There’s a lot of great places to play board games online, though most people aren’t aware of all the options. You can play with people you know or other passionate gamers. While nothing quite captures the experience of playing face-to-face with friends, there’s major advantages to playing board games online. Advantages include accessibility/ease of access, the ability to try out a wide range of new games without any upfront purchase, and wider exposure to a broader community of gamers.
ALL OF THE SITES FEATURED IN THIS LIST ARE FREE! However, not all of them are equal in terms of accessibility across various platforms. For example, most of these sites on this list are able to be used on my Chromebook, which only has Chrome and cannot download games for use like Windows or Mac computers. But not all of them. Hopefully this list is helpful as you explore sites to develop your board game skills and interests!
Board Game Arena (http://en.boardgamearena.com/) is the multi-game site that I’ve spent the most amount of time on, personally. It’s got a very useable interface, and once you’ve been introduced to it, it’s easy to use. There’s also enough of a userbase that you won’t be waiting around very long if you’re not choosy about what game in particular you will play. There’s also safeguards to ensure that you have a good time, such as prompts asking ‘do you know the rules’ or ‘this player hasn’t played before; do they know the rules?’ Functionally the site works quite well; there isn’t any lag that I’ve noticed. Among its other useful traits, there are prompts for when it’s your turn, and good sound effects to alert you to when someone made some moves on the board. Also, the site is apparently accessible to be used on various smart devices other than computers. The site has a diverse international userbase, which is really awesome. I have played board games with people from all over the world, often never saying a word to each other. Instead we interact entirely by our approach to the board. It is this kind of experience that confirms to me how much board gaming is an art - it transcends languages. Board Game Arena effectively makes the artistic components of board games very tangible, in this way. You can play in real-time or asynchronously via this site. Some of the most popular games on this site are: Seasons, Stone Age, Race for the Galaxy, Puerto Rico, and Hanabi. Accessible via Google Chrome.
Biggest concerns I have are the accessibility for people with vision limitations; granted, this is going to be an issue no matter what board game site one is using. However, my partner’s primary frustration with this site is that the interface isn’t as pleasant or readable as other sites he’s enjoyed (to be discussed below). I think if you are adept with screen reader software, you may be able to keep up using the real-time, selectable text descriptions in the lower-right side. The other big concern is reputation. Slow (or new) players will not find this site particularly friendly; going over your time restriction will get you public penalties, and advanced players are often going to be irritable and downvote you on the public reputation system. I haven’t had a problem with this personally, but it is definitely a concern.
A site not dissimilar to Board Game Arena (BGA), Yucata (http://www.yucata.de/) is a site that I recently found via BoardGameGeek. It services an international audience, similar to Board Game Arena. I personally find it less serviceable than BGA. However, there are certain games available on this site that aren’t available on BGA. For example, one of my favorite games, Carcassonne, isn’t available on BGA. This is a place I go to get that fix, if it’s not convenient to use the phone apps for that game. Like BGA, you can play in real-time or asynchronously via this site. Other games available on this site (specifically not available on BGA currently) include 7 Steps (not to be confused with 7 Wonders), Saint Petersburg, At the Gates of Loyang, and The Castles of Burgandy. Accessible via Google Chrome.
My boyfriend swears by Brettspielwelt (http://www.brettspielwelt.de/?nation=en). However, until very recently, I’ve always thought of Brettspielwelt as inaccessible to me because I don’t have a compatible device upon which I could download the native program. However, in doing research for this article, it looks like there’s a new browser-based mobile site! This is very exciting, except I don’t know how to change the site language from German to one of the three languages I can (better) read. So I’m fruitlessly clicking around trying to figure out how to do that. In the meantime, hopefully you can figure it out. Games available here include Seven Wonders and Carcassone, as well as Caylus and Marco Polo. This site is mostly designed for real-time play, from my understanding, but don’t quote me on that. Apparently this lite version is accessible on Google Chrome? But I haven’t figured out the site yet.
Yet other of my friends swear by the site, Boiteajeaux (http://www.boiteajeux.net/index.php?p=regles). This site has a lot of games not featured on any of the sites mentioned above, like Agricola, Alhambra, and Dixit. This site allows for both asynchronous and real-time play. The setup of the site is good, and its visually well laid-out. As far as accessibility to low-vision players, I think BGA is superior, but I’m willing to concede that point if advised by low-vision gamers. The site is based in France, but it deals with multilanguage users much better than Brettspielwelt does. Accessible via Google Chrome.
Basically this is the same story as Yucata. A site not dissimilar to Board Game Arena (BGA), Your Turn My Turn (http://www.yourturnmyturn.com/) is a site that I recently found via BoardGameGeek. It also offers Carcassonne, as well as a few other games I recognize, like Kahuna and Lost Cities. But it doesn’t have quite the variety of modern games that Yucata or BGA have, so this is a tertiary resource for me. Like BGA, you can play in real-time or asynchronously via this site. Accessible via Google Chrome.
This site, IGGamecenter (http://www.iggamecenter.com/) isn’t as pretty-looking as some of the other sites, but it has its merits. For those who need clearer visuals, this site might be ideal. The major downside with this site is that most of the games on the site aren’t modern Eurogames. Instead, this site focuses almost exclusively on abstract games. Interesting abstract games, certainly, but the hard-core Eurogamers among us will probably be disappointed by the offerings on this site. However, those who are open to learning the many different kinds of checkers, for example, will be pleased by this no-frills, straightforward site. The site is designed around real-time play, but might also have options for asynchronous play. Accessible via Google Chrome.
This is an app called LackeyCCG. Full disclosure: I don’t know anything about this because I have none of the following: Windows, Mac, Linux, or iPad. But according to the site, you can play collectible card games on this app. Or, you can make your own! Pretty cool way to top off the list of multi-game platforms. Again, not accessible via Google Chrome.
Now the bulk of this article focused on multigame sites, but I just want to give a shout-out to the website where I spend most of my time: Innovation at Isotropic (http://innovation.isotropic.org/). This is a beta site for the single game, Innovation. There’s expansions available on the site. The site itself is a little inconsistent, with lag sometimes, and once in a while it goes completely offline for no apparent reason. But it’s maintained by an indie webmaster, so these are foibles I can somewhat forgive because there isn’t any other place to play this game, that I know of. And Innovation, once you get into it, is super addicting. The site itself is quite utilitarian and minimalist, and don’t even think of trying to play this game without someone helping you along. But this site makes it incredibly easy to sink one’s teeth into this excellent, complex game, and start to really master the strategy. I’ve played several hundred games of Innovation on this site at this point, and have plans for many more. Note that you’ll need a Yahoo email to log in to the site; otherwise you can play as an unregistered ‘guest.’ Accessible via Google Chrome.
This is far from a comprehensive list. Undoubtedly I missed some games that merit attention, so if you want to share them, please add to the comments to serve as a resource for other readers.
If you’re curious about researching these or other board games, check out Board Game Geek. You might be surprised by what you find there! Also, don’t forget to purchase your new games from your local board game store. Don’t know if you have a local board game store? Check out this list here and see if there’s one in your area. (Or just use Google. That also works.)
Publicists, please do not contact me regarding your game; I do not write solicited reviews.