Let's face the facts: COVID-19 has kicked our collective keisters when it comes to bringing people together to game at the tabletop. It's kept folks from playing wargames and card games alike. It's even managed to take the "gathering" out of Magic: The Gathering. But as COVID-19 begins to (at least seem to) subside, we have a glimpse at the light at the end of that long, long tunnel, and boy, oh boy, is it bright. So, with some tabletop card gamers feeling pretty aimless in their pursuit of connection with other players, here are a few ways that these wayward souls can find their way to get their fix of interaction.
Magic: The Gathering in the Age of COVID
If you're fixing to play Magic: The Gathering with your friends, there are probably more options available to you than there are for other tabletop games, let alone card games specifically. You could choose to play Magic Arena if you want an experience that does not involve physical components, in case you haven't been able to keep up with the paper card releases that have pervaded last year for whatever reason best suits your situation. There are ways to get into this interface that can be more social than just grinding in gameplay against random strangers, but bear in mind that this particular interface often has pay-to-play elements that make the experience, so this might not be the exact path you'd want to take unless you're just starting out in the game.
However, there are other things you can do to play Magic on the internet. It's not necessarily advisable to go with Magic: The Gathering Online, only because it has more of a cost as a barrier to entry, but if you've already established your card collection on there, it's probably still there for you!
Beyond these options, you also have the capability to play online through third-party programs of all sorts. Cockatrice comes to mind, although not supported by Wizards of the Coast. It's sort of the Tabletop Simulator of Magic, in a way.
"But Josh," I hear you say, "I want to play paper Magic!" Well, disembodied voice of my audience, I have some good news for you: You totally can! Spelltable, a free webcam interface recently acquired by Wizards of the Coast for this very service, allows players to play physical Magic: The Gathering over the internet. This is mostly used for the Commander format, but I know I've used it for things like Oathbreaker and even Planechase in the past.
Many Magic: The Gathering players are apt to unite over Discord in order to coordinate games over Spelltable. If you find the right server on Discord, you'll almost always have at least one opponent!
Yu-Gi-Oh in an Era of COVID-19 Pandemic
Of course, Magic isn't the only card game we can cover in this article, nor will it be. Yu-Gi-Oh is a card game that is one of the "big three" alongside MTG and the Pokémon Trading Card Game. When COVID-19 hit, it stood to reason that this game risked being lost to the winds, but like other games, it found a way to persevere. Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links comes to mind as a means to that end.
At the risk of otherwise forgetting the vast database of cards in this game, I'd like to mention the computer app YGOPRO, which has servers that can host games using the full collection of cards in Yu-Gi-Oh. It is third-party, however, and in a similar vein to Cockatrice for Magic, one might wish to support the games they're playing during these harsh times and use the official software instead.
The Pokémon TCG Faces Off Against COVID-19
Next on our list of games that needed a chance to survive the pandemic is the Pokémon Trading Card Game. This game has had software supporting it since their Base Set 2 release when they released a CD-ROM that taught the game to newcomers. Nowadays, they have an online interface known as Pokémon Trading Card Game Online or PTCGO for the sake of simplicity. This has been around long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and it has helped the TCG stay afloat even while physical cards have become remarkably scarce at stores that sell them at retail capacity.
The interface, much like Magic Arena and similar programs, has a great interactive demo for newcomers as well. This combined with the gameplay of this surprisingly-complex game from a competitive angle makes PTCGO worthwhile and keeps the Pokémon Trading Card Game current enough to survive the pandemic climate.
The Digimon Card Game: Will it Survive COVID-19?
Finally, we come to the Digimon Card Game, a relative newcomer to the TCG market and Bandai's latest attempt to make a card game around the Digimon franchise. Sadly, this game has not been seen by me in any stores locally except at highly-inflated prices due to scarcity, in turn because of – you guessed it – COVID-19. It seems almost like Digimon's various TCGs are always doomed to fail for some inexplicable reason, and this latest incarnation might be on the same path because they don't have an official means to play this game online while the pandemic is actively raging. Meanwhile, players can't even get their hands on the physical cards because of allocation issues on the distributive level of things. While I personally hope the latest incarnation of the Digimon Card Game survives the pandemic, my hopes aren't quite as high as I'd like them to be.
What do you think of this analysis? Let's discuss the longevity of your favorite TCGs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in the comments below!