28 June 2023
Here's 10 great tabletop games to enjoy on digital devices
Sometimes there’s not enough time, room, or energy for all the cardboard, so here’s a few of our favourite digital adaptations and wholly digital tabletop games that scratch the same itch!
Carcassonne – Tiles & Tactics
A favourite around these parts, the Carcassonne app offers all the fun of the full game, but without having to deal with the sprawl. Available through Asmodee Digital on mobile phones, the Nintendo Switch and Steam in glorious 3D. This is a great ‘stuck on a plane, train or in a traffic jam’ game with its simple Play and Pass mode, where you can take your turn and then pass the device on to the next player. This makes the game feel surprisingly close to a physical experience, rather than one where everyone’s looking at their phones in the same room. You can of course jump into online games too, if you’re lacking an opponent nearby.
Can anyone remember how to play all of Root once it’s been on the shelf for a couple of months? I didn’t until I downloaded the Root digital game to my phone, as now I can had a refresh my memory of forest fighting any time I like. It happens to also be a really good implementation of the board game in the digital space, brought to us by Dire Wolf digital. The animations are charming, the AI is strong enough to teach you something every game and, if you’re like me, it’s the best way to reconnect with how it all works in time for you to take over the tabletop.
Some games are a hard sell for certain groups. ‘Reliving the Cold War’ might be your idea of a good night in, spending a minimum of two hours reliving the highs and lows of apocalyptic brinkmanship. Equally, that two hour playtime might not work for someone else, as much as you might want to bathe in the history of the time. In this version of the game there’s the merciful online play that is totally asynchronous – instead of worrying about flagging at the table, you can pick up a game with someone around the world and play over a number of days or weeks, depending on the pace set. A great way into a great game, even for those who might have been on the fence at the start.
I don’t have many games on my phone that get tapped into life as much as Hearthstone. A digital card game (there’s no reasonable way to play game on the tabletop) that scratches most of my card game itches. Based in the World of Warcraft universe, it offers digital deck building, pack opening and battling. Most importantly, it offers weird and bombastic 'this-then-that' interactions, as various mechanics bounce off one another. Totally free to play, unless you get into the mucky business of buying packs.
Magic The Gathering: Arena
This latest attempt to make the titanic card game work digitally is the best yet. With all of the complexity of the original tabletop game, for those who want to remind themselves of the thrill of Magic, this is a great place to start before dropping hundreds of pounds on boosters. For those who are used to ‘digital first’ card games, Arena can feel a little less smooth compared to other games on this list. Importantly though, it really is Magic. For those who are new to the game, it’s quick to earn a few pre-constructed decks and start your journey without spending a single penny.
For some, this is the best way to play Gloomhaven. No table sprawl, no real-life admin, just a chill time beating up some skeletons in a dungeon. What many love about Gloomhaven, apart from the tight Euro-ish feeling combat resolution, is that epic sense of scale and complexity that the game offers. Here, that’s all done for you, without the bookkeeping and with a big dollop of special effects. If you’re gearing up for your first real play through of Frosthaven, then getting to grips with the flow of Gloomhaven digitally is a great way to prepare.
Another digital-only card game, but this time with everything turned up to 11. The main draw are some superheroes who I hear are super up and coming, whilst the gameplay isn't at all like the "Snap" matching game we all played as kids. Instead, you’ll play six rounds of attempting to control a majority of the three locations by playing character cards to your side of the board. Each card has its own different effect and stat combination, offering interesting interactions with the three locations, which also have their own special properties. This ‘area control’ aspect, mixed with the small deck size (12 cards!) and extremely cool card design makes for a compelling head-to-head puzzle.
With this release of Catan on consoles, there’s never been a better time to be jumping back into the classic. And the fact it’s available on the big screen via your Playstation or Xbox (with Switch release coming later this year) means you can enjoy the game whilst passing a controller around on the sofa, relaxing with snacks. While we’re not going to claim it’s going to be the new Jackbox for on-tv-party-game fun, it does sound like a very good way to spend a lazy Sunday morning.
Scythe: Digital Edition
If you want big strategy without the big board, then Scythe’s digital adaptation will give you plenty of 1920’s Dieselpunk mileage for your money. Hop around hexes and expand your domain using your faction’s unique powers, slowly upgrading your faction’s strength as you take over the world one step at a time. If you like the world enough you can always leave the tabletop altogether and try out Iron Harvest, a real-time strategy video game also with art provided by Jakub Różalski.
The chill modern classic is now also available on PC, Mac and Switch. Collect birds, build them habitats and score points through exciting avian combos. The digital adaptation has the cute benefit that all the birds on the cards flap their wings about, and even tweet or squawk - now that’s what we call a living card game. If you just want a blissed-out time without having to crack out the solo rules for the original, then this is no (bird) brainer.
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This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.