While there have been many ways in which we can keep ourselves entertained by our collective lonesomes, one can’t help but miss the social aspect of playing board games. But have no fear, as a lot of board games are actually available to play online via Steam.
But if you’re strapped for cash, or just don’t see the point in buying a digital version of a game you already own, there are actually a lot of digital games that go for the low, low, cost of free.
Just know that these games here look incredibly stripped-down due to a lack of proper licensing, but rest assured that they are essentially the same, gameplay-wise.
WIthout further ado, here are some of the most popular tabletop games you can play with your friends during this quarantine period!
Players: 1 – 4
A classic among classics, it’s no surprise that Catan is available for free on the internet. This resource-collecting and civilisation-building game still ranks among one of the best out there, simply because it’s super easy to pick up, and super competitive, though it doesn’t initially look the part.
Players are all vying to be the most successful civilisation by taking over as much of the land as possible.
Everyone starts out with just one plot of land and one building, and have to expand by acquiring resources such as lumber, bricks, and grain in order to build roads, cities or settlements.
Players can also trade amongst themselves, should anyone be lacking in resources, though they can be declined as well. It’s a matter of managing your resources wisely and taking advantage of other players (while not letting them do the same to you) in order to win.
Players: 2 – 8
Those who’ve played the original tabletop game would be very familiar with this one, because it plays exactly the same! For those who haven’t, this game is super easy to play, and made much easier (and cheaper obviously) with the fact that there is no shuffling of cards involved.
Players are split into two teams – Red and Blue – with one player on each team being a spymaster who provides the clues to the words they want their respective teams to figure out.
Spymasters can’t give teammates the exact word that’s on the screen, but they can provide one-word synonyms or clues. Correct guesses mean that the team gets to guess more words, until they win or until they guess incorrectly. Just make sure not to guess the black card, though, as that spells an instant loss!
Players: 2 – 5
Fans of the original Hanabi will no doubt be thrilled to know that one of the most popular and easy-to-pick-up card games is also available for free online.
For the uninitiated, Hanabi is a game about making fireworks happen by stacking coloured cards from each player’s hand in numerical order.
However, the catch here is that players aren’t allowed to see their own cards, and can only see other players’ cards.
To aid players in playing the correct card, communication can only be done by indicating which card number or colour the player has in their hands. For example, you can only say “you have one yellow card” or “you have three #3 cards”.
Hanabi Live is exactly the same as the original, but since it doesn’t exactly allow folks to speak as was the case in the original, it instead lets players give clues by simply clicking on the cards shown on the screen.
It’s just as challenging as the original game as the player holding the cards still has to rely on guesswork and their friends’ guidance to be able to pick the right cards.
Players: 1 – 4
Though it’s a shame that, if you have the original board game, you can’t invite folks over because it is actually super pretty, Azul is actually pretty easy to pick up.
The premise? You’re a toilet floor designer hired by the king, so you want to make your toilet floor look the most beautiful (we’re not kidding) among all the competitors out there.
Think Tetris meets Tic Tac Toe, and you’ve basically got Azul, which is why we consider this to be quite simple to pick up. Players have to build their toilet by placing randomly-drawn coloured tiles in the space matching their respective colours on the board.
If there’s no space for any tiles, they get placed to the side, which leads to negative points at the end of the game. The aim is to match as many tiles as possible without too many rejected tiles, so it’s a little bit of luck and a little bit of knowing when to best use your resources.
7 Wonders Duel
This game is perfect for couples, or even by yourself if you want to challenge someone else online. 7 Wonders Duel is all about coming out on top as the most successful civilisation within the span of several Ages.
Players take on the mantle of various ancient civilisations, and have to decide on how they want to achieve supremacy.
They can choose to build the 7 Wonders of the World using resources such as raw materials or manufactured goods that can only be acquired on the game board, focus on science and technology by acquiring various scientific symbols via scientific buildings, or by even going on the aggressive by way of a military victory by advancing to the opposing player’s capital via military buildings.
Players: 2 – 8
Well, if you’re on the lookout for a proper Civ game with more than just two players (and maybe don’t want to spend actual dollars on the Steam versions), then the online board game equivalent may just be the remedy for you.
Similar to 7 Wonders Duel, this game is all about coming out on top — on your terms, of course. Just be warned though — this is hands down the meatiest game on this list, but invest in the time and it will be well worth the while!
In a nutshell, players in Advanced Civilization features similar resource-gathering mechanics as seen in the likes of 7 Wonders and Catan, but, like a typical Civ game, cranks the complexity up to 11. On top of that, you’ll also have to manage the population as citizens flowing in and out of your nation.
As nations get too big, you’ll eventually have to deal with eventual wars with other players as they expand their own countries, which then leads to some Game of Thrones-style parleys and occasional backstabbing. A slow burn, but certainly one that is sure to delight for hours on end.
Players: 5 – 10
And we’re back to more snappy titles. Ah, yes, the quintessential social deduction game of recent years. If you’ve enjoyed Secret Hitler at the tabletop, then you’d be relieved to know that it also exists online, and that it plays identical to the original.
In this game, players will be split into two teams, Liberals and Fascists, and one person among the Fascists is Hitler.
Despite being the majority, Liberals don’t actually know who their teammates are. Fascists, on the other hand, do, with the exception of Hitler, who’s just as clueless as to who his team is.
The goal of the Liberals is to ensure they enact five Libera Policies, or assassinate Hitler. The Fascists’ goal is to enact six Fascist Policies, or successfully appoint Hitler as Chancellor.
Each round, a government must be formed via an election, in which the chosen candidates will enact a new Policy, as well as an Executive Action.
Players must then communicate to one another and convince others why they should be elected, and why not others, and so forth. Once the votes have been passed, a government has been formed, after which Executive Actions can be performed, such as revealing another player’s role, or even executing them.
It’s arguably one of the most cutthroat games in this list, but it’s also what makes this game so good. Just make sure to hug and kiss (virtually, of course) once you’re done with it, as it will test friendships!
Players: 3 – 12
Another social deduction game that has a tabletop version, Spyfall is slightly less complex in the sense that there isn’t much negotiation involved.
In this game, each player’s aim is to try to deduce what the roles and locations of other players are, while avoiding trying to get caught themselves.
This can be done by asking other players simple questions such as “does this role involve cooking?” or something along that line. It’s that simple; just don’t get caught.
What separates this game from Secret Hitler is that it’s every person for themselves, meaning you need not worry about anyone accidentally giving away your position with a poorly-timed quip.
Not that it’s their fault, anyway, but sometimes it’s always better to go at it yourself… right?
Players: 5 – unlimited (or at least as much as Telegram allows)
Arguably one of the most cost-effective games to play on this list, Werewolf on Telegram will probably give you the most bang for your buck, simply because it allows the most number of people to join.
What makes this game so much more streamlined than the traditional tabletop version is that there’s a bot that acts as the moderator, which performs actions such as role assignment instantly, instead of having a human moderator do it.
Everything else, of course, is identical, which is a good thing in this case.
To play, simply download the Telegram app, type @werewolfbot on the search bar, and you can begin a game with friends by adding the above-mentioned user to your group.
The Werewolf Bot will then private DM you with your specific role, as well as options to lynch specific players after every night.
Everything else, of course, hinges on you and your fellow players to deduce who among you is the werewolf, and whether or not the villagers all survive.
Players: 1 – 2
Rounding off this list is one of the most iconic trading card games of all time, and it’s amazing that the devs of the free online version managed to cram the entire database into it.
While we won't go too much into the rules, fans of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! will most certainly appreciate this format, as it comes with various formats to shake up gameplay.
Players can even add and edit custom cards (so long as they're within the stipulated guidelines), which can add even more variance to gameplay.
This article was first published in Geek Culture.