Scythe on Tabletopia. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.
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Online Board Games – 4 Best Places to Play

Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia, Board Game Arena, Yucata

A mailman arrives and with a santa-like smile, he places a huge, heavy parcel straight onto your hands. You feel the weight, say your goodbyes, set the box on a table and upack. Slowly, a new board game appears from within in all its cardboard glory. You tear the foil away, lift the upper cover, look inside at all the hours of fun that are to be had… and realize that you have noone to play with.

Ever been in a situation like that? I know I was. Many of my friends aren’t into heavy games, and my better half refuses to play anything with strong negative interaction. What to do in cases like that? Looking for fellow players on FB groups or visiting a local game store is a neat idea but for the time being you can… go online.

Playing Board Games Online

Apps allowing to play board games online are numerous, and while they lack the pure pleasure of interacting with cardboard and other box components, they’re a great way to play a session or ten when you have nobody interested around.

They’re also great when you want to practice your skills at some games, or to check if a title you’re interested in is actually worth buying.

Today I’d like to talk about 4 ways to play board games online, each offering a varying degree of freedom, unique features and available at different platforms.

1. Tabletop Simulator

Tabletop Simulator. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

➤ What is it

Tabletop Simulator began as a Kickstarter project. The idea was to create a realistic, physics based program allowing people to play pen & paper RPGs and board games online on a virtual table. After collecting $37,403 from 1882 backers, the people at Berserk Games have managed to enter Steam Greenlight and reach an even wider public.

➤ Platforms

Tabletop Simulator requires Steam to work, so you have to use it either on PCs (Windows/Linux) or Mac computers. The program is available for about $20 (outside of seasonal deals or Humble Bundle) – so unlike its competitors: it’s not free. On the other hand: there is no monthly subscription as well.

➤ How does it work

Tabletop Simulator. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

Tabletop Simulator puts a huge focus on simulating real life psychics. The games are played at a 3D table (that you can flip if you get angry or feel like making others angry). Laws of physics also apply to game components like tokens, dice, etc.

VR enthusiasts can use TTS in the Virtual Reality mode through HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. You can roll dice, place or shuffle cards and do most board game related things. It’s also possible to create your own games and mods through Steam Workshop, add scripts and of course play online with up to 10 players (with optional voice chat).

Most popular games come as DLC and each session participant needs to have his own. It’s also worth mentioning that buying DLC games makes them yours forever, which is a blessing comparing to the competition that can remove a game if a publisher tells them to.

➤ Games

Tabletop Simulator comes with over a dozen classic games like chess, dominoes and backgammon. The platform hosts over 2000 titles, some of which you have to pay for (e.g. Zombicide, Viticulture, Scythe). There are also prototypes and games created by the Steam Workshop users.

2. Tabletopia

Everdell on Tabletopia. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

➤ What is it

Tabletopia was created back in 2014 by a bunch of industry savvy Russians, and I doubt they expected it to become so huge among board gaming community. It originally worked as a web based app where you could play some implemented tabletop games online. That already gave it an edge over TTS as you could use it on toaster-tier PCs.

➤ Platforms

Tabletopia scores an easy win when it comes to the amount of platforms you can use it on nowadays. The basic version is still web based and works on most PCs quite well, but it was also ported to iOS and Android, so you can play your favourite games when traveling, waiting at the dentist’s or dropping a chocolate cobra. There’s also a free Steam version available for everyone.

➤ How does it work

Dice Throne on Tabletopia. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

What makes it different from the competition? It’s mostly free. You can buy the $5 premium membership and get access to more simultaneous game sessions, the so called “Premium Rooms” and “Premium Games” usually based on high profile licences.

The interface is intuitive and offers tons of keyboard shortcuts (for shuffling cards or rolling dice) to make games faster. Just like in Tabletop Simulator, there’s no AI involved so you have to know the rules and move all the game elements by your own hand (well… cursor). Many games are already set up to play, offer counting turns and can automate certain parts of gameplay.

➤ Games

Over 700 titles, including some huge names like Wingspan, Dice Throne or games awaiting retail releases (like On Mars by Vital Lacerda). Sadly a portion of these is available only in the $5 Premium option. Luckily: only 1 player needs a premium subscription to open a room, and after that, regular members can join him freely.

3. Board Game Arena

Stone Age on Board Game Arena. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

➤ What is it

Established back in 2010 as a place to play board games, BGA is quite different than the two services mentioned above. It’s closer to a client for multiplayer gaming than a realistic simulator.

➤ Platforms

Web browser only… but as it happens: modern smartphones have these too, so you can use BGA freely on mobile. No app required. It also works on most video game consoles with web browsers (hurry up Nintendo, pretty please).

➤ How does it work

Board Game Arena is web based like Tabletopia. You have to make an account to play anything. BGA is free, but a Premium option exists too. You can click on any game but it makes you wait for a premium user to join (which usually happens after some minutes).

The main driving point here is the fact that the app isn’t a physics simulator. It’s a full blown platform with games, programmed rules, automated turns etc. After logging in you choose a game and wait for other players to join. After a few minutes the game begins and you choose actions, roll dice and just focus on pure playing. Many titles also have tutorials available. Tournaments are held once in a while and there’s a scoreboard for best players on the website in each game’s category.

Premium membership grants access to launching premium games (like Carcassonne or 7 Wonders), to hot-seat mode and voice/video chatting.

➤ Games

According to the website, they have a total of 159 board games available. Lots of popular and well liked titles here: Race for the Galaxy, Takenoko, Through the Ages, Tzolk’in, Love Letter and many more. New games are being added each month.

4. Yucata.de

Castles of Burgndy on Yucata. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

➤ What is it

Yucata.de is an “online gaming portal” made purely as a hobby project of its creator in… 2001. Don’t get mistaken by the “.de” at the end – the site is fully translated to english as well as all of the games hosted on it. And it’s 100% free.

➤ Platforms

Again: web based but also works on mobile. The web gameplay is definitely more polished, but the smartphone version is there for you, should you ever need it. The author is also working on improving it constantly.

➤ How does it work

The Voyages of Marco Polo on Yucata. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

Comparing to Board Game Arena, all games on Yucata aren’t played in real time. They work like good old “play by mail” RPGs or correspondence chess. Players make a move and then can leave to watch a movie, go to grocery or explore Oceania. That’s why the creator encourages playing more than 1 game at once or choosing the so-called “fast mode”. The UI feels simple, but the overall experience is really good.

➤ Games

There are about 150 games, many of them from German creators. At Yucata you can play titles like Castles of Burgundy, Roll Through the Ages, The Voyages of Marco Polo  or some lesser known games.

Conclusion

There is no clear winner here. Just choose something that fits your needs the most. Tabletop simulator goes for realism, Tabletopia has tons of great licenses, BGA makes you play the game without bothering with shuffling or element placement, and Yucata should suit people who want to savour their games a little longer.

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