Board games are a great way to sit down with friends and have an analog good time. But realistically, it’s sometimes hard to make that happen! Or, like me, you just wanna sit bundled in your PJs with a cup of tea and have some quiet time while also getting in a board game. Back in our gamer survey results, we looked at how people play digitally with apps – and we also had a decent amount of people respond that they play online when asking where they get together for gaming. We thought it would be useful to provide a nudge in the direction of some of these online gaming platforms in case you’d like to try them out – and in addition to that nudge, a little helpful basic info on getting started on each of those sites.
Board Game Arena (BGA) is the main site to visit if you’d like to play in real-time rather than turn-based for games – however, both are available! There is quite a community structure to BGA – you can take part as much or as little as you like, but the main influence this will have is on you starting up on the site. You will have to get to ‘Angel’ level to start games, as well as speak on the general channel – this means getting 3 positive ratings (thumbs up from fellow players) as well as 3 games played and having had an account for 3 days.
Here’s the basics for navigating around BGA (account required to play):
- Take a look at the list of games available – type a game’s name in the search field, or browse the categories. Once you select a game, you’ll see its page has info, a link to buy the game (physical and app if available), start a game, rules & how to play (generally, rather than on BGA itself). You can even use the “Watch games in progress” link to check out a game currently being played if you’re curious before joining a game yourself.
- I mentioned community above – on BGA you’re able to add friends, join groups (there are some BGG ones, or groups for games, locations, etc). There are also forums available for wider discussion.
- Rather than navigating to specific games, there’s an area called the Game Lobby on BGA. Here, you can add games you’re interested to your list from the drop-down (“Add to my Games). The Lobby will let you browse to find the games you want to play that are open to join right now, and find other open games not on your list etc.
- Your player profile shows your stats, wins, games you have played among other things. You can set information about yourself here, and other users can post messages in your “recent activity” section.
- One last thing about BGA gaming – they run frequent tournaments – these are run real time, so might not be good for everyone, but if you love a game and can make the time, then it’ll be a great way for you to take part!
- Last of all, BGA offers a ‘club’ membership so you can pay to support the site should you wish.
Yucata.de (Yucata) is the other online gaming site with an enormous list of games to choose from, and it differs from BGA in that it offers turn-based play only. While there are discussion forums, the level of community is not quite as extensive as over at BGA either. However, you can add friends and maintain a profile with personal/game preference information here.
Here’s the basics for navigating around Yucata (although guest status is offered to try games, accounts are required to play):
- Find the complete list of games offered for play on the Game Information page.
- Clicking through to a game will provide a little information (designer, BGG link and the like) as well as a link to rules (may be video or text, depending on the game) and a button to create an invitation for a game. (You can also go directly to creating an invitation which starts with a list of games to choose from.)
- In creating an invitation, the basics of what you would want to do is specify: number of players, whether it’s a public or private invitation, and playing speed (request only, not system mandated). I find to begin with, leaving other options as default is just fine.
- Private invitations will bring up your buddy list to choose from, or you can type a username in the box. Public invitations will show up under a game’s name and can be found by browsing the list of open games. This page will also allow you to manage invitations created by you, and find other games to join (either personal invites, or public games).
- Beyond those basics, there is a great FAQ to scan if you want to learn more about any of the features we haven’t covered.
- Yucata also take donations in order to help with costs of running the site.
Friend of the DWP and Meeples Included contributor, Mauve, has a few great tutorial videos on using Yucata to create and join games over here – check it out!
Boîte à Jeux (BAJ) is another turn-based game site, and although the selection of games is smaller, it still offers some great choices. Much of the site and community are primarily French-language, but English translations are offered on the main and all game pages, so don’t let it stop you if you’re not multi-lingual!
Here’s the basics for navigating around BAJ (account required to play):
- You can browse the games available for play, which also provides links to rules, official websites, and BGG entries on those games.
- Using the “Start a New Game” link, you can select a game from the drop down box, and change options there as you see fit. Inviting guests is available, but you can also leave that blank to have a fully public invitation.
- If you’d like to find a game to join, then it’s quite easy to see what’s currently available for players.
- Set up the basics of your profile here.
- BAJ has a help page, in case you’re looking for information we haven’t covered here.
- Forums for discussion are available, but only in French.
- Like the others, BAJ accepts donations for players looking for a premium account.
BrettSpielWelt (BSW) is a primarily German language site with a decent catalogue of games, offered to play turn-based. You are able to select English as a language, but I do find that parts of the site will still remain German – this means that while there are times I’ll check out BSW for a game, it’s low on the list of my favoured hosts. In addition it tends to run smoother by downloading a client, but you can access via a browser like all of the above sites.
Here’s the basics of navigating around BSW (account required to play):
- Find a game on the list page – clicking through will take you to that game’s page, with information, rules, a link to purchase, and then a “Play Now” link.
- Selecting “Play Now” via a browser will take you to the mobile play site – unfortunately not specifically to the game you want to play.
- In the left-hand sidebar, you can find the option “Play” – click through to that and it’ll show what is open to join right now. You can also browse using the tabs Wanted/Favourite/Suggestions/Categories to find games to start or join.
- Categories will allow you to click through to specific game pages, and there using the ‘Spielen’ drop down arrow start a game.
- The BSW basic help page may be of assistance for anything we haven’t covered here – as it can be a little challenging to navigate the site!
To finish up, I’d like to mention a couple of other platforms offering online play for board games, but aren’t quite so easy to provide a quick basic summary of. The first is Tabletop Simulator (TTS), available via Steam. TTS allows players to create their own games, but there are also officially licensed games available for purchase through Steam (currently just shy of 20, but I’m sure this is growing) – all games are managed by players, rather than AI like the sites above. The other more involved platform for play is Tabletopia – this project was Kickstarted last year, and is currently running as a browser platform (although a Steam app and other mobile apps are in the works). Using Unity, Tabletopia provides pre-set games to play without an AI to manage the rules and progress for you – so, like TTS, it’s more like sitting down around a table with friends to play a game that you all interact with specifically. Tabletopia are working with publishers to bring approved content to the platform, and they also offer ways for designers to put together prototypes for testing via the site. These two platforms are fantastic, advanced ways for folks to game together online. With these, and all of the above sites, I hope you’re able to sit down and play a game with friends whenever and wherever you can!
Nicole had played a lot of backgammon, Life and Monopoly when younger. She started playing hobby games in University after trying out D&D 3rd edition, and then joining her University game club. After a while she gravitated towards board games as a casual gamer.
After moving to Toronto in 2009 she started gaming more and met her (former) partner Adam through the hobby and hasn't turned back. It's hard for her to pick a favourite game, but if you really stared her down she might pick Castles of Burgundy.
When not gaming, Nicole enjoys cooking/baking, reading comics, watching tv/movies and visiting museums! And cuddling every dog she can.
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Online game sites are a godsend, when my family is tired or I’m busier with work. Or less busy, and then a turn here and there on my phone gets me through the day. They’re a great way to try new games before you buy, or play the heavier ones you can’t get to the table as often.
Also check out some of the specific sites that have Through the Ages: New (boardgamingonline), Food Chain Magnate/Antiquity/more (play.boardgamecore.net), Terra Mystica (snellman) and more.
Thanks for the recs, Jamie! I really need to give the Terra Mystica site a turn someday, I’ve known about it for ages but haven’t ever tried it. – Nicole
I use BGA, BAJ, Yucata–great sites. I slightly prefer BAJ because I’ve found the implementations even of complex games like Dungeon Lords are pretty clean, and if one uncovers a bug the developer pops up to fix it very quickly. BGA is quick to fix bugs on new games but older games often in my experience languish. But BGA does offer a really great and fast-growing catalogue of games. — One quibble: “One last thing about BGA gaming – they run frequent tournaments – these are run real time” — actually there are also turn-based tournaments (both round robin and Swiss system). Only 2-player games, though.
Well, I need to keep an eye out for those turn-based tournaments, then 🙂 Thanks, Nate!
You didn’t mention Happy Meeple which has real time board/card games for 2 players complete with tutorial and AI for those times when human opponents can’t be found. Lost Cities a game by award winning designer Reiner Knizia along with Keltis by the same designer is there.
I’m just a satisfied customer but the link above is a referral link which I get in game gold for only. Not significant enough to bribe me to change my opinion!