Tabletop 101

Online Board Games – Where and How?

by Rossy, Quartermaster @ The Guild Hall

March 29 2020

Since going out and meeting friends is out of the question these days, I spent most of my evenings on Discord, talking with friends or playing games with them. And because I missed playing board games, which are, in essence, a social and in-person type of activity, I went looking for an alternative. But low and behold, I didn’t actually have to give up board games, since they have gone digital, too!
So far, I have tried the 2 online platforms that I saw were most popular and had the widest variety of games for free: Tabletopia and BoardgameArena. What I found out is that they offer a very different experience, which I will share with you here. 😃 (and at the end you can find some opinions from other members of The Guild Hall team that have tried these platforms, too).

1. Tabletopia

The interface and overall experience:
I found Tabletopia to be the closest experience to actually playing a real board game. The interface looks modern and very well made, both on the pages with the categories of games, a specific game’s page, or in the actual play area.

What I like a lot and what shows they put a lot of thought into the website, is the fact that on the page of each game they have a lot of useful information: relevant tags about the game, a short description, rulebooks in different languages, video reviews, how to play videos, screenshots from inside the game so you know what to expect, comments, links to the game on BoardGameGeek etc.

As for the experience in the play area, Tabletopia gives you a lot of freedom in what actions you can take. They give you the game set up, and you can pick up almost any cards, you can flip them, you can roll dice, you can move tokens wherever – you are not constrained by much. You have a small colorful hand with which you interact, you can move stuff around, you can right-click to get more options (like flipping cards, rolling dice, moving your point of view, etc.) and you also have different keys you can press to do actions.
Because of all this freedom, it might be a bit difficult to understand in the beginning, but after you interact with some of the elements and you look at the instructions of what you can do, it becomes very easy to use.
Another great thing about this website is that you can make a room in a certain game, and then simply give your friends the link to it, and they can join even if they don’t have an account.
Game range:
The games they offer range from classics to new releases, and they even have some Kickstarter exclusives there, which is great for testing out games before they are released. Most of the games are free to play, but some are only for premium users, or some player counts are only for premium users (for example you can play Scythe in 2 for free, but if you want to play it in 3, 4 or 5 you have to have a premium account)

  • Modern looking interface
  • Closest experience to playing real-life board games
  • A lot of freedom in the actions you can do
  • You can play with friends even if they don’t have an account – you just have to give them the link to the room

  • You have to learn how to use the game and objects
  • Easier to play with people you know then with people you don’t, especially if you don’t use the turn base mechanic
  • It takes a bit of time to get comfortable with playing the game, especially for people who haven’t played board games before
  • It takes a bit of time to get comfortable with playing the game, especially for people who haven’t played board games before
  • It doesn’t have some of the most popular games that people know
Cons only if you don’t like doing this:

  • You have to know the rules or keep looking at them because the game lets you do anything, even if it’s wrong
  • You have to keep count of who’s turn it is and the score
All in all this is a great way to play online board games, and I enjoyed it a lot.

2. BoardgameArena

The interface and overall experience:
BoardgameArena’s interface is not quite as modern looking as Tabletopia, but it’s relatively easy to use most of the time.

On each game’s page, they also offer a couple of useful pieces of information, such as a pdf of the rules, a how to play video, an animation of the game being played (which lets you know what to expect when entering the game), a description of the game and a leaderboard of people that have played that game.

Regarding the game experience, BoardgameArena resembles a video game more than a board game, in the sense that it limits you to what actions you can do, and it’s more automatic. When you want to place a tile, for example, it shows you the available spots, and you can’t make a wrong move because the software doesn’t let you do that, it just warns you that it’s an impossible move. It also keeps score for you, it tells you who’s turn it is, and it gives you advice and information during the game when you hover over certain areas and elements.
One thing that I think would make the platform better is being able to make a room and giving your friends the link to it, like you can do in Tabletopia. Right now, if you want to play with friends on BoardgameArena, they all have to have accounts, you have to search for them and add them to your friend’s list AND only then you can make a room where you invite everyone.
Game range:
They offer a pretty wide variety of games, and most of them are the popular ones that most have heard of. They have classics, beginner, and advanced games, so you can definitely find something to play there.

  • Great for beginners because the platform provides a lot of information during the game and it doesn’t let you break the rules by accident
  • It keeps track of all the information you need like current score, different modifiers each player has, whose turn it is, how many rounds you have left etc.
  • It has a lot of well-known games

  • The platform is not as visually pleasing
  • A lot of limitations when playing the game – resembles a video game
  • If you want to play with friends, everyone must have an account and you have to be friends with them on the platform
All in all, this is a good platform for beginners, and they have a lot of popular games here.

Here is our Online Board Games Livestream if you want to see how these platforms are used (and how we played Tortuga 1667 and Saboteur).

And here are some opinions from the other Guild Hall Team members, about these 2 platforms:

“Tabletopia is a great way to connect with your friends and have fun playing board games. It could take you a couple of minutes to get your head around how it works, but once you figure it out it’s an awesome experience.” – Noemi

“Yesterday I had my first try at playing board games online. To me, there can only be one clear winner. With a clean, crisp, and 3D display, Tabletopia is an absolute joy to use. It feels just like playing in real life. BoardgameArena, which I also got to use, is slightly less impressive visually but works just as well. If I had to pick, I would use Tabletopia, but luckily both are free platforms for all your online board game needs!” – Serban

“Tabletopia is a visually pleasing platform, it’s easy to use and very good for party games, but I don’t recommend it to players that don’t know the rules of the game they want to play. BoardgameArena I recommend for people that want to get into board games and don’t know where to start. If you play games here, you don’t need to know the rules, since the platform doesn’t let you make mistakes, so you can only play the correct way.” – Vlad

Don’t forget that if you’re interested in playing some online board games these days, you can join our Discord server and just write a message on the #looking-for-group channel to find players, or join any of our online events. You can also talk to them on the voice chats for a better experience.

Join the online events: