Tom here! Last week Lyndsay talked about the various apps we use to stay in touch across a continent. Since we’re both gamers, I figured it was worth going into a little more detail about which games we like and which ones did not really work for us.
We play over three major platforms: Steam for the PC, console gaming on the PS3, and for hand-held portable entertainment, the iPod Touch. If you’re possibly getting into a long-distance relationship the great news is you have a WIDE variety of options available to you on date night.
I banished games from my PC a while ago, so I wasn’t too familiar with Steam. But it’s a straightforward way to install and play games on your PC and I particularly like the fact that I can buy Lyndsay a game that’s on sale and just send her the certificate for it and BOOM it’s done. It’s a simple, easy, low-cost gift. An added bonus: There’s no waiting for shipping or customs to clear.
So. The GAMES:
Ticket to Ride
We’ve both played the tabletop version and loved it. The Steam version is a faithful translation, stable, and you’re easily able to set up a private game (basically a mandatory requirement — no one wants randos crashing your date night). They have a TON of expansions available, so if you get tired of the basic game you can venture off into more sophisticated supplements.
We pair this with a Google Hangout in a separate window for online video chat and it’s a great date night game. You have time to talk and catch up while you’re drawing your cards and planning your routes. Then there’s the hustle of claiming your track, and then next thing you know, the game’s over. It’s relaxing, fun, and it doesn’t require a ton of strategic thinking.
Lyndsay has played the tabletop version of this a lot. I have not. And frankly… that’s probably why we don’t play this more.
The Steam version is pretty and stable, although I find the interface a little finnicky, and sometimes you can’t tell who is inviting whom to which game. (“Did you start a game? Wait, I’m in your game. No, no I started a different game. Hang on.”)
The real issue I find in Small World is that it’s not particularly balanced. Basically you have a selection of different races you use to march around the map, conquering territories. These races have different special abilities and that’s where the problem comes in: a veteran player has a big advantage over a newbie. If you know which races are really good and which ones are bland or underpowered, you have a decisive advantage.
Also, I don’t think Small World is particularly well-suited to two players. In Ticket to Ride, the two of you are PROBABLY working on two different routes and even if you’re not, there are multiple ways to get your cities connected and score points. In Small World, it’s head-to-head combat and you (mostly) win by crushing the other player’s army. And once you start losing, it’s a slow free-fall of failure.
In Ticket to Ride, you generally win by building up a bigger, better set of routes than your opponent. In Small World, you win by stomping through your opponent’s territory and continuing to harass them, even when they’ve been mathematically eliminated.
Not a great basis for a date night.
This looks like a super fun game and it has a ton of expansions and great ratings on Steam and we got it for $5 and we spent an hour trying to get the multiplayer to work but it never did and so we gave up.
This game sucks.
Gaming on the PS3
I’ve played a lot of first person shooters. Lyndsay has not. In fact, she kind of hates twitch gaming. And, given some of the absolutely atrocious things that get said in the lobbies of Call of Duty in between matches, I can’t say I blame her.
However, unlike Call of Duty, Borderlands 2 is co-op, it’s mission-based, and as you level up you get AWESOME POWERS. I liked the game’s sense of humor, I think Lyndsay found it a bit juvenile at times.
It’s also fairly low-stakes gaming. She played a Commando and with the turret deployed, you literally have a third gun on the battlefield. (And, even better, a gun that AIMS ITSELF.) I chose to play a Siren with a focus on healing so we didn’t die so often.
And even if you do die, it’s not like World of Warcraft where you have to run around like a screeching idiot hoping to retrieve your corpse. You re-spawn, lose some cash, and jump back into the fray. It’s not particularly punishing.
I liked the fact that we could log in, play for 90 minutes, talk over voice chat, and call it a night. There’s not a lot of replayability there, but if you get the Game of the Year edition, there’s a ton of content to explore.
Next up on our PS3 list: Little Big Planet. Yeah, welcome to 2009. We are hip and cutting-edge.
We don’t do a ton of iPod gaming because at this point, neither of us owns a tablet and let’s be honest: tabletop board games don’t translate well on a tiny screen. That’s why I initially struggled with…
Lords of Waterdeep
Although the tabletop version was much-lauded in my circle of nerds, I hadn’t played Lords of Waterdeep before, so I was confused when I first played it on the iPod Touch. There was a lot of scrolling around and I didn’t get the idea that you could just plain ignore the quests that were given to you with no repercussions. I tried to do them all, failed, and didn’t score the maximum amount of points I could have.
Then I played it on the tabletop and everything made a lot more sense. (I’m not saying you couldn’t learn it on an iPod, but it’s a lot trickier when the person teaching you is in another country.)
I love playing this game two player. You get to make several different moves per round, increasing the resources you can claim and that means you can really crank out the quests. Like Ticket To Ride, you build up/complete quests to win, it’s not a game of direct elimination like Small World, so losing doesn’t feel so personal.
And, of course, being total geeks, we both love the Dungeons & Dragons theme. But that’s not a necessary requirement to enjoy the game. If you like Euro-style games like Puerto Rico or Settlers of Catan, you will find this fast, fun, and friendly. If you have not tried Euro-style resource collection games, then this is a nice introduction to that type of board game. Beats the f**k out of Monopoly, I’ll tell you that much.
The iOS version is probably the best port of any game on this list, with subtle animations and sound effects that really enhance the experience. (I find the sounds on Ticket To Ride kind of obnoxious.) Now that I’m familiar with the gameplay and strategy, I have no problem barreling through this game on the iPod.
Also, if either Lyndsay or I is on a trip out of town, this is super easy to throw in the carry-on and we can fire up a game. Travelling can be stressful, so it’s nice to have that option on hand.
One other thing we do is start a Google Hangout and play some regular tabletop games. Specifically, we play:
Chances are, you’ve heard of Zombie Dice. It’s a fun game, but I find the depth of strategy a little lacking. (Have you accrued two shotgun blasts? QUIT ROLLING AND SCORE YOUR POINTS.)
Martian Dice takes that same Press-Your-Luck design and adds just enough complexity to give each round a bit of meaningful strategy. It’s a great beer-and-pretzels game that plays fast while still offering some intriguing choice.
We each own a set, so we fire up a Google Hangout and roll away. It’s an easy way to game and visit at the same time and there’s something rewarding about getting to pick up the physical dice and give them a shake.
It’s Not Just Being Together, It’s Gaming Together
Being in a long distance relationship takes a lot of energy. Maintaining contact (via Google Chat or video hangout or whatever) is important. But it’s not just a matter of shared contact, it’s important to have shared experiences. Gaming is the main way we can do something that’s active, fun, and engaging without having to be in the same room. Ultimately our goal is to be in the same room, but until that happens these are just a few of the ways we’ve solved the problem of having a date night 1,600 miles apart. If you’ve got a girlfriend, boyfriend, or just a regular friend a long way away, the good news is: technology is on your side.
Got a recommendation for a great co-op or tabletop game we should add to our arsenal? Drop it in the comments.