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!

Fruit and Veg vs. the Future on tour

In Fruit and Veg vs the Future, your challenge is to keep up supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables to the inhabitants of Main Island in a fiendishly difficult future scenario set for you by another team, whilst they struggle for survival in a future set by you. The game explores how uncertain future water risks affect the fruit and veg system, and how we can make it more resilient.

I developed Fruit and Veg vs. the Future for the research project “Increasing resilience to water-related risks in the UK fresh fruit and vegetable supply system“, with colleagues from the University of Oxford, Cranfield University and the University of East Anglia. We are interested in finding out how future water risks might affect different actors in the UK fresh fruit and veg system, and how their responses affect the system as a whole.

To answer some of these questions, we used the game for two workshops involving 22 participants including growers, retailers, processors and government. Each group played the game twice: the first game representing “business-as-usual”, and the second game trying to improve on the status quo.

We saw dramatic futures play out: three-year droughts, cut-throat competition, and innovative collaboration. Playing the game, participants were free to step out of their professional roles and think as a group about different ways things could be done. In participants’ words, “the concept was alien, but proved [them] wrong” and “delivered a lot more in thinking and understanding than [they] expected.”.

Within our research project, we are combining the results of the workshop with interviews and other data to build up a picture of how resilient our fruit and veg supply really is, and how we can make it more resilient to whatever tomorrow throws at it.

If you are interested in the game or would like to play it in your organisation, please get in touch. We would be very happy to hear from you!

Inside the factory: quick card deck prototyping II

Sometimes you might want to make decks of cards at home to try out ideas, but you still want them to look professional. Cutting them out by hand either takes a long time, has messy results, or both. You can use a paper cutting machine (I describe steps for the Silhouette Cameo here) to cut the cards automatically, meaning less cutting and more playing.


  1. Create your cards on thisĀ Cards template (do not change the margins). You can create the cards following the steps or paste your own table of cards. The template includes registration marks – marks that the cutter reads to know where it is.
  2. Go to Options -> Advanced -> Printing and uncheck “Scale content for A4”.
  3. Print the cards using “Finish and merge” from the “Mailings” tab.
  4. Download and extract the card cutting template and use it to cut the card sheets using a Silhouette Cameo paper cutter. If you have another cutter you may be able to convert the format of the template here.

Inside the factory: quick card deck prototyping I

Making games inevitably involves lots of testing and remaking. However, cards can be time-consuming to produce. I use Mail Merge inside Word to automatically generate cards and then a paper-cutting machine to cut them out. You get good quality prototype cards without going mad checking whether you typed the right text on all the cards. You can easily duplicate cards, reprint subsets of cards and update your card design.

Cards template is here if you want to get started straight away, otherwise follow the steps.


  1. Design your card on paper to decide which elements it’ll need (colour, title, image, flavour text, points…).
  2. Create a database in Access or similar with one column for each element and fill in one row for each card. To make multiple copies of a card, copy the line in the database.
  3. You now have two options:
    1. Use the Cards template, and click “Select recipients” on the “Mailings” tab to link it to your database (the table you set up in step 2).
    2. Open Word, and on the Mailings tab click Start Mail Merge and choose Labels. You’ll be taken through a wizard where you’ll set your label size (I do 9 per A4 page) and your recipient list (the table you set up in step 2).
  4. Design your card on the first label, using “Insert Merge Field” to add text from your database. To handle colours and images, see the tips below.
  5. Click “Update Labels” to copy your design to all the cards, and “Preview Results” to toggle between the text and the field names.
  6. To print your cards, click “Finish and Merge”. Here you can print the cards or save them as a PDF.
  7. To cut the cards automatically, see the next post on cutting cards with a cutting machine.


You can use a database field to add images to your cards.


  1. Save all your images to one folder, and give them easy-to-recognise names (cow.jpg, person.jpg…).
  2. Create two new columns in your database: “Picture” and “PictureLocation”. Set the types to “Text” and “Calculated” respectively in Access Design View.
  3. Switch to Data View. Put the names of the images for each card in the “image” column (e.g. cow, person…).
  4. Right-click the “PictureLocation” heading and click “Modify expression”. Fill in an expression to add the file folder and extension to the image name, for example “img\”+[Image]+”.png”. This example works for png images stored in a folder called img. Note that the img folder must be in the same folder as the Word document.
  5. Follow the steps here to add the images to your labels.


You can colour parts of your label differently depending on a value in the database (the type of card, for example). A how-to can be found here.

Printing subsets of cards

Changed some cards but not others? You can filter the cards by any of the database fields by clicking “Select recipients”.

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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