Recently I have been trying to find creative ways of connecting with friends online during this time of social distancing. As an avid boardgamer, I wanted to see if some of my favorite games would translate well to online play, and potentially find new games to enjoy as well. After trying out many different games over the past few weeks, I compiled this list of my own personal recommendations.

The list is broken down into 3 sections:

  • Party Games: short, casual games that work well in larger groups
  • Platforms: platforms for playing a wide variety of different games
  • Standalone Games: standalone games that have an online digital version

I hope you find something interesting to try and make your stay-at-home just a bit more fun 😁


Table of Contents



Party Games


The games in this section are all great social games for larger groups. These are my go-to’s for casual game nights with friends. Almost all of them are free and easy to set up. Most don’t require signing up for any account or installing any additional software.



Codenames

Codenames

https://codenames.plus/

I’ve seen many different online clones of Codenames, but this is the one that I like best. It has a lot of nice features that other versions don’t have like player names, team assignments, word packs, and a timer. My biggest complaint is that it is basically unusable on mobile, since the whole board does not fit on a small screen. Even on my laptop I had to zoom out to see the whole thing. If this is a problem for your group, then I recommend using https://www.horsepaste.com/ instead.

Players: 4+
Account required: No
Install required: No
Cost: Free



Secret Hitler

Avalon / Secret Hitler / Werewolf

https://netgames.io/

This website has several online versions of popular social deduction/hidden role games like Avalon, Secret Hitler, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and Spyfall. I’m a big fan of social deduction games, so was excited to find a bunch of popular ones here. I’ve only tried Secret Hitler on this site, and have found it pretty easy to set up a game and play. There are some minor UI flaws that can make it a bit confusing for beginner players, so just make sure everyone knows how to play with a practice round. Overall, I definitely recommend this site though if you like these sorts of games.

Players: varies by game, but usually you want 5+ players
Account required: No
Install required: No
Cost: Free



Jackbox Games

Jackbox Games

https://jackboxgames.com/

Jackbox Games are a popular party game series featuring games ranging from trivia to drawing to madlibs and many more. While technically not really a board game, I thought Jackbox deserved a mention here since these are some great party games. They currently offer 6 different party packs, each featuring 5 different games usually supporting 3-8 players. To play online, one person needs to own a copy and share their screen with everyone else (e.g. over video chat). Then all players can connect to the game with their phone through Jackbox’s website. If you’re not sure what party pack to buy, my personal recommendation is to go for party packs 3, 4, and 6. Their most popular games are also available to buy individually: Drawful, Quiplash, and Fibbage.

Players: varies by game, usually 3-8 players with extra “audience” players supported
Account required: No
Install required: Yes, but only the host needs to install the game
Cost: Only the host needs to purchase the game, and other players can freely connect via their phone. Individual party packs are usually on sale for $15-20.



Monikers

Monikers

https://www.playpseudonyms.com/

Pseudonyms is an online version of Monikers made by my friend Kevin Zhang! It’s a party game also known as Fishbowl that combines aspects of Taboo and Charades. Players can join using their phones, but should also have a video chat set up with some space for the Charades round. It’s a really fun party game, and actually translates surprisingly well over online video chat. This is a good game for those looking for something more fast-paced and creative. Note that the recommended age rating for Monikers is 17+ due to the suggestive nature of some of the cards.

Players: 4+
Account required: No
Install required: No
Cost: Free



Drawasaurus

Pictionary

https://www.drawasaurus.org/

Drawasaurus is an online variant of Pictionary where players take turns drawing words that the other players try to guess. There are many similar clones online, but this one has the nicest user interface I’ve seen. Playing this brought back some great memories of playing Draw my Thing on OMGPOP back in the day. Gameplay is really quick and fun! For extra challenge, try to only draw words with 6+ characters. Otherwise the game can become really easy.

Players: 2+
Account required: No
Install required: No
Cost: Free



Poker

Poker

http://starbound.space.fashion/

This is an online web app for playing poker made by my friend Thomas Liu! It supports playing full games/tournaments of texas hold ‘em, and includes buttery-smooth animations. The app is still in development, so may require some occasional maintenance, though overall I’ve had a great experience playing with it so far. It has nice features like a four-color deck, blind schedule customization for tournament play, and the important avatar customization. Some of my friends previously tried playing poker on Tabletop Simulator, and after they used this app they all agreed that it was far superior.

Players: 2-9
Account required: No
Install required: No
Cost: Depends how much you’re willing to bet I guess


Platforms


This section does not list individual games, but rather game platforms that provide the ability to play almost any board game online. While they provide a lot of flexibility, they also come at the cost of being more difficult to use and set up compared to the other games on this list. These platforms are recommended for the more dedicated board game group looking to play some of their favorite games or try out new games.



Tabletop Simulator

Tabletop Simulator

https://www.tabletopsimulator.com/

Tabletop Simulator is a platform that has received a lot of interest recently. It provides a virtual 3D simulation of a tabletop environment for playing board games. You can find pretty much any board game you can think of as a community mod on their Steam Workshop page, but they also have high quality DLC for licensed games like Scythe and Wingspan. The quality of the community mods can vary, and there is a steep learning curve to understanding the controls, but over time I have become a fan of Tabletop Simulator.

I initially had pretty negative opinions after my first attempt where I tried a 6-player game of Root. Our group didn’t even get past the initial setup phase before someone flipped the table and we gave up. Yes, there is a flip table button for some reason. On my second attempt, I tried a 2-player game of Spirit Island, which went a lot better though still had some difficulty with manually moving pieces around. Overall I was pretty happy with its ease of play since most of the initial setup, token counting, and card positioning were scripted. I have since then been able to comfortably play several games of Root and Spirit Island, after becoming more familiar with the controls of Tabletop Simulator.

While I definitely recommend Tabletop Simulator, I would also say that it is not great for games with a complex setup or many players, since you have to manually manage pieces and track the state of the game. There’s also little to no rule enforcement to guide players, so everyone needs to know how to play the game. Some mods are heavily scripted though (like Spirit Island), so this can be less of a problem depending on what game you’re playing. And lastly Tabletop Simulator can be a huge resource hog sometimes, so make sure your system can handle it.

Players: varies by game
Account required: No
Install required: Yes
Cost: Each player needs to buy a copy ($20). DLC for official licensed games costs extra, but you can find community versions of most games for free.



Board Game Arena

Board Game Arena

https://boardgamearena.com/

Board Game Arena is a website with many popular licensed games playable in your web browser. Games available include 7 Wonders, Tokaido, Roll for the Galaxy, Sushi Go!, Coup, etc. The visuals are not the fanciest or the most polished, but all of the games are well-scripted and fully rule-enforced, making them very easy to play. This is a huge advantage over Tabletop Simulator, though also comes at the cost of having a much smaller game library to play from. So far I’ve only played a game of 7 Wonders, but was pretty impressed with how the game tracked what actions I had available and made it easy to decide what moves to take. It was even easier to play than the physical game.

Players: varies by game
Account required: Yes
Install required: No
Cost: Free to play, though hosting a premium game requires a subscription ($2-4/month). Only the host needs the subscription, everyone else can just use a free account.


Standalone Games


This section describes standalone online versions of some board games that I like. The user interface and mechanics were all specifically designed for these games unlike the general platforms described above. These games could also be found in those platforms as well, though I recommend playing these standalone versions instead since they are much more streamlined for ease of play.



Dominion

Dominion

https://dominion.games/

Dominion Online is the official online version of Dominion playable in your web browser. It’s a great deck-building game that has become a regular staple among my group of friends. We usually play multiple games a week, as they are very quick and easy to set up and play. The designers did a great job here translating the game to an online version. The card tracking and available action/buy tracking makes this game even easier to play than the physical version.

Players: 2-6
Account required: Yes
Install required: No
Cost: The base game is free, but expansions require one player to have a subscription. Though for a limited time, they allow players to use 1 free expansion each day on a rotating schedule.



Catan Universe

Catan

https://catanuniverse.com/en/

Catan Universe is the official online version of Catan, available on multiple platforms including web browser. It supports the base game plus all of the expansions, though does not support more than 4 players. The user interface looks really nice and gameplay is usually pretty smooth. The only downside is that everyone needs to sign up for an account and buy a copy to play, which can be a high barrier to entry since I consider Catan to be a pretty casual game to play. Otherwise it seems like a great option for groups that really enjoy Catan.

Players: 3-4
Account required: Yes
Install required: No
Cost: Each player needs to buy a copy of the base game ($5). If you want to play with expansions, each player needs to buy a copy ($5-10) as well.



Colonist

Colonist

https://colonist.io/

Colonist is an unofficial fan-made version of Catan. If you don’t want to shell out the money for Catan Universe, then Colonist is a pretty good alternative, though it only supports the base game. If you want to play with the expansions (e.g. Cities and Knights, aka better Catan), then I recommend buying Catan Universe instead. Otherwise this is a great easy way to play the base game! My only complaints are that the trading interface is a little confusing, and the animations can be pretty laggy at times, but otherwise it plays smoothly.

Players: 3-4
Account required: No
Install required: No
Cost: Free



Through the Ages

Through the Ages

https://throughtheages.com/

Through the Ages is a strategy board game similar to the Civilization video game series, where players compete against each other to build the best civilization throughout several “ages” of play. It works best with 3 players in my opinion, and gameplay takes around 2 hours if everyone already knows how to play. Though admittedly my first game took almost 5 hours mostly from learning how to play and picking up the mechanics of the online game. If you like complex strategy games, this is an awesome game to pick up.

Players: 2-4
Account required: No
Install required: Yes
Cost: Each player needs to purchase a copy of the game to play ($16).