Boardgames in the News: The Truth about Covid and Board Games at Christmas

Over the last couple of days, the Government’s  Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) are widely reported to have advised people to avoid playing board games this Christmas.  This has been covered by Metro, The Mirror, and The Sun, but also more reputable sources including The Evening Standard, Sky News and The BBC.  This is obviously very bad news for an industry at a time when they would be expecting to maximise their annual sales and instead are struggling.  It would also seem to be at odds with the WHO advice from April this year, which encouraged the playing of games while people were confined to their homes.  So, did SAGE really say that playing games at Christmas will put older people at risk,?

Dixit on Killing Eve
– Image from bbc.co.uk

It is hard to find, but the original article (archived) seems to be one published on 26th November entitled, “EMG and SPI-B:  Mitigating risks of SARS-CoV-2 transmission associated with household social interactions“.  It is sixteen pages long and is a report summarising current evidence on how to mitigate risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2, with a particular focus on activities in the home when hosting a small number of visitors or larger family celebrations.

Article on Christmas Games & Covid
– Image by boardGOATS from gov.uk

The report extensively analyses the risks in such gatherings and ways these can be mitigated, including avoiding physical contact, and the difficulties associated with gatherings in a crowded, potentially poorly ventilated area, where people are sharing facilities.  The section that covers games is in the appendix, where there is a table covering “Behaviours and Activities”.  This examines a range of scenarios and how transmission may occur.  Games get a mention under “Activities involving fomites” (objects which are likely to carry infection):

“Games that may be traditionally played such as board games, cards, etc, giving of gifts, sharing of objects and vessels during religious observances. Direct evidence for fomite transmission is limited, however viral RNA has been found on high touch surfaces in close proximity to infected people and there is evidence that shared cigarettes and drinking vessels are associated transmission.”

It continues:

“Risks can be reduced through substituting activities for those that minimise sharing of objects, for example through playing quiz-based games rather than those which involved lots of shared game pieces. Any objects which are likely to have direct contact with the mouth pose a particularly high risk.”

So, far from suggesting people should avoid playing board games, the original document indicates the chance of transmission by playing games is small as most people don’t suck the pieces.  Further, this is in the context of people spending a significant amount of time in the same household, in a small space, and sharing other facilities and food so there are many, much higher risks.  Therefore, the bottom line is that if you are sharing Christmas with someone who has the virus, you are likely to caught from them it long before you get out your copy of Pandemic.

Pandemic: Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS