How to play board games in lockdown

What would a board game be without the occasional outburst of rage? [Source:]
It’s been a tricky year for getting together for board games, serious or otherwise, so I thought I’d share some tricks.

There are several board and card games which have free online versions, for example:

  1. Settlers of Catan: at you can play with strangers or friends (base map is free, expansions are paid)
  2. Codenames: at Horsepaste – with Zoom/Teams/etc. in the background
  3. Ticket to Ride: available (paid) on Steam
  4. Cards Against Humanity: play at All Bad Cards or be a guinea pig and test out new cards (against the computer) at Cards Against Humanity Labs
  5. Board Game Arena: huge number of games available including Hanabi, Love Letter and Carcassonne (you can join for free, larger choice of games in the premium version)

Alternatively, there are Tabletop Simulator (paid) and Tabletopia (free), which are “tabletop game simulation engines” which can run any game you build, with virtual dice, boards, counters and even flipping the table in rage (Tabletop Simulator). You can build any game you can think of in there, and also download games built by others.

An easier way to play is Miro or Google Jamboards. These are effectively virtual whiteboards where you can create elements (images, notes, shapes etc) which others can move around and play with. You can also draw. I find these invaluable for teaching with games – though there’s no built-in dice or shuffling, so you need to have honest players!

Reversing serious gaming: letting the players design the games

If your industry was a game, what would it look like? We asked over 100 people from the South African fruit industry this question and gave them two hours and heaps of game components to answer it. By getting industry experts to express themselves through game design, we were able to open up lots of underlying assumptions about the sector that usually go unvoiced. Idea inspired by conversations with Bruce Lankford.

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“Can you keep your crops watered?” at Edinburgh Science Festival

31st March – 4th April 2018. Edinburgh Science Festival, Edinburgh, UK.

In the River Basin Game, players discover what it’s like to live upstream or downstream along a river, as they compete (or cooperate!) with other players to irrigate their farms.

When I arrived in Edinburgh in October 2018 I heard about the Edinburgh International Science Festival and thought the game would make a great drop-in event for kids. It was accepted and so I set about building a portable, child-friendly version of the original game by Bruce Lankford, using an enormous vinyl banner for the base with wooden parts attached with velcro.

Playing the River Basin Game at Edinburgh International Science Festival 2018



When I saw in the programme that I’d be competing with 3D-printed flying robots at the same venue, I did wonder if the kids would be interested in rolling marbles around a table. However, my doubts were wrong and the game was thronged for five days solid, with plenty of repeat customers!

I wish I’d had the time to write down or think about some of the games that went on during the Festival, because every group of players were different and many fascinating things happened. One upstream farmer dammed all the water into his farm, and responded to criticism that he was flooded and everyone else was thirsty with:

“No – I’m going to sell them the water. But it’ll be expensive, because I’ve got all of it!”.

I was amazed, because I hadn’t mentioned a word about money, and that’s quite advanced thinking from a 10-year-old farmer who had only been in farming for about 10 minutes. I fear he might be my boss by the time he grows up!

We also had little farmers who organised the whole basin to get enough water for everyone, and evicted farmers who didn’t play by the rules. I even had to break up the beginnings of a physical fight over water allocations – not ideal for a weekend museum event I’ll admit, but it shows how well the players connected with the game!