The best turn-based/play-by-email board game websites
These websites allow you to create a free account and then play various board games for free through your web browser (most will work on PCs, tablets etc). Many people will play a ‘live’ game, but it’s not compulsory; many other players make a single move in each game (perhaps in a lunch break) and then log off again – then the next hour/day etc they come back and take their next move.
This is a great way to learn a new game, as you’ll always have a link to a PDF of the rules and have all the time you need to plan your every move.
- Yucata: My personal favourite, Yucata.de (German, English) now boasts almost 100 board games on its roster. These range from classics such as Othello and Nine Men’s Morris; more modern classics including Carcassonne, El Grande and Stone Age, and modern favourites Hawaii, Thunderstone, Voluspa and A Few Acres of Snow. You can play ranked or unranked, with a rating system and basic chat implemented too.
- Boite a Jeux: Equally good is Boiteajeux.net (French, English, German). Again free, it also includes basic chat implementation. All games are ranked, but this is purely a matter of pride. The site has less game than Yucata (around 40) but has some absolute gems, including Agricola, Alhambra, Dixit, The Castles of Burgundy, Dungeon Petz, The Boss and Trajan. Implementations tend to be slightly fancier than at Yucata, with some more complex games.
The best live (real-time) play board game websites
If you’d rather get something closer to the real life experience, there are some equally great free websites that let you do just that. Also free to subscribe to a play on, you’ll be expected to only join a game if you intend to sit down and play it there and then, in its entirety. Not doing so will result in a loss of reputation, while slow play is also graded and will see you less likely to be accepted into created games.
For obvious reasons, this is not a good environment to learn a new game – unless you really, really like to learn the hard and humiliating way!
- Board Game Arena: With almost 50 games online, including hot new releases, Boardgamearena.com (in 24 languages!) is a fantastic site. There are usually hundreds of players online at a time, meaning you won’t have a problem getting a game, and what a choice you have: from Yahtzee and Hearts; through Race for the Galaxy, Puerto Rico and Caylus, through to Tzolk’in, Seasons and Spyrium.
- BSW: The original and some would say still the best, Brettspielwelt.de (in 18 languages) has more than 40 real time play games available. There are some great classic offerings including Backgammon, Catan, Carcassonne and Tichu, plus great modern games such as Trans America, Kingsburg, Kingdom Builder and Power Grid. The Java applet feels old fashioned now, but there’s life in the old dog yet.
Lighter board game websites
These are sites that should appeal to even the greenist gamer, featuring very simple games as well as tutorials and varying levels of computer AI challenges, as well as sometimes including the option to play other people.
- Happy Meeple: As well as the website linked here, Happy Meeple is also accessible via Facebook. It only currently includes five lighter abstract games, but they’re good titles – three from top designer Reiner Knizia (classic Lost Cities, plus two versions of Keltis) alongside Finito! and Level X. The AI is reasonable, you can play versus other people too, while it has a light village building element to gain various bonuses.
Single title board game websites (not real-time)
I expect there are hundreds of these; sites often set up by fans as programming projects that allow you to sign up for free and play games of one particular title. I’m going to keep this brief now, as its Friday night and I want to relax with a glass of wine, bit here are a few I’ve personally used and really enjoyed: more to follow as people point me to and recommend them!
- Brass: Probably the finest title by one of modern board gaming’s finest designers, Martin Wallace, Brass is a real brain burner. While its a pretty dry game with an even drier theme (building canals and train tracks in northern England, anyone?) it’s also a wonder of intelligent game design. This offers a less than beautiful implementation, but more importantly it’s clear and works perfectly.
- Diplomacy: ‘Destroying friendships since 1959’ is the boast – and its a fair one too. This classic game of deal making and breaking as you try and take over the world has been causing rows for more than 50 years – and now you can do it online through a very pleasing interface with all the bells and whistles you should need. All you need is six friends you don’t mind upsetting.
- Through the Ages: One of my firm favourite games, Through the Ages is ace designer Vlaada Chvatil’s magnum opus; a card-driven civ game that is truly epic. This can be hard for me to get to the table, as it plays three hours plus, so it’s a perfect choice for an online implementation. This version dispenses with the layout you may be used to but works perfectly – and even has a Czech expansion