An introduction to... The best places to play awesome board games online!

About one year and a half ago, I became hugely interested in board games. All of it began “offline”: Me and my partner got us the game Jaipur, a 2-player card game involving trading goods and camels. We got hooked instantly and grave battles were fought to win the sympathy of the Maharadscha. When we lived apart for a time, we didn’t want to stop playing this great game, and as fate would have it, there existed not only one, but several online platforms that had this amazing game in their collection!

And that was not the only one. Over the following months, I started to devour lots of different game rules, from easy, low-investement games (so-called “fillers”) to complex, super-strategic hardcore games that last for hours and involve so many pieces that you will not ever catch a cheater (which is a strong plus for online board games and/or having trustable friends). I never realized how much amusement I got out of cardboard/plastic/offline board games (as opposed to video games) and since then try to excite my friends in the same way. Which does not work always - so good that some big online communities exist of willing board game players [^1].

Three platforms really stand out on the web, and on these ones I tend to play a lot. What they all have in common is, that they have all big, friendly communities and that each of them has awesome games - some are shared, but some are unique to each site. You might want to look into each one of them to see if there are some games that you already love or are really interested in! I will present some of my favourites of each split up into proficiency categories - for just trying the sites out I recommend to look at the beginner games, as they mostly take less than 10 minutes to learn an so you can focus on the features of the site! For players looking for more intricate games with complex rules, look at the more advanced categories, although they require some studying of the game rules.

Interestingly, the sites are either originally german or french, but people from all over the world are using them and almost everyone speaks english. That’s convenient if you ever run into a problem on the site or during a game.

1. Yucata

Yucata was the first site I discovered due to the game Jaipur being featured on it. It was started as a hobby project by Kay Wilke, who wrote lots of the games on the site himself but since has been expanded vastly by the community.

###The awesome games

  • Beginner, super quick to learn and master

    You can learn and play the games in this category in just a few minutes. Most of these so-called ‘lite’ games are dice- or card-based and often, luck plays a role - however, they still leave you with some tough decisions to make. Yucata offers lots and lots of these games, however, it is hard at first to notice them because games on Yucata are not necessarily sorted into difficulty categories or such[^2], so I will give some examples.

    If you’re into dice games (like Yahtzee), check out “Shanghaien”, “Can’t stop” or “To court the king”.

    For simple card games not harder than Uno, check out “R-Eco” and “Port Royal”. Beginners should look at these right away, but they can also be a blast for a seasoned gamer!

  • Advanced, takes some time to learn and master

    Now, let’s take it a step further. We enter the section of games that are still very easy once you get the hang, but they take a bit longer to learn. All in all though, the rules should not take you more than half an hour to totally understand and the games will be clear halfway through (if you ever only played things like Risk and Monopoly and want to see what other things board games have to offer, this is the place to start ).

    A Yucata-exclusive example in this category would be “St. Petersburg”. Each turn, you can buy one of the cards on the table. Every turn has a theme, at the ending of which you get either money or points if your cards match the theme. The strategy here is to balance money and points - get too many points in the beginning will not get you the good, point-heavy cards later because you can’t afford them, get too much money and you will fall behind with the points. Easy-peasy to play, but hard to get it juuuust right.

    Another one worth trying out is “The Speicherstadt”, which is set in the charming, historic warehouse district of Hamburg. Set your game figures (meeples) on cards representing resources, missions, firefighters and other bonus cards (called a “worker placement”-game). Multiple people can bid in these way on the same card - the first person to bid on them can buy it, but the more meeples are on it, the more expensive the card - so bid and choose wisely! The most points you get when you complete missions by providing the right resources. Also, there are bonus points (or malus) for the person with the most (or least) amount of firefighters in the game. It is a combination of smart bidding and bluffing which leads you to be the winner in this game!

  • Expert, needs proper dedication to learn
    Ah, you want to know about the biggest and longest on Yucata? These “Expert” games take some time to read and understand the rules - about an hour - and need one or two plays to be appreciated fully. They offer lots of decisions, which might make you feel lost in the beginning - but extremely gratifying if you get it and your strategy just works. “A Few Acres Of Snow” follows the British-French conflict in Canada during the 18th century. It is very interestingly designed and combines thematic play with lots of different game mechanics. If you liked “The Revenant”, you will love this! Just beware of raids of the natives!

    Trains seem to be a popular theme for board games, and one of the most beautiful ones is “Russian Railroads”, which is a fascinating and exclusive game on Yucata. This game portraits pretty well how tedious and exhausting the construction of huge railway lines must have been in the rural and desolate places of Russia. Progress is slow - bit by bit you hire engineers, buy better and better trains, factories and build one of the three most prominent train routes (of course including the Leviathan that is the Trans-siberian railway from Vladivostok to Moscow). What makes this game incredibly tense is the fact that players can block each other: It is a ‘worker placement’ game like ‘The Speicherstadt’, although once a player has chosen an action, no other player can occupy the same space in the same round! However, there are a lot of ways to make points in Russian Railroad. A LOT. Which means: There are a lot of ways to win: Fancy railtracks, lots of factories, lots of engineers… Most often, you focus on one part to generate points and then slowly drive up the point generators on other parts of the game (resulting in point scores in the hundreds, which adequately puts this game into the category of so-called “point-salad” games). There are a lot of different actions to choose from, and to be honest, I still have not figured out a preferred playing style in this. I really love the possibilities though.

    On a side note: It goes without saying, that the very best form to enjoy board games is as a group activity, with friends and family, around a table, with a physical game out of plastic and cardboard. However, the form of online play is really great [^3].

    By the way - you can always use the main chat in Yucata on the landing page to ask around if someone is willing to teach you any game - there are a lot of helpful and nice people there!

But there are lots more to discover, and I only played a small minority of them until now! With more than 100 different games available, that’s hardly a wonder.

The awesome parts

Yucata centers on turn-based games.
Yucata is 100% free-to-use and ad-free. This spirit comes also from the circumstance that the site and the games on it are all developed as fun projects in the creators spare time. The site is donation driven to compensate for the server’s running costs.
A really cool feature of Yucata is that they always incorporate the rules of every game into the site. Those documents do not only include the actual rules of the games themselves, but also indicate differences of the gameplay in the implementation (thanks to the digital medium, a lot of processes are automated and skipped, so you don’t have to do them - e.g. counting points at the end of each round) or in the games interface (e.g. the only interaction possibilities are highlighted so you don’t have to think about what you are restricted to). Additionally, with the new framework, it has also become a standard to create a short, summarised version of the rules as well as the original rules text (i.e.: lengthy and detailed ), which you can inspect on a sidebar. This is very handy and time-saving for when you come back to a game after not playing it for a while.

###The other parts
No “real” live games. This can be a turn-off to some hardcore gamers that want to finish games in one go - there is no penalty if someone just decides to log out and leave a game unfinished. Sometimes for weeks. Games get also deleted after 30 days of inactivity, so that can be annoying if you had a really good go at one game, but you can’t get it completely finished.

This got longer than expected! I will focus on other sites in another post, at another time. Hope you enjoyed!
For completion, these are other sites that I am also playing on:

2. Board Game Arena

Board Game Arena

Real-time gaming built on cutting edge web technologies like Sockets and Dojo

3. Boîte à jeux

Boîte à jeux is another french site, which is functionally very comparable to Yucata.

[^1]: Compared to playing your friends, it is sometimes more satisfying if you play, let’s say, a french opponent online in ‘Through the Ages’ and they succumb to your giant army led by Napoleon - Ze tableaus ‘ave turned, mon ami! Only to have your opponent play Gandhi in the next go and rendering your whole power useless. D’oh…

[^2]: One way to find those, is to look at the “Yucata Game Statistics”. Often, the most played games on the sites are also the easiest and shortest - like “Can’t Stop” in this case.

[^3]: Especially for the times you just can’t persuade anyone to play that awesome new game that takes two hours and another one to explain and set up