For the last eight years or so, public services librarian Brandon Priddy has been hosting game nights for teens and adults on Tuesdays at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library. As with just about everything else in our lives, Game Night has had to make some tweaks to the routine. In March, 2020, Priddy moved the event online.
“At first we experimented with setting up a camera pointing down at a physical game board while everyone joined on Skype,” he said, “but we quickly decided that online versions of board games combined with Zoom was much easier for us to use as a group.”
According to a June 2020 Nielsen report, online gaming has spiked dramatically worldwide since last March, increasing by 46 percent in the U.S., with increases of 41 percent in France, 28 percent in the U.K. and 23 percent in Germany.
Priddy has a core group of about 10 regular players who made the switch to online. They are joined by a few occasionals, which pretty much approximates the in-person response.
“I’d say the average attendance is slightly but not significantly smaller,” said Inglewood Drive resident Margaret Kroehler. Kroehler started going to game night three or four years ago, “made some friends who enjoy playing games together,” and realized she definitely wanted to continue.
The beginning was a little rough, she said. Like many of us, Kroehler was a stranger to Zoom last March, but she didn’t want to miss out, so she mastered the online meeting platform.
Her current favorite is Kingdom Builder, a strategy game where players compete for resources in order to build the richest kingdom. The game has a choice of several boards that represent different terrains and present unique challenges. Others include games such as Carcassone and Splendor, that often remain competitive up the end, without one or two players achieving an early, uncatchable lead.
“We’ve played a lot of Kingdom Builder, Seven Wonders, Welcome To, Sushi Go! Concept and Small Islands, to name a few,” Priddy said.
Priddy uses the Board Game Arena website—it offers a mix of free games and games that require a paid account with a minimal monthly fee.
“The good news there is that only one person has to be a paid subscriber and they can host the game free for everyone else,” he said.
“I try to offer free games as much as possible to avoid creating a barrier to entry for registrants. There are several games that would be great to play, but I don’t want everyone to have to pay $20+ just to be able to play with us.
“(Board Game Arena) is the best resource I’ve found for more European style strategy games compared to party games. We enjoy both styles of games, but sometimes we want variety, depending on the mood that night.
Priddy has also found free online versions Code Names and Scattergories, two more favorites , and arranges several games through Jackbox, another hosting site.
“Several of us own different versions of the JackBox series, and only one person needs to host the game and everyone else can join for free using their phone or computer,” said Priddy.
Jackbox provides games of trivia, drawing and fill-in-the-blank games. “We’ve even branched out to play video games, such as Among Us, which is quite popular right now and fairly inexpensive at $5 or a free mobile app version. There’s also Tabletop Simulator on Steam, but that’s much more expensive for everyone to be able to use,” he said.
Lebanon Hills Drive residents Sarah Gaffen, Chris Mullin and their son, Harry Mullin, have made the transition to online. They’ve kept up with the other regulars, and some newcomers who come and go. Harry, a junior at Mt. Lebanon High School, is often the youngest player.
“We have a nice group,” Sarah said. “We would love to get more people doing it, but by now I think people may be suffering from Zoom fatigue.”
Sarah and her family enjoy a mix of games, from the fast-moving Drawple, Quiplash and Melodrama, to longer, strategy-based games. The family favorite is one that doesn’t easily translate to an online form—Catan. The award-winning game, with several variants, is one in which players trade and compete for resources in order to build the most cities and settlements. They’re such big fans that they even constructed a custom wooden gameboard.
Whatever form game night takes, Sarah will be there. “You can tell when a game is well designed, because the fun is in the process,” she said.
Like pretty much everyone else, Kroehler can’t wait to face her opponents across a board in one of the library’s meeting rooms once again. But in the meantime, “I’m really appreciative of the library for continuing this for all of us.”
Virtual Board Game Nights are from 7 to 8:45 p.m. on Tuesdays. Registration is required. Unfamiliar with Zoom? For more in-depth instructions, visit the Zoom support page on joining a meeting. You can also join a test meeting to familiarize yourself with Zoom.