Part of my family regularly holds family reunions. The reunion scheduled for this summer was revised to be done online instead. Moving meetings and show-and-tell online was pretty straightforward. But how does one play games online and still include those who don’t normally do that (a.k.a. “stereotypical grandma”) and on a very limited budget?
We tried out Steam Remote Play Together, Jackbox Games, and Board Game Arena — all of which support a customer model by which only the game host needs to pay anything or are entirely free.
Tabletopia seemed nice enough to me, but the lack of rules enforcement wasn’t working for our group.
Steam Remote Play Together
This worked well enough for those that already knew how to play “real”/modern games, but other people didn’t want to install Steam or had trouble playing new non-trivial/not-casual games.
Hardware: Everyone needs a computer (desktop or laptop) with a microphone and their own USB gamepad.
Software: Everyone needs to download and install Steam. The host needs a local-multiplayer or local-co-op game.
Account: Everyone needs a Steam account, the host needs to “add friend” every player, and each player needs to accept that friend invite.
- everyone creates their own Steam account
- everyone downloads and installs Steam
- everyone opens and logs in to the Steam client installed on their computer
- the host adds everyone to their friend list
- each player accepts the host’s friend invite
- the host buys, downloads, and installs a game with local-multiplayer or local co-op (such as Unrailed, Overcooked, or Castle Crashers)
- the host opens the game
- once the game has finished loading, the host presses Shift+Tab to open the Steam overlay and uses their friend list (right-click on the friend’s name or left-click on the down-caret which appears on mouseover after the friend’s name) to send a “Remote Play Together” invite to each player
- each player accepts the host’s “Remote Play Together” invite
Is Steam Remote Play not doing it for you? What if the Steam games were much simpler, used a smartphone instead of a gamepad, and none of the players needed to install anything new or create an account? Jackpot! I mean, Jackbox!
Hardware: Everyone needs to be able to see a full-size (not smartphone) shared screen and able to use a web browser (on the same device and screen, or a different screen or device) simultaneously.
Software: The host needs a Jackbox Party Pack or individual game (available on basically every platform). Everyone needs some piece of software to view the host’s shared screen.
Account: The host needs an account somewhere they can purchase Jackbox games.
- everyone downloads and installs a piece of software which supports screen sharing (e.g. Steam Broadcasting, Discord Go Live Screen Share, Zoom)
- the host buys, downloads, and installs a Jackbox Party Pack or individual game
- the host opens the Jackbox game (or party pack and selects a game) and starts the selected game (so that the host can see the 4-letter “room code”)
- the host opens a web browser to Jackbox.TV and joins the game *first* by entering the room code and choosing a name and sound effect
- everyone opens and logs in to the group’s chosen screen sharing program
- the host starts sharing their screen (or better, just the game window) *with sound/volume on!* (or else the players won’t get to hear the narrator)
- the remaining players each open a web browser on their own device to Jackbox.TV and join the game by entering the room code (which they can see on the host’s shared screen) and choosing a name and sound effect
Board Game Arena
There are many both traditional and new games available to play on Board Game Arena, and the website enforces the rules
Hardware: Everyone needs their own computer or mobile device.
Software: Everyone needs a web browser. A separate voice chat program is optional.
Account: Everyone needs an account on Board Game Arena, and the host needs to “Add to my friends” every player.
- everyone creates their own Board Game Arena account
- ideally, everyone goes through the provided tutorial
- the host goes to the Community page, “MY FRIENDS” section, and enters the username of each player into the “Add to my friends” textbox (one at a time; case-sensitive)
- the host selects and starts the game, and invites all the players
- Play Now > Simple Game > Real-Time > Play With? = Friends
- invite friends
- press “Play Now!” on a game (the host must either know the name of the game the group will play and/or has favorited the game already so it is easier to get to)
If the host has a premium account subscription, then there is a voice chat option integrated into the Board Game Arena website. The group can alternatively use any third-party voice chat application (e.g. Discord, Team Speak, Mumble, Steam Chat, Skype, Google Chat, etc.).