These are trying times for the world. With virtually everyone holed up at home due to the COVID-19 situation, many regular meetups have been impacted and postponed indefinitely in order to contain the spread. This includes groups who play tabletop games regularly, of course, as board games predominantly require players to physically be at the table to be able to play together, given that there are physical pieces, cards and boards to interact with.
But how on earth does one play board games if one can’t even meet their friends due to social distancing, one might ask? As it turns out, it’s a little-known fact to many a lay man that many of our favourite board games such as Monopoly and UNO are also available digitally on platforms such as Steam, which would mean groups can resume their sessions as per normal, without ever having to step foot outside their homes.
The interesting part about playing board games via Steam is that each player has to purchase their own copy of the game in order to play it. But before you raise your eyebrows, do know that the prices of the digital board games are only a fraction of the physical copies, so you’re really not going to rip your wallet a new one in this case. Additionally, expansions also cost a meagre amount of cash, and some usually don’t even need all players to get them, just the one that’s hosting the online session.
And since most of these board games don’t really involve players interacting with one another a la Werewolf or Secret Hitler, there isn’t a need for video chat. Voice chat on the likes of Discord or Skype works for all of these titles, which is a plus if you still absolutely need that player-to-player interaction.
Without further ado (and besides the usual few in Monopoly, UNO and Game of Life), here are our top picks for digital board games on Steam!
1. Love Letter
Players: 1 – 4
We’ll start off simple with this list. Love Letter is a game about outsmarting your opponents by being the one to win the heart of the princess by successfully delivering your love letter to her. Players will try to guess what cards other players have, while simultaneously trying to avoid being found out themselves. It’s a short and delightful game that will appeal to those who want something quick, snappy and easy to learn, with all the drama, twists, and intensity that can match the likes of Game of Thrones.
Gameplay in Love Letter is pretty much the same as the original, so expect not much change when porting your regular gaming group over to Steam.
Players: 1 – 5
Ticket to Ride is a natural go-to for the Monopoly crowd, at least at first glance. It’s a euro game that puts players in the shoes of railway tycoons. Each player’s aim is to be the first to construct two railway systems by lining up two cities across the USA by laying coloured tracks from point A to point B. However, other players can block the routes inadvertently as they’re also out to complete their own routes using similar tracks. It’s then a matter of trying to make the most out of the situation and working your way around the tracks constructed by other players, and vice versa.
If organising your cards has been a pain in Ticket to Ride, expect to have a breeze of a time as the digital game automatically sorts your hand out for you. This saves a lot of time in between turns, so players can fully focus on what’s at hand.
Players: 1 – 6
Another classic euro game that’s now available in full on Steam, Carcassonne is all about expanding an idyllic French landscape with others, but ultimately making it your own in the process. Players take turns laying tiles that include cities, roads, farms and such around the board, with new tiles adjacent to one another. There’s also an option to place one Meeple on each tile, which scores points depending on the tiles adjacent to it. It then boils down to whether a Meeple should be placed on specific tiles to maximise points, or simply to prevent other players from claiming theirs.
One main caveat of the original Carcassonne is that players have to manually identify which spaces they can’t place tiles in. The digital game sorts that out for you, as it tells you exactly which spots are safe to place tiles and which aren’t.
Players: 1 – 5 (7 with expansion)
One of the standout games of the past 3 years, Scythe is essentially Civilization meets Gundam. Players are part of European nations in an alternate post-WWII history, all looking to rebuild their successes by claiming adjacent territories with workers and gigantic mechs, before expanding their horizons and perhaps even coming into conflict with others. Unlike many typical 4X games, the combat, while present, actually serves to hinder players more than benefit them. As such, the onus is on players to decide what kind of nation they want to be in order to be the most successful in the post-war era.
As a 4X game in the vein of Civ and Rise of Nations, Scythe: Digital Edition plays very naturally as a PC game. The board, pieces and even UI feel just right for the PC port, which makes navigating a typically feature-heavy board game so much easier here actually. Plus, the CPU-controlled bots in the single-player Automata mode means players are completely freed of the extra responsibility of moving the bot’s pieces and resources around, even if they don’t fully control them. Also, as one of the most component-heavy board games on this list, eliminating the tedious set-up and tear-down is always a refreshing thing.
Players: 1 – 7
If you’re a fan of Cluedo or Pictionary, chances are you’ll be a fan of Mysterium. This murder mystery game puts players in the shoes of psychics and mediums who are trying to work together to uncover the murder of a ghost, who is also controlled by another player. The ghost player will dole out vision cards (picture cards essentially) to each other player, who will then work together to suss out what clues for weapon, location, and murderer they’re each trying to find. The catch is that the ghost cannot directly communicate with the other players via chat or voice, which adds an extra layer of challenge to the game.
Mysterium is one of those games in which player interaction is key. However, the good thing is that players really only need to voice out their intentions to one another, which is why voice chat (or even text chat) works rather well here. And since the ghost player doesn’t even need to talk, it’s pretty much the same for the player on that side.
Players: 1 – 4
Potion Explosion is essentially Tetris, but with a twist. In this game, players are a group of wizards trying to outdo one another as the top potions master in the academy. Players will do so by trying to concoct potions based on ingredients presented to them, Masterchef style. However, after picking an ingredient, all other ingredients that didn’t get picked fall downwards, and may have a chance to start a chain reaction depending on whether the falling ingredient touches the same type first. This adds a lot of chaos to the game as players will want to be careful and efficient with their choices, whilst also trying to brew as many potions as possible. To add to the fun (and chaos), successfully brewed potions will also have various effects of their own, which may (or may not) help players in the process.
Since its gameplay is inspired heavily by Tetris, Potion Explosion requires a ton of piece-shifting on the board, as potion ingredients keep moving as players take them and chemical reactions occur. With the digital version, however, players need not worry about forgetting to move pieces, as the game does it for you.
Players: 1 – 5 (6 with expansion)
Another amazing euro game that can be played to no end, Lords of Waterdeep is one of those games that you can certainly play while lounging on your couch, hot mug of tea in one hand. In this game, players will be vying for the place of most successful Lord of Waterdeep, by sending their Agents (a.k.a Meeples) to various buildings, hiring adventurers and gold to complete a variety of quests. Space will be an issue, as each building can only be occupied by one Agent, though more buildings can be purchased to grant more opportunities to generate resources. There will be a ton of sitting and thinking what your next move should be, as each player is limited to a set number of Agents, making this euro game one of the more quietly intense ones on this list.
Lords of Waterdeep is another setup-heavy board game that benefits largely from having a digital edition. Players typically have a lot on their hands in terms of what to do, and the game does a superb job of keeping track of things for the player. And as a plus, the game comes with its own music, so generally quiet game sessions are filled with some pleasant fantasy music.
Players: 1 – 5
Perhaps even more relaxing than the previous entry is Tokaido. In this game, players are travelers in ancient Japan, trying to make the most out of their journey by unraveling various landscapes, food and all manner of discoveries to be the most successful traveler. The physical game was lauded for its beautiful design, and it seems the digital adaptation has made it even more breathtaking. Perfect for a night to wind down with either yourself or a group of friends online.
If you agree that Tokaido is a beautiful game, in both design and gameplay, then chances are you’ll appreciate just how well the devs have recreated both aspects rather faithfully in the digital version. The UI is very user-friendly and the general math and scoring is handled quite well too, which means it wouldn’t be much of a difference if your regular group plays this. And that’s a good thing in our books.
Players: 1 – 2
One of the more solid 2-player board games out there, Twilight Struggle takes players back to the tense times of the Cold War. But of course, players will be building their own Cold War canon, taking the side of either the US or the USSR, as watershed moments like the Arab-Israeli Conflict and the Cuban Missile Crisis are all revisited. Each player will move their units across the board, forming allegiances and establishing (or breaking) treaties in order to outsmart and outwit the other.
Like many of the heavier board games on this list, Twilight Struggle has a lot of moving pieces that, at times, can be a nuisance for players to keep track of. This includes ongoing projects and whatnot, and the digital game does a splendid job of organising things for players. Plus, it comes with a neat little soundtrack to add some immersion to the game.
Players: 1 – 5
Another superb board game that many should definitely try if they haven’t already, Terraforming Mars is about establishing a colony on the Red Planet. Players will take up the roles of various corporations, all vying to establish dominance on Mars by expanding their reach as far as possible. Each player will gather and spend resources to build buildings, develop technology, all while trying to sabotage opponents or avoid being sabotaged by them. Plus, the digital game has got some great visuals to accompany players with.
The original Terraforming Mars already has a ton of replay value by itself. While the digital version lacks any of the expansions, it does come with a draft mode that shakes up gameplay quite a bit, as it can impact how games start (and, ultimately, end). Furthermore, the UI is pretty clean and isn’t at all that hard to navigate, which is another plus for regular players looking to resume their sessions online.
And that’s our list of favourite board games to play on Steam during the quarantine period. That said, we won’t be surprised if you actually continue playing some of these games digitally even after the quarantine has been lifted, simply because they’re so good and digital might actually be the way to go. But of course, it’s still good to give your physical copies some love from time to time, as nothing can quite beat the experience of playing at the table.
Marion has a serious RPG addiction. Sometimes it bleeds into real life; he forgets to sleep because he thinks he has a Witcher’s body clock. Forgive him in advance if he suddenly blurts out terms such as “Mind Flayer” and “Magic Missile”, because never once does he stop thinking about his next Dungeons & Dragons game.