The joy of sharing board games in person.

The shift to online board gaming and its affect on player experience — PART ONE

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in just about every way imaginable. The impacts of the pandemic can be felt all throughout society. It has affected the way we work, socialise, exercise, and recreate. As an avid board gamer, the forced isolation has deprived me of the joy of getting people around a table and sharing laughter over a game. In a world where nearly everything has shifted online, the joy of the simple board game has also been forced to adapt to an online medium.

One of the big pleasures of board gaming is the shared social experience of being in person with other people, so it is no surprise that the experience of playing board games online is different. For me personally, this has been a big adjustment, and it has provided challenges and unexpected opportunities. The experience is not the same, but does have some advantages. It’s not all doom and gloom.

For one thing, I’m probably playing more games during COVID than I was beforehand, since there is no need to coordinate availability and travel to and from someone else’s house. Now we can access board games from our living rooms and they take far less time to set up. Online board games have also meant that I can share my favourite hobby with people who live interstate, or internationally, and rekindled connections with some friends I haven’t seen in person for a long time.

A Monopoly board.
Lots of board games now have digital implementations.

Voice and video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Discord, or Meet are poor substitutes for a shared in person gaming experience, just as they are as a replacement for any in person experience, but they provide unprecedented opportunities that wouldn’t be available at any other time throughout history. While they may not be perfect, we still have a lot to be grateful for.

Right now there are 3 big players in the online board gaming space:

· Tabletop Simulator

· Tabletopia and

· Board Game Arena

Each has their own niche; their own strengths and weaknesses. Board Game Arena is great if you want to play an efficient and automated version of a well-established game, while Tabletop Simulator (TTS as it is affectionately known) is a more accurate simulation of what playing a board game actually involves. Tabletop Simulator has also provided a rich sandbox for up and coming designers to upload game files and playtest their own prototypes, something that has been invaluable to me as a budding game designer.

Someone holding a hand of cards.
Digital bosrd games lose the tactile pleasure of their real life versions.

Tabletopia sits somewhere in between the two other contenders, and has the virtue of being free and browser based, even if it is not quite as friendly for game designers as TTS. During the COVID enforced lockdown I have spent hundreds of hours playing digital board games and playtesting my own, personally preferring TTS where you will find every Wednesday night at my regular playtest group.

As someone who misses the social interaction, seeing the faces of other players, and sharing big moments in person, I was curious to find out what the experience of these digital board game platforms has been like for others. I set myself a personal project to conduct research into how gamers felt about the options available to them, and to identify what kind of players were attracted to each of the options.

Being an active member of numerous Facebook and social groups for gamers, my first step was to develop a survey and distribute a Google Form survey to collect as much data as I could about how other gamers felt about digital board gaming, and which platforms they liked most and why.

I plan on reporting my findings next week, and following up with some qualitative research to get deeper insights into the behaviours and needs of different types of gamers. With this research, my plan is to develop personas and identify common pain points for different kinds of gamers.

Stay tuned for Part Two to come next week.




UX and tabletop game designer. I write about the overlap of creating experiences for fun, and how game design principles apply in the world of UX.

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Tom Cox

Tom Cox

UX and tabletop game designer. I write about the overlap of creating experiences for fun, and how game design principles apply in the world of UX.

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