How to play board games online with your friends

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been craving a good (in-person) board game night with your friends. To scratch my itch, I’ve moved all my board game sessions online. I’ve been playing with a few different groups through a variety of websites and apps. Here’s a roundup of which board game platforms are the best and how to get started.

This guide is for anyone who wants to play board games online with your friends but isn’t sure where to start.

But first, video chat

Live video chat will make your online board game night run much more smoothly. Seeing your friends’ faces when you take the lead is priceless but also important to keep the social aspect of board games in play.

In my experience, Zoom is the most consistent service and works on almost any device. One person in your group will need a paid subscription if you want to host an event longer than 40 minutes.

I will usually split my screen with a small, tiled video chat window on one side and the board game on the other. This lets me see everyone and the game at the same time. I do this by going fullscreen in my game then dragging the Zoom window on top of the fullscreen window.

You can also use “Enter Minimal View” in Zoom to have a single, hovering video on top of your desktop. Enable that from the Menu bar item “Meeting” then click “Enter Minimal View.”

Zoom and Dominion
Zoom and Dominion

Discord recently added screen sharing and video calls to their apps. If your playgroup already has accounts then you can use that to chat during your games.

Online board game websites and apps

Here are my favourite websites and apps to play board games online. I ranked them based on a few different criteria important to me.

  1. Ease of use
  2. Immersion
  3. Game library
  4. Cost

Board Game Arena

Board Game Arena is my top pick for playing board games online. It enforces the rules of each game automatically, runs directly in the browser, and there are a few games available for free.

Carcassonne on Board Game Arena
Carcassonne on Board Game Arena

The site is really well done, if a tad clunky to use. I was able to create an account, open a room, and invite three friends in less than 10 minutes. All four of us picked up the controls very quickly as almost everything is done via drag-and-drop movements. This is definitely the easiest way to get up and running quickly.

If you’re looking for more, upgrading to a paid account for $4 / month unlocks all 175+ games. Only one person in your group needs to have a paid account to play the premium games. You also get a few bonuses, like being able to choose your color and game statistics for upgrading.

Here’s a sample of their most popular games:

  • Carcassonne
  • 7 Wonders
  • Kingdomino
  • Hanabi
  • Sushi GO!
  • Takenoko
  • Dice Forge
  • Love Letter

Board Game Arena also includes PDF downloads for each game’s rules. These can be helpful to reference during the game or even print out to read beforehand.

Board games on Steam

If you’re looking for something a little more polished I recommend purchasing board games from Steam. These board games have added animations, contextual clues, and a whole lot more flavour than their physical counterparts. For example, playing a card from your hand might animate an explosion or cutscene.

Ticket to Ride on Steam
Ticket to Ride on Steam

These types of games are definitely the prettiest to look at but they come at a price. They are usually $5.99 to $19.99 each and sometimes require each player to own a copy. Also, they feel the least like playing a board game in real life and more like a video game.

That said, they are extremely entertaining. Just make sure that the game supports some form of online multiplayer before making your purchase.

Here are the most popular board games on Steam:

To get started on Steam you will need to create a free account and download the Steam client to your computer.

Tabletop Simulator

Going the other direction, Tabletop Simulator offers an open sandbox of board game fun. TTS, as it’s often known as online, is the closest you can get to playing games in real life. It’s a full blown physics simulator, too. Meaning you can stack pieces on top of each other or even flip the table!

Wingspan on Tabletop Simulator
Wingspan on Tabletop Simulator

Playing board games on Tabletop Simulator has a bit of a learning curve. Even moving your pieces around the board can take a little getting used to. Also very few rules, if any, are enforced by the game. You are in charge of making sure everyone is playing correctly.

Tabletop Simulator costs $19.99 but is often on sale for $9.99. Every person in your group must own a copy of the game to play online. If you are buying for a group make sure to get the four-pack to save $20 and gift the three extra copies to your friends.

Once you have TTS installed you need to add downloadable content (DLC) to actually play games. Each DLC game costs $4.99 to $14.99 but only one person in the group needs to own a copy. These downloads are usually highly polished and some will even set up the game for you. Wingspan, for example, is really well done and saves a ton of setup time.

Here are the most popular board games (DLC) on Tabletop Simulator:

Tabletop Playground

Player 2 has entered the game! Tabletop Playground, a new alternative to Tabletop Simulator, is in open beta. Videos and early reviews look promising.

Tabletop Playground
Tabletop Playground

A lot of the focus is on creating and customizing in-game. Give it a download if you’re prototyping a board game or want to try your hand at creating one!

Online board game nights

If you’re looking for a group I recommend weTabletop’s online board game event page. There you will find a bunch of board game events that are hosted online. I even see some Jackbox Games listed!

If you already have a group but need an additional player or two you can post your event to weTabletop.

I hope this guide helps you play board games online with your friends! If you have any other tips or questions you can reply to this tweet.