The board game Pandemic was already popular in recent years. Then a rush of people started buying it in March as COVID-19 turned into a major concern, Ken Peczkowski, owner of Griffon Games and Bookstore in downtown South Bend, says.
A morbid choice? Actually, he says this “cooperative game” is more about building teamwork among players, each taking a role — researcher, doctor, field rep, bureaucrat with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control — as they help the CDC to thwart a pandemic.
Before the current crisis, Peczkowski says, a manager at a large local company had come to Griffon and picked up Pandemic for his employees to learn about sharing ideas and resources.
Now the pandemic (small “p”) has opened time on our hands to explore board games with housemates and, virtually, with friends around the world. Peczkowski will ship games or provide curbside delivery, fitting with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s orders on Monday for nonessential businesses.
“This is actually a great time for board games,” Amanda Gray says. The former South Bend Tribune reporter and occasional free-lancer owns dozens of games with her husband. “(We) are playing through one a night until this thing is over or we run out of games. I hope we don’t run out of games.”
First some ground rules to beat the coronavirus: For in-person games, play only with housemates. No having friends over to play.
Those cards and game pieces that everyone touches can be a germ-carrying risk. But about half of the card-stacking games can be played without players trading cards, Peczkowski says. Some games come with pieces and tiles that you can wash or sanitize, though paper products would be damaged. If you really want to clean a 52-card deck of poker cards, he says, he’ll sell you one with all-plastic cards for about $5.
In her house, Gray has played online games using Jackbox Games, where players need only their smartphones or tablets to compete. The host sets it up through a gaming console or computer. Drawful is an easy one where you draw simple pictures, much like Pictionary.
Some board games have been converted to digital versions. So nobody needs to be in the same house. A good site to shop for and download them is store.steampowered.com.
Many role-playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, Star Trek and Star Wars and some mystery games, can be played via Skype, Peczkowski says. Only one player needs to have the game set — basically a rule book, some dice and maybe a map. That player can hold up the map for other players to see.
For games where players can keep their game pieces separate, Spice suggests Karuba, where you race to get your explorers to temples, and Tiny Towns, where each player is a mayor trying to build a little town in a forest with scarce resources.
Gray suggests the role-playing game Fiasco that requires normal, six-sided dice and the imagination to make up a story. She says it’s easily converted to online play.
Cooperative games such as Pandemic have become popular in recent years as all players work together against a common foe, Peczkowski says. They include Zombicide and Dead of Winter, where the group tries to stop the zombie apocalypse, and The Captain is Dead, where the group must resurrect their starship after the captain and engines have gone dead, then leave to escape an enemy (no, it isn’t Star Trek).
And then, he says, there’s Sleeping Queens for 6- to 12-year-olds, a game whose creator was inspired by a dream that her 12-year-old daughter had.
Monopoly comes in endless variations, including “Ms. Monopoly,” “Monopoly Socialism,” “Monopoly Speed” and “Monopoly Friends: The TV Series.”
Mah Jongg is an old, traditional game that still sells well with tiled game pieces, Peczkowski says, usually with four players who can lazily chat between moves.
Wingspan kept selling out at Griffon, with brightly colored cards that depict birds and facts, such as a bird’s wingspan or the number of eggs it lays. Bird lovers snarf it up, but you don’t need to be an ornithologist to play, Peczkowski says. Each bird is rated with points, with more points for uncommon birds. It’s based on North American bird species, though now there’s a version for European birds. An online version is expected in a month.
Aside from Monopoly, games in this story range from $25 to $60. The value improves, Peczkowski says, the more that you replay it, switching roles or characters or positions. If a game has just been released, give it some time, and the price will drop.
Look for a 0-10 difficulty rating on each game. Play one, he tells newbies, and the next will be easier.
Dominion is a popular deck-building card game where you’re a king who’s building his kingdom. Everyone starts with the same 10 cards and tries to add up money and points. You can apparently play it online, at Dominion.games, where the base set is free, though upgrades will cost you.
For just two players, Gray recommends that people try Dominion, Splendor (where merchants buy up gems and other means to nobility), Carcassonne (get the iPad version, she says, to avoid a complicated point system in this game where you develop the landscape around a medieval fortress) and Fog of Love, which is designed for couples (“One of our favorite games,” she says).