut me off from my favorite hobby. If you're interested in board gaming at all and have been feeling the same annoyances with keeping up with the hobby as I have, I hope this information helped.

If you're not into board gaming, but you have another hobby that has been affected by the pandemic, I urge you to try and think of creative ways you can still engage in that hobby. Can technology help? Are there apps for your hobby? Can I do my hobby by myself? All options are worth considering.

We're all adjusting to a new way of life for the time being, and finding ways to continue to enjoy the things we enjoy in a safe manner is necessary and healthy.

I encourage all of you to share your experiences on how you've adapted your hobby to fir in the current state of the world in the comments down below!

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.