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Board games ranked by SAGE among top COVID-19 risk factors during holiday gatherings

Seriously, just stay home.

People playing board games at Christmas
Image credit: Monkey Business /

A recent report from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies recommends stowing board games as part of a comprehensive outline of COVID-19 risk factors to consider while visiting other homes for the winter holidays.

The summary, published on November 26th, expresses that the safest interactions are those conducted online or outdoors, while home gatherings pose a larger risk since individuals will be “more likely to relax and let their guard down with those they are closest to”.

It continues by listing over a dozen broad risk factors that should be considered if planning to travel to, and stay with, family and friends for the holidays. In the behaviour category, alongside shared dining and hugs, kisses and handshakes, board and card games were considered a substantial risk of infection spread.

The government document referred to the dozens of pieces any one game contains as fomites, or objects likely to carry infections or communicable diseases. When played in close proximity and in a relaxed social setting, cards, meeples, dice and any other physical tokens pose a high risk of becoming a disease vector, according to the report.

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“Direct evidence for fomite transmission is limited, however viral RNA has been found on high touch surfaces in close proximity to infected people,” it said. “High touch objects that are shared would increase potential for fomite transmission.”

The report recommended substituting traditional board games with quiz games, limiting the number of fomites while still allowing families and friends to engage in some social fun. If someone breaks out Monopoly or bullies those gathered into playing Cards Against Humanity again, SAGE advises liberal use of sanitiser on both hands and the game pieces.

Much safer alternatives, according to the document, involve meeting online to play games. Apps such as Tabletop Simulator and Board Game Arena allow classic favourites and newer board games to be played digitally.

If cancelling or postponing holiday plans aren’t within your power, SAGE ultimately counsels making a plan beforehand. Recognising the risks you will encounter and preparing - bringing supplies and modifying behavior - can limit the risk of exposure and spread regardless of where you celebrate.

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