During the lockdown, we’re all turning to activities that we can do remotely from the comfort of our own homes, and one of the most popular is playing board games. However, if you’re not lucky enough to have your own home collection, the other option is to head into cyberspace.
I’ve spent some time checking out the free online offerings of the tabletop world, and found some important takeaways that you all need to know.
Pro – There’s lots of options to try
There’s numerous sites to choose from for online board gaming. The first thing you’ll need to determine is how you want to play your games.
If you’re playing with people in your household on one device – or solo – then sites like
Pogo offer quite a good player experience and graphics. Poki in particular has loads of well-known titles such as Monopoly, and even has a kids version for the young’uns at home.
For those looking to play with others remotely, your best bets are
Board Game Arena.
Steam also has a few free choices to check out, though most of these are specific games rather than a hub of titles.
Con – You can’t always control who you play with
Whilst this isn’t true across every site, on the free version of Board Game Arena, you typically click on the game you want to play and are randomly assigned players that are also available at the same time as you. Whilst this is an opportunity to play with someone you’d never meet otherwise, it can be a bit of an annoyance.
First, you’ll get the ones with cold feet, who’ll randomly leave and disrupt the flow of the play. Second, any admin can decline you at any time if they decide they don’t want to play with you. And finally, you may have trolls on the game who deliberately don’t play properly and disrupt play. All in all, this can make for a bit of an annoyance.
If of course you’re desperate to play with friends, you can always look into
paid alternatives of online board games.
Pro – Broaden your board game horizons
The benefit of using sites like Tabletopia and Board Game Arena is that you have a library of games to choose from, along with instructional videos to help you if you’re a newbie. It’s the virtual equivalent of going to a board game cafe, and means that you can try out something you wouldn’t normally think of playing.
Never taken to a fantasy-based tabletop experience? Now’s your chance to dip your toe in the board game waters! If you’d like to know more about titles you can search for online, take a look at our picks of the
best board games to play with friends and family, as well as the
best board games to play solo.
Con – Some games lose their charm
The sad truth is that some games just don’t work the same playing remotely. Let’s take the game Coup as an example; one huge part of the game is bluffing, and this just simply isn’t the same when playing on two separate keyboards with no ability to see each other’s expressions.
If you’re planning on playing along with friends, you can bypass this through perhaps doing a video call on a separate piece of software at the same time, but you’ll need a stable internet connection to be sure that both streams run concurrently. Again it’s worth noting that premium options do offer integrated voice chat systems, so this would likely help any connection issues.
As a side note, some free games also appear to be replicas of the real thing. I didn’t get to play Uno online, but I did get to play ‘Solo’, which looked and played remarkably similarly.
Pro – It’s much more practical than physical games
It may sound obvious, but the fact that you can just pick up a new game without having to clutter up your space or wait for a long delivery is quite a relief, especially during the lockdown season.
It also means that you’re saving your pennies – if you don’t like a game you’ve not wasted an extraordinary amount of money on it. The amount that you’ll spend on a month’s subscription could get you ten times the amount of games you’d get if you bought them in person.
Con – Ultimately, the paid versions are much better
Well, you knew this was coming. In fact, two of the cons in this list can be eradicated, providing you’re willing to cough up a little cash for your online board game experience. Premium accounts can unlock hosting games with friends, as well as bigger range of titles.
Some offer various subscription options. For example, on Tabletopia you can
subscribe for a full month for $9.99 (around £8). Meanwhile,
Board Game Arena costs €4 (around £3.50) per month on a rolling subscription, or €24 (around £21) for a full year’s commitment.
Alternatively, if you have a specific game experience you want to recreate, then there are dedicated versions that you can get on Steam, but everyone in the game must buy their own copy. However, there’s one paid option that stands out from the rest.
Steam also includes
Tabletop Simulator, one of the most popular (but premium) experiences for online board games. You can either choose to play any of the 15 classic games that come as standard, or you can get experimental and create your own original games within the sandbox. In addition, you can download other people’s creations in the online workshop.
For these DLCs, only the host needs to pay, so you can split the cost between players. The game can host up to 10 players at one time, and can communicate via intergrated voice and text chat boxes.
Failing all of that, if someone has a physical board game, you can always set up a group video call (such as Google Hangouts or Zoom), film the board, and have each player take turns, with the host manually moving the game along.