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Board Games Best Played Online

Over the past 2 years, I have played 267 games on Board Game Arena. I have both learned many new games as well as gotten deeper into many of my past favorites.

Although I have played a few games live, I mostly play turn-based games over the course of days or weeks. Rather than needing to dedicate a few hours to sit down together, I can drop in to play a turn when it’s convenient and see how it unfolds.

Of course, not all games are well-suited for turn-based play. For a variety of reasons, some games are just better played live, and I thought I might offer up my ratings for any games you might consider

7 Wonders

7 Wonders Cover Artwork

5/5. About the same turn-based

7 Wonders is the classic drafting game. Since I had played Magic: The Gathering before, I already enjoyed drafting, and it was fun to just focus on that.

I had played 7 Wonders in-person before, and I find there are a few points of friction.

  1. Everyone organizes their cards differently, so it’s hard to know how everyone else is doing
  2. Shuffling and dealing cards is slow

My main knock against turn-based is that in theory, the game can be played very quickly, and it’s easy to forget what has happened before.

Tokaido

Tokaido Cover Artwork

3/5. About the same turn-based

Tokaido is a peaceful game of travelers walking a road to see as much as they can. It has an interesting mechanic where the player farthest back always goes next, so it’s a constant decision of whether to reach for what you want or to walk slowly to get more.

The game can be played relatively quickly, but due to the turn structure, the pacing of any specific turn can vary widely. Overall, I think it works fine either way since it is so peaceful.

Terra Mystica

Terra Mystica Cover Artwork

5/5. Much better turn-based

Terra Mystica is just a really, really hard game. It’s about trying to get points by putting buildings down on a hex grid, but that doesn’t even begin to explain it. The board looks complicated, and once you get into it, you kind of see how it works, but then, it’s still a real brain twister.

I can’t imagine trying to play this game live. I would just spend way too long figuring out what to do on my turn just to put one building down for 1 worker and 2 gold. It would be embarrassing. The gap between turns is a luxury.

Splendor

Splendor Cover Artwork

2/5. Worse turn-based

To be fair, I don’t like Splendor very much in the first place. I just don’t think it’s a well-designed game. If you look at how the game rules work, it seems evident how the game was intended to be played, but it turns out the optimal strategy is something completely different. It’s like if every game of StarCraft just ended in a Zergling rush.

Anyways, there’s generally not that much to do each turn, and you have to watch other players too, so it’s just slow for no reason if you play turn-based.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne Cover Artwork

5/5. About the same turn-based

Carcassonne is about building cities, roads, and fields and claiming points for completing these features. It’s fantastic and generally accessible for everyone.

The upside of playing live is the table talk. It’s very common for players to suggest moves to each other. Sometimes they’re actually being helpful. Other times, they’re manipulating others. I think the dynamic is generally engaging and better than most other games.

The upside of playing turn-based is that the game can take awhile. There’s not a lot to do each turn per se, but there are a lot of turns to get through, and the board generally fills out okay.

Hardback

Hardback Cover Artwork

3/5. Much better turn-based

Hardback is a spelling deckbuilding game. Each turn, you draw your hand of letters, spell a word with what you draw, and use what you earn to get better letters.

It’s just better turn-based because spelling is really, really hard. The game also allows you to use cards as “wild”, which greatly increases the possibilities. Thinking takes a disproportionate amount of time, and I would hate to play turn-based.

Kingdomino

Kingdomino Cover Artwork

5/5. About the same turn-based

Such a great game. Pick tiles and match them on your board to score points. Very simple to explain but with plenty of strategy.

The game works about the same live as it does turn-based. The thinking time is non-negligible, so the pacing mostly works either way. Because the entire game state is visible at all times, you also don’t really have to remember what happened before.

Lucky Numbers

Lucky Numbers Cover Artwork

2/5. Worse turn-based

In Lucky Numbers, you have to arrange numbers on your board to fill it out as quickly as possible. My low rating is due to the fact that I don’t think the game is particularly interesting.

Along with that, each turn is relatively fast, and most of the game is watching other players. These are both things more conducive to playing live.

Through the Ages

Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization Cover Artwork

5/5. Better turn-based

Through the Ages is the video game Civilization converted into a board game. You build out a board of buildings, military units, and technology to get as much culture as you can starting from ancient times all the way through current day.

The best part of turn-based is that turns can take awhile to figure out, and it’s generally not engaging for others to watch you do it. In general, a nice feature of Board Game Arena and the game design in general is that you can “undo” your turn at any point. And I do that a lot figuring out how to optimize my play.

My only complaint is that there are specific actions (e.g. colonization) that require the players to separately makes a bunch of quick choices one after another. This completely breaks up the rhythm of the game. It would be much better done live or with blind bidding.

Race for the Galaxy

Race for the Galaxy Cover Artwork

4/5. Worse turn-based

Race for the Galaxy is an engine-building game. I actually don’t exactly know how to explain it, but it is quite fun.

My main knock is that the game is correctly called “Race” because it is relatively fast, and playing turn-based feels like a grind since you’re constantly being blocked by other players needing to complete their choices.

Also, it’s relatively important to pay attention to what other players are doing, and if you’re not seeing it happen live, it’s easy to miss what else is going on.

Agricola

Agricola Cover Artwork

5/5. Better turn-based

Agricola is a worker placement game where you’re trying to build out a farm while competing with other players to get the actions you want.

I think the game works fine played live, but it is a little slow just for thinking. Turn-based is great because you aren’t pressured to make a choice while planning out many turns in advance.

Incan Gold

Diamant Cover Artwork

4/5. Much worse turn-based

Incan Gold is a hilarious game for up to 8 players where you’re all exploring a temple together one step at a time. You’re trying to go as deep as possible to gather treasure without becoming a victim of a hazard. It’s got a classic “push your luck” feel in a Craps like manner.

I think the game works best as a party game with lots of trash talking, goading, and bluffing. The table talk is entirely extra-curricular, but there’s fun to all experiencing the hazards together. I think the game is probably somewhat soulless if not played live.

Potion Explosion

Potion Explosion Cover Artwork

3/5. Worse turn-based

Potion Explosion is Bejeweled as a board game. Pick out marbles from a board and watch the other marbles roll in, explode, and net you some reagents to brew into potions.

I have only played turn-based, and the game is fun, but I think it’s less fun than it should be.

7 Wonders Architects

7 Wonders: Architects Cover Artwork

3/5. Much worse turn-based

Admittedly, I have only played 7 Wonders Architects once, but I felt like it didn’t work at all turn-based. It’s a drafting game like 7 Wonders, but you take turns one at a time, so it is just really slow for something that could be played very quickly otherwise.

Pandemic

Pandemic Cover Artwork

5/5. Much worse turn-based

Pandemic is the game that got a little too real. It’s a cooperative game to save the world from, well, a pandemic.

It’s a cooperative game, so the game is largely in the conversation and collaboration. However, when you play turn-based, I think you really want to just pop in and take your turn immediately rather than popping in to ask a question and wait for a response.

Sushi Go

Sushi Go! Cover Artwork

4/5. Much worse turn-based

The other drafting game. It’s simpler than 7 Wonders, but it still retains a lot of strategy to it.

However, I don’t think it really works turn-based. Compared to 7 Wonders, it’s really important to remember what other cards are out there, and you can easily forget what’s going on.

Also, the game is generally so fast that it feels dragged out to not just bang out the game quickly.

Final Thoughts

One surprising benefit about playing board games online is that I have learned the rules much better. Whenever I learned to play a game offline, I inevitably would get rules wrong and might never be corrected. With the computer to check me, it’s actually impossible to cheat.

Despite my complaints above, I really have enjoyed playing these board games online, hence why I have averaged completing a game roughly every 3 days.

Previously, I was more excited to learn and try new games, but recently, I have been more overwhelmed trying to learn new rules and the basic strategy for some games. That overall has led to less satisfying experiences since I’m basically just picking actions randomly. However, there are plenty of games that I still enjoy and have been happy to return to.

2 replies on “Board Games Best Played Online”

Def agree some games are much less tedious online, and the learning curve is accelerated because you’re always prompted to make decisions, with no time to search for the rule book

I think thematic games can feel much differently e.g. Look at this awesome wine I am making in Viticulture vs. playing it online

I just started a game of Viticulture on BGA based on your recommendation. We’re still figuring it out, but I like it so far! I think it would work just fine in-person

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