Hello Internet Friends,
These are crazy times, and it is more meaningful than ever to spend a little time with friends playing games. Luckily there are a number of resources available (some of them even free!) to share games with friends across the world. In this post, I am going to give a quick overview of four options for you to get playing. There are others, but these four are the most popular and have the most game options.
First off, having voice chat is super useful. We use a Discord server with a main lobby, and then gamerooms (numbered) where the players in each game can go to have a game-specific voice chat (nice for kibbitzing and rules explanation/questions). Some of these services have voice (and even video) chat options built-in, but we have found Discord to be the most effective.
So, the four gaming options I am detailing are (in particular order): Tabletop Simulator (pay, software, available on Steam), Yucata.de (free, web-based), Tabletopia (free/pay (for premium games), web-based or on Steam), and Boardgamearena (free/pay (for premium games), web-based). Each has strong points, and each has things they could do better. Let’s break it down.
Tabletop Simulator is a steam game that allows you to play an almost unlimited catalog of boardgames (and even RPGs! Heck, there is even an implementation of Warhammer 40K.) with a virtual reality-style table showing all the game pieces. It retails for $19.99 on Steam, but you can often find it at a rather substantial discount. It offers voice chat through Steam directly, as well as easy matchmaking. Each game is a module, which the host downloads through the Steam Workshop. There are many licensed games that cost money, and countless unlicensed games that are free. You can find almost any game on there, but it can be hard to find specific games. However, the major drawback to Tabletop Simulator is that the game does not have the rules coded in. That is to say, you have all the bits to the game, but the rules are totally up to the players. It is very easy to play cards that are not legal or put things in the wrong place. So, if you know the game well, Tabletop Simulator can be a good choice, but if you don’t, it can be rough.
Yucata.de is a free German site (free membership required) that offers more than 150 different games to play. The visuals are the least impressive of any of the options, but they get the job done. Each game is licensed by the publisher, using the actual graphics from the game. The game implements all the rules of each game and offers some rules information. It’s still useful to have someone who knows the rules and can guide the game. One big drawback to Yucata is that it is made for play by email, so you can just sit in the game and wait for others to take their turns, or you can go do something else and come back to it. Yucata is a great service (especially for the price) and has tons of great games, but it can be a little obtuse, especially getting started.
Tabletopia is very similar to Tabletop Simulator. There is either a web-based version or a game version (available on Steam for free). The free version allows you to play up to two games simultaneously, with paid versions (the web version is a monthly fee, the game version offers a downloadable content model.) having more options and premium games available. The interface is slick, and you can take advantage of Steam for matchmaking and voice chat. However, once again, it is a sandbox, and no rules are implemented. So you really need someone who knows the game and can explain it well. One cool thing about Tabletopia is that many designers release beta versions of games here. So you can find new Kickstarters or designs by your favorite designer there.
Finally, Boardgamearena.com is a web-based service offering fully licensed implementations of over 170 games. It also offers features like groups (so you and your friends can easily find each other), competitions, and hilarious statistics like who took the longest time during their turns (for premium members). It is the cheapest of the premium memberships at $2/mo, and only one person has to be a premium member to host a game. The implementations of the games are sharp, and some use a new 3d engine that looks great. It has a nice library of games but definitely skews a little older. One bonus is that the rules of the game are always available in the game, and the game manages the rules, showing you where a tile can be legally played for example (not that we ever gets rules wrong..)
So, four options to get your virtual game night going. If you try any out, let us know how it goes in the cardboard & chaos Discord room. We might be planning a Quests & Chaos game night soon, as well.