19 December 2023
Wanting the best of digital board games? Sometimes there’s not enough time, room, or energy for all the cardboard – so here’s a few of our favourite board game adaptations and a couple of video 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 as there’s a 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 between wars in the woods? I didn’t until I downloaded the Root digital game to my phone and I can have a refresh any time I like. It happens to also be a really good implementation of the board game in the digital space (from 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 it back to the table.
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 hours might not work for you, as much as you 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 everyone flagging at the table, you can pick up a game with someone around the world over a number of weeks – should that be the pace you want to 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 or playable version of the game for the tabletop) that scratches most of my card game itches. Based in the World of Warcraft universe (I don’t understand any of it) it offers digital deck building, pack opening, and battles. 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. An excellent waste of time, in the best way.
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 – in theory at least. 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 and cultivating a CardMarket addiction. 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 preconstructed 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 with a big dollop of special effects. If you’re gearing up for your first real playthrough of Frosthaven then getting to grips with the flow of Gloomhaven digitally is a great way to prepare.
Jaws of the Lion
In an attempt to control the above mentioned Gloomhaven table sprawl and admin, Jaws of the Lion was a smaller version that felt a bit lighter for players unable or unwilling to dedicate their entire life to its cause. Perhaps a cheat for this list, but Jaws of the Lion was adapted as a digital version, but as DLC to Gloomhaven.
Another digital-only card game, but this time with everything turned up to 11. And some superheroes who I hear are super up and coming… Despite its name the snap is more of a Thanos finger-click than the classic 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 cards to your side of the board. Different cards have different effects and interactions with each location. This ‘area control’ aspect, mixed with the small deck size (12 cards!) and extremely cool card design makes for an addictive but strangely-thinky head-to-head puzzle.
Scythe: Digital Edition
If you want big strategy without the big board, then Scythe’s digital edition 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. Power up and upgrade your faction’s strength and 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, and adaptation of artist Jakub Różalski’s world.
It’s a chill modern classic that’s available on PC, Mac and Switch. Collect birds, build them habitats and score points through exciting avian combos. The digital version has the cute benefit that all the birds on the cards flap their wings about, like they’ve got somewhere to be – now that’s what we call a living card game. If you just want a blissed out birdy time without having to crack out the solo rules for the cardboard game, then this is no brainer.
Written by Christopher John Eggett, updated by Charlie Pettit.