33,100 people search for online board games on a daily basis. What is the draw and what are the best platforms?
Whether you have more spare time, the pandemic has ceased your game nights, or you have an undying love for board games but don’t want the extra setup or price tag, here is your complete guide.
Best Ways to Play Board Games Online PC
#1 Tabletop Simulator
Tabletop Simulator is a well-crafted game available on Steam that lives in the grey area.
In the game description, it advertises being able to “[import] images onto custom boards & tables”. Which is great as a creative outlet but terrible for copyright infringement. With that being said, I think Tabletop Simulator would not be here if the industry wasn’t allowing it. For example, if it was in the movie industry I can’t help but think they would close up shop due to so many lawsuits.
The publishers in the board game industry are either too relaxed about Tabletop Simulator or they have not yet taken action. Either way, it has allowed Tabletop Simulator to blow up in popularity. I don’t know if that is because they have reached an agreement, or it provides more benefits to let it continue. Either way, it is here in the meantime, and since it is let’s talk about it.
Tabletop Simulator is not free like the other options below. It is available for $19.99 but the quality is fantastic. The game in its self looks amazing! The realism is fantastic and quirky. I love after getting together with a group of friends, I can literally flip the board over when the game is finished.
The features are top-notch. For example, when you need to take a break from a long 6 hr game, you can! Just save the game and load it up another day and it will start up exactly where you left off. I think this is by far the best platform to play board games with groups.
Overall Tabletop Simulator deserves the first slot but there are some cons to consider. Some of the other platforms like Board Game Arena will be better for single player use, it is not free including the games, and the number of pre-made games available is only 42. While they have some of the newest games, the variety is lacking if you don’t want to go to the effort of making a game yourself.
#2 Board Game Arena
The opportunity to compete against some of the best players in the world is not even the most enticing thing to me about using Board Game Arena. To me, the most exciting aspect of using this site is the 4746000 people attached to it. Their base size means that there will always be someone online to play with. In this aspect, they outshine all of their competitors.
Another positive aspect of the site is that the mechanics are simple. Board Game Arena allows you to play in two different ways. You can play either “real-time” or “turn-based”. In real-time you play the game live just as you would in real life and you are expected to finish the game in its entirety in one sitting.
With turn-based games, not all players are online at the same time so you can take your time taking your turns. You will get email notifications when a player moves and if you can’t move at that moment in time, no worries. Turn-based games typically span from a few hours to days.
I tried to play a Turn-based premium game, Carcassonne, and at the time no one was interested in playing but the next morning I had someone to play with. If you are looking for single-player games, I think this is an awesome feature but if you are trying to get a group together at a specific time to play and none of you are premium members, I would consider the premium games off the table.
In general, I like how upfront Board Game Arena is about what features you get with premium and what features do not. I like their business model where the premium membership is meant to bypass inconveniences but not limit what games you can play.
The biggest con I see with using board game arena is the fact the site looks incredibly dated, I wasn’t blown away by the graphics of the board games I was playing themselves, and 250 board games to choose from is more limited than other competitors. In these aspects Tabletopia.com is superior but because of board game arenas other features it beats it out of the 2nd spot.
Board Game Arena’s Best Free Board Games Online
Here are our favorite non-premium games: Colt express, Hive, Targi, and Jaipur. If you don’t mind waiting you can also play premium games in addition to these for free.
Premium is $ 4.75 (4 €) a month and you get access to all of the premium games without all of the inconveniences, like having to wait. Our favorite premium games are 7 Wonders, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, and Sushi Go!
TIP: If you are looking for some of the newest games like Wingspan you are not going to find what you are looking for and I would reference the other options on this list.
Tabletopia has an online arena for playing board games just like in real life. You can play over 1000 games for free but there is a catch. They limit simultaneous game sessions to 2, only demo mode is available for free, and for certain free games, you will have to buy premium to play a variant version of it. While the free games include some solid options, you may want to upgrade to premium ($9.99 a month) to avoid these setbacks and to have access to premium games.
It is not number one or two because of what it lacks in technical ability. With that being said, there is a reason it is in the number two slot! Tabletopia stands out for its realism, I like being able to move the pieces myself. It really does feel like I am playing a board game! Tabletopia also made this list because of its website being so user-friendly, having a surplus of a 1000 games to choose from, the free games being GOOD games, and for its accessibility which is incomparable to other platforms in the best way.
Tip: downloading from Steam seams to be more reliable
Tabletopia’s Best Free Board Games Online
What are the best free solo games? I tried to play scythe in solo mode, which is listed as a free game but when I clicked on “solo”, I got prompted to switch to premium. I experienced this in all of the games I selected to play except for chess. Therefore, I would not recommend using Tabletopia if you only want to play single-player games for free. If you are not worried about cost, they have plenty of great games to choose from.
With that being said, you don’t have to play solo if you don’t want to! You can click the “Find & Play” tab at tabletopia.com and look for open seats at tables you can join. Another option is to see who is online at Tabletopia.com and invite them to play. If there are no players online, I recommend checking out their Discord channel.
The best free multi-player games are Brass: Birmingham, Tapestry, Santorini, Chess, Viticulture: Essential Edition, On Mars, Anachrony, and Scythe. After selecting a game to play the hard work is done. All that’s left is to add friends or people online to the game! It is easy, just click Invite players in the game lobby and select “Friends”. From there you can select from a friends list or players online. Now you are ready to play!
Our premium picks (that are not free): Wingspan, Everdell, and Hansa Teutonica.
TIP: These two websites below will be mostly viable only on the PC.
Yucata’s website looks like something straight out of the 1990s. With that being said, it deserves an honorable mention for some important reasons. Yucata.de has a good following which means there are always members online that you can play with. The board games are completely free and they have a variety of games to choose from.
The types of games you might see could be anywhere from Puerto Rico to the Alchemist. It is easy to communicate through the chat to other players. It might have made the list if it wasn’t for how dated the website looks, and it not being easy to navigate. Overall if you are not satisfied with the other options, this would be a great one to check out.
BrettspielWelt’s graphics look dated just like Yucata’s, but it has some charming features beneath the 90’s website facade. For instance, it is easy to navigate the website, and it is completely free! Even though everything didn’t translate to English well it was straightforward how to play and join games.
Some of the familiar games you might see are 7 Wonders, Puerto Rico and Carcassonne. They have a very small but good selection of games.
The Best Ways to Play Board Games Online Phone
If you are looking for specific games that you want to play, an app is the way to go! For example, if you are looking for Chess, Istanbul, or Ticket to Ride they all have an app available through the apple or android store. The apps look amazing and run flawlessly. The main con in using individual apps is it can clog up space on your phone and paying for the individual apps can add up.
A good alternative is the steam app. Steam lets you play your entire Steam library on your smartphone but there is a catch. Having good wifi is essential in it performing properly. Also, you must have a controller which can be a little bulky to carry around.
#2 Board Game Arena
For phone use, Board Game Arena is the best free composite website to play board games. This is a good resource if you want a variety of games to play but you don’t want to purchase multiple apps. The structure of Board Game Arena makes it really fun to play on mobile. I really like the turn-based game feature. Click here to read more about it.