Some say there is nothing like sitting down with friends and playing board games in real life. Delicious snacks, cold drinks, and great conversation. What could be better?
To those people, I say, “Have you ever actually met anyone who likes board games?”
I Like Seeing People in Person Now and Again.
Less than most, granted.
But even the most outgoing person would admit that board game nights are a nightmare to organize.
That’s if you are lucky enough to have friends that play them. Everyone’s played Monopoly or Charades, sure. But just try and find three other people who want to play a three-hour game about medieval farming.
But I can hear you, somehow, saying you have board game pals. Well done! Do you have the right amount of them? Most games have particular player counts. You’re out of luck if you go under or over that amount.
You managed to have the exact right amount, great! They’ll be here at what time? Oops. Someone couldn’t find a babysitter! Their parents are in the hospital! Insert a third thing here that is really a lie because they just decided they didn’t want to come.
Sorry, you won’t be pretending to look at birds for points tonight!
Then somehow, you get all that just right. Those three specific people are all free on the same night. At last, the chance to be a German merchant in the 12th Century. Huzzah!
Now you have to talk to them.
I’m not saying anything is wrong with people who like board games. They’ll tell you that. Loudly. As soon as you let them.
As a people, we can be abrasive and socially awkward. There isn’t any denying it.
Instead of all that nonsense, imagine you are in your own comfy home.
You have your bowl of chips and a frosty beverage. Maybe you hop on to discord and chat with some friends as you play. You could watch TV at the same time instead. Or read a book. Possibly even play another game!
You don’t have to wait for your friends either. You can use online matchmaking to visit various national parks (but not really).
It’s all the best parts of board gaming without all the hassle.
As you are now convinced that online board games are better than in-person, here are the best options!
Board Game Arena: Board Games, Perfectly Polished
I can’t recommend it enough. I joined this site when it was dedicated solely to Through the Ages: a Story of Civilization. If you think the name is long, then wait until you try to play it.
Since then, they have added hundreds of games, nearly seven hundred as of publication.
Different people program each game’s interfaces, so the adaptation quality can vary. But for the most part, they are clean and easy to understand. In addition, the rules are all automated for you, so you don’t have to do any math or cleanup to play.
They are so easy to figure out. I have a stream on Twitch (Check it out here) where I pull up BGA and try games I have no idea how to play. I might not finish each game with any clue what I was doing, but I can always finish them.
The site has fantastic matchmaking. You can play in simple games or the titular arena games. Either way, it will affect your rank for that game. Or you can do a learning game to opt out of that system.
Games can be played in real-time or turn-based; you can even change from real-time to turn-based if someone needs to go.
The arena also has a system that tracks your performance for that season. You gain stars and go up in tiers to Elite which ranks you against all other Elite players. Think Hearthstone.
So how best is Board Game Arena? Easily quite. Quite best indeed.
Yucata: Board Games Direct From Deutschland
Another great choice. Yucata is a German board game website, but it’s also fully navigable in English. Playing games in real-time can be clunky, but it’s excellent for turn-based. I typically have anywhere from five to ten games going at any one time.
There are only about two hundred options, though that only seems paltry compared to Board Game Arena and the next entry, Tabletopia. More importantly, there are some great games here that you can’t play elsewhere: A Few Acres of Snow, Antike Duellum, and Underwater Cities, just to name a handful.
It’s not as pretty or intuitive as Board Game Arena, and there’s no matchmaking. But once you get comfortable, it’s a fun site with content you can’t find elsewhere.
So for Yucata, I will rate it as best so long as you want to play these particular games and you aren’t in much of a hurry.
Tabletopia: An Absolute Boat Load of Board Games
So Tabletopia is, at first glance, basically the same idea as Board Game Arena. It’s a vast repository of online board games (currently over two thousand) that you can play online with others.
But there are some significant differences. It is possible to play with random people on Tabletopia, but there is no matchmaking. So you will have to navigate discord groups, wait a long time, or bring your own crowd. For less popular games, you probably will never find someone to join.
The games here do not enforce their rules. Instead, you pick up and play pieces with a simple physics engine, just like in person. If, in person, you regularly have difficulty putting cards in piles.
It may not seem like much, but picking up the pieces and moving them about can balloon the playtime.
Still, the sheer number of games here is remarkable. It’s a great choice if your group wants to try a particular game and you already have people to play with.
I’ll give Tabletopia a not best, but pretty good rating.
Aso Brain Games: Legally Distinct Board Games for You
Now, this is a much smaller site than either of the other two.
Only four games are available here: Xplorers, a game eerily similar to Settlers of Catan. Toulouse, which is vaguely precisely the same as Carcassone. Then Match! and Roadblock. I don’t know what games they are patterned on, but then I’ve never seen anyone playing them. So who knows?
The biggest downside though is that it uses Java. Yes, Java.
Since Java plugins are dead, you must download an applet. An applet with no sizing options, which is just a bit too big for my screen.
So why would I bring your attention to a broken site with four games and no matchmaking? Especially if only two (ok, one) of them are of any real note?
Because this is the best place on the internet to play Settlers of Catan.
It’s a simple, straightforward interface that lets you play the base game or the Cities and Knights expansion.
Even random games tend to move fast, and if your friends can get the site to work, you can find them easily in the lobby.
You can play unranked or ranked. So if you are competitive, you can track just how negative your rating can get. Remember, this is a nearly unknown site inhabited by long-time, battle-hardened fans. They’ve been playing it for years, and then you walk in.
Everyone looks up at you like cowboys in an old-timey saloon. They laugh at your polished city-slicker boots and hack up a glob of tobacco juice.
Or maybe that’s just how it felt to me.
So how best is Aso Brain? I’ll rank it “best at one thing, but you really have to want that one thing”. There are other ways to play Catan online, but none are free, lets you play with three players, and have Cities and Knights. So if like me, that’s what you want, this is where to get it!
Or if you like Match! Though if so, good luck getting a game of it.
(If you want four-player games of Settlers of Catan, try Colonist. Same deal, just a lot prettier and doesn’t require Java. Four-player is too crowded for me, but in every other way, it’s much more best.)
So That’s My Ratings for the Best Ways to Play Board Games Online!
When the pandemic started, I used a lot of these tools to keep up with friends. Alongside Discord, they kept me in contact with the outside world.
Not much really has changed, for me. While some people are treating the pandemic as old news, I have a house full of people with compromised immune systems. So for the time being, chances are if I’m playing a game, it’s going to be online. I’m really glad there are now so many options out there.
And the above are only the biggest out there. There are more I might bring up in future articles, but let me know what I missed in the comments below! And feel free to send me a message here on Board Game Arena once you’ve registered!
For more board game content check out my look at games for parents here. Or for a preview of Kingdom Come: Deliverance the Board Game click here!