Playing video games with friends online has never been easier. Yet it still doesn’t compare to gathering around a table to throw dice, move miniatures, and build empires of cards.
Though part of the rise of tabletop gaming is a desire for physical gaming, that hasn’t stopped us from enjoying digital versions of our favorite board games. And if anything has created a need for digital board games, it’s the global pandemic of 2020.
The last several years has seen successful adaptations of nearly every major board game on PC, mobile devices, and increasingly the Nintendo Switch. This year alone has seen the release of several high-profile digital board games, which we’ve highlighted below.
Available on: Steam PC
Gloomhaven has remained #1 board game on popular board gaming website BoardGameGeek.com for several years for good reason – it’s the premiere RPG combat simulator in a box. The unique dice-less combat system emphasizes strategy and planning as you play pairs of ability cards to move, attack, and cast spells. The gigantic game features 17 character classes, only six of which are available to start, with 90 unlockable scenarios and dozens of monsters and map tiles.
Creating a digital version is a challenging undertaking, and developer Flaming Fowl Studios has smartly gone the Early Access route. Gloomhaven has been in open development for well over a year, gradually adding new classes, monsters, tile sets, and a completely revamped adventure system where you run your own mercenary guild.
Gloomhaven probably won’t see a full 1.0 launch until next year, but if you’re a fan of the tabletop game, it’s definitely worth checking out all the unique features of this well-produced digital version.
Roll for the Galaxy
Available on: Steam PC, iOS, Android
Race for the Galaxy is one of the best card games ever designed. After successfully tackling the digital version several years ago, Temple Gates Games returns for Roll for the Galaxy, an official spin-off that uses dice and tiles in place of cards.
As in Race, players compete to develop a galactic empire. Instead of playing cards, they’ll draw tiles of developments and worlds. Players must use their citizens, represented by dice in a cup, to perform actions in order to place these tiles, manufacture and ship goods, and recruit more citizens and draw more tiles.
The digital version features a clean UI that condenses information you don’t always need, while keeping your own empire front and center. The action panel along the bottom makes it easy to roll dice and drag them into the five different actions, and an auto button does much of the dice work for you, making it easier than ever to enjoy another great sci-fi empire builder.
Available on: Steam PC, iOS, Android
Looking at Root you may not realize the asymmetrical strategy game was originally a tabletop board game. The digital version features fully 3D models and animation as woodland armies spread across the forest building, fighting, and crafting.
In Root, your choice of which faction you play determines how you play, and win. The industrial Marquise de Cat is about spreading their soldiers and building lots of buildings. Whereas the Woodland Alliance spreads sympathy, inspires revolt, and carefully forms alliances with other players. The war-like Eyrie must adhere to the doctrines of their chosen leaders, while the singular Vagabond is an opportunistic adventurer and a wild card in the contested forest.
The digital version supports local and online multiplayer, as well as single-player with AI opponents. A single-player Challenge mode provides unique scenarios to conquer, while new players can learn to play each faction in the extensive tutorial section.
Available on: Steam PC, iOS, Android, Switch
Sagrada uses a rather unique premise for a board game: you’re a stained glass artist trying to create the most beautiful piece of glass art, or at least a higher scoring one than your opponents. It’s a dice-drafting game where players take turns fitting colorful dice into their unique window pane boards, while following important rules and restrictions.
The simple gameplay translates perfectly to the digital screen. Your empty window pane fills most of the screen as a 2D board with spaces for numbers and colors. Simply drag the dice from the pool onto the desired space, or use the tools provided to make strategic alterations, such as swapping dice, drawing new dice, or flipping a die over to a different facing.
Sagrada features local and online multiplayer, as well as a single player campaign that unlocks more challenging AI opponents and themed objectives. You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate the relaxing yet competitive puzzles that each game creates.
Available on: Steam PC (Switch coming later this year)
Wingspan was the biggest board game of 2019, tasking players with maintaining their own aviary by gathering food, laying eggs, and playing birds into three different ecological areas. The high quality components include a dice tower modeled as a bird feeder, pastel-colored eggs, and over 170 unique bird cards.
The digital version, created by Polish game developers Monster Couch, is one of the best digital board game adaptations I’ve played yet. It helps that the game’s card art is absolutely gorgeous, but the digital version goes even further by fully animating each card, and providing a lovely voice over that reads the flavor text on each card. This also serves an important function, removing the flavor text from each card makes it easier to see the important ability that each bird bestows.
Birds can be played in three different areas, which can be quickly swapped between to fill the screen. Or if you prefer to see all your cards at once, you can turn on the overlay screen. Wingspan supports up to five players in local and online multiplayer, as well as single-player versus AI opponents or with the game’s built in solo mode.