You’ve got to admit that playing actual tabletop games has a unique feel that playing their digital adaptations cannot provide. However, times have changed and you’ve got to find creative alternatives if you want to keep enjoying them. Online board games are a great alternative, and they can still be as thrilling, fun, and engaging if you’re willing to try! But where do you play them and how do they work? Below is a list of the best PC adaptations of board games and how you and your friends can play them.
If you’re looking for other types of online games, here is our list of the best online games to play with friends at home.
What Is an Online Board Game?
An online board game is a digital version of a tabletop game that you can play on your computer. Some of them are also available to play on mobile devices. These games follow the same mechanics and rules as their physical counterparts. The difference is you don’t have to meet up with your friends face-to-face in order to play. You can find them on various websites, and you and your friends all have to have access to the game, be logged in, and be connected.
The basic requirement is that you have a desktop or a laptop that you can use and an internet connection. Sometimes, you may have to set up a camera or video conferencing, but most of the time, you can enjoy the games without one. You will find more information about playing online board games with videos later in this guide.
Best Online Board Games
This list consists of both classic and modern tabletop games that you can play on your PC. You may have played some of them before with your friends, but it’s always a good idea to try new ones even if you’re not familiar with the mechanics. As mentioned, all of your friends including you should have access to the game so if the game needs to be purchased, you must all own the game on your devices. This list of online board games includes both paid and free games.
Ah, one of the favorites and also one of the most frustrating board games out there, Settlers of Catan is now available to play online. This online board game or adaptation is based on the original combined with its card game, Rivals for Catan. Don’t be discouraged if you’ve never played the card game. When you start, you will see a tutorial of how the game is played and how it works online.
Catan is fun to play because you all start off with minimal resources. Your chances of winning or at least surviving far into the game depend on your strategy and luck. In the online Catan Universe, you have the option to play only with people you know or try your luck with random players from all over the world. One advantage of playing this game online is it features excellent graphics. So, if you loved playing the Catan board game, you will enjoy seeing its world come to life on your screen. There are also other modes that you can play and you can also purchase add-ons where you can compete with Artificial Intelligence (AI) opponents.
Where Can You Play Catan Online?
You can play the Catan online board game directly from your browser both on PC and Mac. You can also download it from Steam or play it on mobile by downloading the app from the Play Store or App Store.
Catan is free to play on Steam, Play Store, App Store, and on the browser version.
Mysterium is one of the online board games that is played in a cooperative (co-op) style. If you like horror-themed games, this is a fun one that has a lot of twists and turns. Just like in the tabletop game, you and your friends will explore a mystical haunted house where one of you will play the role of a ghost. The rest will be left to solve the murder mystery behind the death of the said ghost. It’s ideal for a small group. The mechanics are the same as the physical board game, but the online version features a new story mode where you can discover darker secrets.
Mysterium also offers other game modes such as the player-versus-player (PVP) instead of it being a full co-op game. The game also has a Discord group where you can chat or interact with other players. Discord is a chat platform that is widely used mostly in gaming. You will learn a bit more about Discord in the latter part of this guide.
Here is our in-depth article on what Discord is and everything you need to know about it.
Where Can You Play Mysterium Online?
Mysterium is available to download from Steam for PC only. You can also download the app from the Play Store for Android devices.
Mysterium costs roughly $3 on both Steam and the Play Store.
Another co-op game, Pandemic requires detailed strategy and planning among all members of your group. You have to defeat the virus that is plaguing all of humanity as one. This tabletop game is well-known for being one of the hardest to win and the same is true for its online version. So, make sure that you have smart and resourceful people in your group! Each of you will play as a member of an elite team that is responsible for worldwide disease control. You have to get every city in the world under control to stop the virus from spreading. One mistake can lead to multiple infections. It is extremely challenging but the reward of winning the game is priceless.
The great thing about this game is you can play it over and over again, and it’s never the same so it doesn’t get boring. An advantage of the digital version is it’s available on multiple platforms and you and your friends can play the same game using different devices. So, if you have fantasies of saving humanity from the brink of extinction, which is very timely, you might want to give this one a go!
Where Can You Play Pandemic Online?
Pandemic is available to download on Steam both for PC and Mac. You can also play it on your Android or Apple devices. It’s also one of the video game board games that you can play on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
The game is approximately $4 on all platforms.
This is one of the online board games that require two teams to play against each other. It requires a lot of trust among your team members and also a great deal of communication that will not be obvious to your opponents. If you think it’s a simple guessing game, think again! Codenames is a sophisticated card game where you have to uncover a pattern using single-word clues. It has two versions: one where the clues are shown as images and one where the clues are already written on the cards. Both are fun and just as difficult as the other. The game-ender is if one of you guesses the Assassin or the Spy, but one team can also win the game based on points. The online version follows the same mechanics.
Where Can You Play Codenames Online?
You can play Codenames from an internet browser from any computer. One of your friends has to create a room on the website and share the link to the rest so all of you can join.
Codenames is free to play online.
5. A Game of Thrones
There are many tabletop game versions of A Game of Thrones, but this online adaptation is based on the strategy game designed by Fantasy Flight Games. Each player gets to play a house. You have to conquer as many kingdoms as you can, as fast as you can, all while dealing with Wildling attacks along the way.
The first player to conquer eight areas wins and that concludes the game. A player can also win if he or she has conquered the most houses after ten rounds. This game has been known for causing a lot of fights among friends; there is a lot of backstabbing involved so be mentally prepared before you set out to be the one true king/queen of Westeros.
This is one of the online board games that are as faithful to the tabletop version as possible. It involves a combination of strategic planning, wits in battling, and diplomacy skills. Sometimes, you will have to form an alliance with another house but not for long. After all, only one player wins. As George RR Martin said, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” Are you up for all the political scheming to win the game?
Where Can You Play A Game of Thrones Online?
This version of A Game of Thrones is available to download on Steam both for Mac and PC. You and your friends must all own the game and add each other as friends within the game.
If you want to share your Steam Library with your friends, here is our guide on how to share a Steam game library with multiple users.
Around $19 on Steam.
The ultimate strategy game for geeks, Scythe is perfect for those who love tactical gameplay. You are living in a world some years after the “Great War” but the conflicts have not ended and you must do all you can to survive the clashes. Just like in the tabletop version, you will be playing against your friends, sometimes copying each other’s strategies just to advance. Yes, it is that kind of game. The mechanics may be a bit complicated but once you get the hang of it, you will be unstoppable from your desire to crush your enemies.
It is one of the online board games where you will have a great advantage if you’ve played the tabletop version but don’t despair if you haven’t. The game features a tutorial at the start and it’s pretty easy to learn. Devising your strategies though is another thing altogether so it’s a good idea to have a test run before an actual competition. The game also has a really cool soundtrack so as stressful as the pressure of winning can be, it can still be pretty relaxing to play. Scythe is ideal for three to four players.
Where Can You Play Scythe Online?
Scythe is available to download on Steam both for PC and Mac. You and your friends must all own the game and add each other as friends within the game.
Approximately $19 on Steam
7. Secret Hitler
More popular as a party game, Secret Hitler is a lot of fun to play with a large group of friends. It was originally a card game where your group gets divided into the bad guys (fascists) and the good guys (liberals). One of you, as the name suggests, will be Hitler but only his allies will know who he is. Hitler, on the other hand, does not know who they are. In the tabletop version, the rest of the players close their eyes while the others reveal themselves to their teammates. It may be hard to imagine how this type of game can be played online, but it is one of those online board games that have been well-adapted for computer gaming.
To win the game, the liberals need to pass five liberal policies or assassinate Hitler if they can correctly guess who he is; otherwise, they lose. The fascists have to do the same, but they need to pass six fascist policies to win. They can also win by electing Hitler as chancellor so long as they can hide it from their opponents before he gets the seat.
Where Can You Play Secret Hitler Online?
Secret Hitler is available to play on any browser both for Mac and PC. You and your friends have to create an account to gain access to the game and play in the same room. It also has a great community on Discord.
Secret Hitler is free to play on browsers.
8. Terraforming Mars
This tabletop adaptation is one of the online board games that get really exciting as the game progresses. It seems pretty laidback at first, but you will get to see the action as you get involved in terraforming the Red Planet. You and your friends will each take the role of a corporation, competing with each other on who can make the most money to make the planet inhabitable. Unfortunately, this is not out of goodwill but because each of you has your own selfish agenda on the planet. The race is on and whoever builds the most “green areas” on the map and grabs the most awards wins the game.
This is one of the online board games with friends that can last for hours so make sure you set aside enough time for the campaign. The same mechanics apply to the digital version plus an option to play an “AI match” game mode.
Where Can You Play Terraforming Mars Online?
Terraforming Mars is available to download on Steam for PC only. You and your friends must all own the game and add each other as friends within the game.
Around $19 on Steam.
9. Small World
Fantasy lovers, whether they’ve played the tabletop version or not, will greatly enjoy this game! Though the game is called Small World, the world within it is rich and features lots of action. Here, you get to choose from and control fantasy races and your chosen race has to conquer new lands, killing off the others. It’s one of the online board games that can be really funny because of how your fellow players can go extinct and have to change races to get into the game again.
Each fantasy race has unique magical abilities that give it an advantage above the others. But to win, you must devise a concrete and cunning strategy which usually involves wiping out the other races. Harsh but fun. There are so many options! Elves, gnomes, mermaids, etc. If you and your friends love fantasy, this is a digital board game you must play.
Where Can You Play Small World Online?
Small World is available to download on Steam for Mac and PC. You and your friends must all own the game and add each other as friends within the game.
Approximately $19 on Steam.
10. Tabletop Simulator
If you’ve ever fantasized about flipping a table out of frustration like in movie scenes, here is your chance! You and your friends play on a virtual table and the mechanics? Forget it! There are absolutely no rules. Your group gets to make your own board game or choose from thousands of games already created by others. You can create your own Role Playing Game (RPG) dungeons, create scripts, jigsaw puzzles, or play all sorts of classic games; you name it. If you think your game is so awesome, you can even make it public and allow others to play it.
As mentioned, you can flip the table anytime you want, like when you are losing the game. Players can also hurl items around, throw them across the board, and all sorts of crazy things. It is the closest thing to face-to-face interaction as can be.
Where Can You Play Tabletop Simulator Online?
Tabletop Simulator is available to download on Steam for Mac and PC. You and your friends must all own the game and add each other as friends within the game.
Roughly $19 on Steam.
What Makes a Good Online Board Game?
The most important thing to consider when choosing a PC adaptation of a board game is how close it is to the actual tabletop version. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose; you can just play any other online game. The idea is to recreate the thrill and unique experience that you get when playing board games in a meet-up with friends. Of course, it never hurts to have additional twists and game modes but the original gameplay must be present.
It is also important that the mechanics are clear. You don’t want to waste hours figuring out the rules especially if you’ve never played the game offline. The game should at least offer a basic tutorial at the start and indicate how it is played early on. Some online board games also offer in-game tips as you play.
Good graphics and animation are also important aspects. Even in physical board games, you want it to appear as pleasant as possible otherwise, it’s just not as fun to play. Make sure to also read reviews from users if the game gets buggy and lags. These things ruin the mood for all players involved.
Where Else Can You Download and Play Online Board Games?
There are lots of websites where you can play online board games directly from your browser. Most of the time, they also have an app that you can install on your computer. Some, as mentioned, are also available to play on mobile. Here are some great places where you can find more digital adaptations of tabletop games.
Are There Other Ways to Play Tabletop Games Online With Friends?
If you want to simulate playing board games with your friends as close to reality as possible, there is a way. If one of you owns the actual board game, they can take it out and all of you can set up a video call or video conferencing through one of the ways below.
As briefly mentioned above, Discord is an online chatting and video calling platform that is widely used for gaming. Through it, you can create a private group with your friends and set up a video call while playing your game.
Set up the board game on a surface and have one camera focused on it. This presents different challenges especially if there are cards that you need to keep secret. It is highly unlikely that all of you will own a physical copy of the game so you need to be creative on how to go about the mechanics. But it can work if you all can agree on what’s acceptable and not.
The great thing about Discord is that you can chat and private message each other while playing so if there are secrets involved, you can simply send a direct message (DM) to your teammates.
The same is true for Zoom and Skype calls. Both also have chat features so you can do most anything that you can do on Discord. Zoom has a particular advantage over Skype since you can simultaneously see each other’s cameras.
In the next section, we list down some tabletop games that are perfect using the two platforms above.
Games You Can Play Through Videoconferencing Apps
If you choose to play actual games through video conferencing, try these games out! These games don’t have a lot of complications since they don’t involve hiding cards and the like.
Cards Against Humanity
Since only one person needs to lay down the main two cards, the rest of you can just shout your answers. Although each player also has to pick their own cards, there’s a way around this. The host or the game master can pick the cards for them and DM/PM the content of their cards to them. It may take some time but the important thing is it’s doable.
While it’s not technically a board game, it’s still a fun game to play over a video call. Go ahead and go on a call and invite as many of your friends as you like. One can host the game and the rest of you can manage with a pen and paper. When it’s somebody’s turn, they can simply focus the camera on what they are drawing, and whoever guesses can simply yell the answer! Of course, if you guys each own a whiteboard that’s an option, too but not a requirement.
This could easily be as self-explanatory as possible. You and your friends can write down your answers using a pen and paper. At the end of each round, you can show your list and read them out loud.
As you can see, playing board games with friends is still possible to be done remotely, especially during a pandemic when people are encouraged to stay at home. All you need is a little creativity and the willingness to try. And the great thing is there are already online board games that have been created for you. You just need to access them over the internet or download and install the games!