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How to Play Paper Commander Online

If you’re reading this and thinking there’s NO WAY you can play paper Commander via the internet, you’re not alone. It seems daunting, but with CommandFest Online 2 coming up, there’s no better time to learn. Let me guide you through the setup and help you prepare for some fun games of the best (don’t tell Team CFB I said that) format!

What you need:

  •       Camera
  •       Microphone
  •       Mount
  •       Light
  •       Video calling software

 

Camera Options:

You can use a webcam, DSLR (with some hardware/software solutions) or even a smartphone as a camera.

Using a webcam is the simplest solution, as it just plugs in to your computer and usually has a built-in microphone. The best option is  Logitech C920, but stock is low, so as long as the webcam is 1080P and used in a well-lit area, anything should work. If it has a mic it’ll also save you some money buying the two parts separately, just be aware that a headset or USB microphone is always going to sound better than the one built into a webcam.

A built-in laptop webcam can’t really be used, unless you have your laptop attached to a separate monitor or TV, and a separate keyboard and mouse. If those are available, you can mount the laptop above the battlefield, but it’s certainly more difficult (and dangerous) than a USB webcam. CFB assumes no libability for you dropping your laptop on your Breya deck.

Ideally you can mount your webcam directly above the battlefield and I recommend using a playmat for your cards, framing your shot to include only that, as that will ensure highest resolution and makes sure you know where your play area is while playing, without needing to reference your camera. If your camera is at an angle, SpellTable can struggle to recognise cards you or your opponents hover over for more detail (which is an excellent feature).

A gooseneck desk mount is an excellent way to ensure your webcam is easily angled at your play area, for example, this model: https://amzn.to/2KZigHS

Other webcams may not have a tripod screw thread, so you can mount it on an overhead shelf, there are also generic webcam mounts that don’t require that screw thread.

You can also just get creative. A box with a hole cut in the top for your webcam to be mounted into, and a lamp pointing into the box to ensure good lighting on your cards can work quite well – the interior of the box just needs to be large enough to contain a playmat. Preferably that can sit on a table in front of you for comfort, but if you want to lie on the floor hey, who am I to judge?

Other solutions have been shared online, including using PVC piping to create a mount you can stand on your desk, with just some tape holding the camera in place, and a box with a hole cut to sit the camera into, with a deckbox helping to balance it.

Using a DSLR is a little more complicated, unless you have a tripod, but the same formula applies, you just need to be more careful with mounting, and unless you have a wide-angle lens, probably mount it higher, further from your playspace.

To ensure a DSLR can be used as a webcam, you will need one of a few options.

Hardware solutions include the Elgato Camlink, which is essentially a HDMI to USB converter, that will allow any compatible camera (list on their website) to be used as a webcam. Most capture cards that take HDMI will actually work in the same way, so worth testing, but your camera will need to be capable of sending a clean HDMI output and not automatically turn off after a set time.

You can also use a software solution, and we recommend Sparkocam, which should work (it is a paid software) – though older DSLR models will switch off on their own after a time, which can be solved with a third party solution such as Magic Lantern, but this may also void your warranty or damage the camera, so use at your own risk.

Finally, you can use your phone, either making a video call with the phone and using it as webcam and microphone, mounting the phone as you would a webcam. Highly recommend keeping it plugged in for this, as the battery will go down fast in this setup.

A mount such as this will help in allowing you to use your phone as camera: https://amzn.to/3fhSwnR

The phone can also function as a webcam with software installed on both computer and phone. For more on that, consult this article: https://www.digitalcitizen.life/turn-android-smartphone-webcam-windows

 

However you use your camera, the goal should be to show a clean, evenly-lit play area, with your cards in focus and easy too see for your opponents.

 

Microphone options:

Here your options are simple – you can use the microphone built into your webcam/phone, or purchase a USB microphone. You will also need headphones to ensure you can hear your opponents, and they can’t hear you – if you use speakers, their audio will echo back to them through your microphone.

If you want to use a USB mic, a blue yeti, amazonbasics condenser mic or other desktop microphone with it’s own mount should work perfectly and provide excellent audio for your opponents. If your budget is lower, you can go for something a little less professional, such as a Samson GoMic Blue Snowball Ice, CMteck USB mic or similar.

A gaming headset is absolutely ideal for this too, I use a Sennheiser Game One, but cheaper options are available from the likes of Arctis and Razer.

The goal is simply to be heard clearly, so you really don’t need much more than a built-in laptop/phone mic with headphones. This does not need professional equipment.

 

Software:

You have a number of options. Discord will be your hub for communicating with opponents and staff to get set up for CommandFest, but SpellTable is where games happen and it’s a really, really good service. You can use it to change life totals, show your deck name and keep track of turn order.

Alternatively, Zoom, Skype and Whereby.com all allow you to see everyone in a 4×4 16:9 ratio layout – basically you see every player’s battlefield as if you’re looking at a big table.

All of those solutions are also free, and whereby is browser-based, so you don’t need to install an app, and can add others with just a link to the room. Really though, just use SpellTable for the visuals, and if you have any issues with audio, start a Discord call.

 

This may seem like a LOT, but really, it’s not that hard, and the reward is getting to play actual Commander, with the amazing community. I miss paper Magic much more than I expected to before becoming a shut-in (not even because of Covid, I messed up my ankle just to make sure I stayed at home!) and this really does scratch that itch.

 

Final Tips:

Get yourself some tokens or paper you can write on to represent them. Dice are hard to see on a webcam.

Don’t play decks with clone effects or card-stealing effects, even Song of the Dryads can be hard to track, so build accordingly.

Give your opponents a little more time than usual, because it’s a little harder to understand board states.

Stop playing Cyclonic Rift, come on, seriously.

 

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