The best online board games to play with friends

These online board games are the best ways to gather your friends around the digital table

Looking for some online board games to try out with friends? The biggest advantage board games have over their video brethren is that you can reach across the table to give your friends a slap when they inevitably betray you. You might assume, therefore, that online board games have little to offer if you can’t throttle a dear friend moments after they claim victory.

While the physical aspect – slaps included – may be absent, online board games are still a great way to get your favourite boxes to the (virtual) table more often. Handily, they also come without the pesky need to host other folks in your home, so you can save on snacks, drinks, and the effort of tidying up after. On top of that, most online board games are also much faster to set up and play and can be played against AI if you’re a mate or two down. In case you’re not all that fussed on the online aspect and are just looking for some of the best PC board games on Steam then we have a separate list for those.

If you’re keen to give them a try, we’ve rounded up the best online board games below, so you can get your analog fix in the digital world.

The best online board games to play with friends

Here are the best online board games:

  • Tabletop Simulator
  • Codenames
  • Scythe
  • Mysterium
  • Roll for the Galaxy
  • Terraforming Mars
  • Secret Hitler

Tabletop Simulator

Like a decidedly limp monkey’s paw of board game wishes, Tabletop Simulator (TTS) can conjure up almost any box you can think of. The price? Some slightly janky controls and awkward implementation.

TTS is a glorious thing on the face of it: an engine packed to the brim with fan-made and official mods of all your favourite releases. As a simulator, players can manually move components and cards about on a virtual table. In practice, doing so can often feel like swinging a dead cat across your screen. There are myriad tiny controls to learn, and it’s not uncommon for players to accidentally hurl parts into the sky, or even flip the table entirely (there’s a key dedicated solely to this helpful action). That’s right, it even simulates a bruised ego.

The quality of mods also varies drastically. Some will automate almost everything for you; others simply dump the necessary pieces on the table and leave you to it. As such, we’d advise opting for board games that one or two of your group already know the rules to. Once you do get to grips with its peculiarities, Tabletop Simulator is by far the closest thing to actually sharing a table with your friends. Our recommendations? The Clank! and Point Salad mods are well worth a look.

Player count:
Depends on the game
Where can I play it?:
Steam
What’ll it cost me?
£14.99 ($19.99) – Though it’s regularly discounted in Steam sales periods as well
Alternatively:
Try Tabletopia and Board Game Arena for free alternatives

Codenames

Vlaada Chvátil’s Codenames sees two teams face off over a grid of words. A select few are assigned to each side, but only the team’s spymaster knows which they are. Delivering single-word clues and a number of associations, the spymasters must guide their collective of morons to pick correctly. Connecting clues is hard enough, but it’s just as vital to avoid linking in opponent and neutral options, or the dreaded, game-ending Assassin card.

The premise is phenomenally simple, and players barely need to interact with the board while playing. This makes it an ideal convert for online sessions, a strength the publishers quickly cottoned on to. As such, there’s an entirely free, browser-based version available. All you need to do is have one player create a room, then share the generated URL with anyone who wants to join.

Unless you’re throwing a video call into the mix, the spymaster won’t have to worry about maintaining a poker face. Mute your mic and you can scream as many obscenities as you want while your team gleefully abandons the good ship sensibility to discuss the unrelated assassin card for the fifth time. Online Codenames also permits rival spymasters to wallow in despair together, trading chat messages about just how foolish their teams are. They might be your enemy, but at least they understand what you’re going through.

Player count:
2-8, best with a large group
Where can I play it?
On the official Codenames site
What’ll it cost me?
It’s free!

Scythe

Strategy game nerds, assemble! RTS games may have tumbled far from their glorious reign on PC, but the analog world is currently living some of its best days for tactically minded gamers. Turn-based it may be, but Scythe is about the closest thing you can get to a board game RTS. Vying for control of a gorgeous painted map, players construct workers, buildings, and steampunk mechs as they attempt to expand their influence and popularity the fastest.

Digital publisher Asmodee has a bit of a shaky track record with the quality of their board game ports, but once you get used to the unconventional interface, Scythe: Digital Edition is a pretty slick affair. Player scores and stats can be displayed for easy reference, there’s some surprisingly decent music for each faction, and you can even pick between painted or unpainted minis.

Scythe is best enjoyed between a group of friends looking to compete over and over, building and adapting their strategies against one another. The Digital Edition isn’t the best place to learn the ropes, but it’s so easy to set up that it could easily replace the physical copy as the main way your group plays together.

Player count:
2-5 players, best with 3-4
Where can I play it?
Steam
What’ll it cost me?
£15.49 ($19.99)
Alternatively:
Cole Wehrle’s incredibly asymmetric strategy game Root has also been given an impressive digital adaptation by Dire Wolf Games. You can find it on Steam

Mysterium

The bad news? Your friend has been murdered. Fortunately, their ghost is going to help you figure out who did them dirty. Mysterium is a co-op experience which sees one player assume the role of a long-dead spirit. They’ll be sending visions to a group of psychic mediums – the other players – in the hopes of identifying their killer. Speaking from beyond the grave isn’t easy, mind, and the ghost is only able to communicate through pieces of abstract and surrealist art. Collaborate to piece together the who, where, and how of their murder, and they can finally rest in piece.

More like this: Here are the best detective games on PC

Another Asmodee adaption, the interface for Mysterium’s PC release is very evidently a mobile app port. But once you get a game up and running, you’ll find little to hinder your enjoyment. New cards unlock as you play sequential games, mixing up each playthrough with fresh art to say things like “ooooh” and “but what does it mean?” to. It’s basically like visiting the Tate, but actually fun.

Player count:
2-7, best with at least 4
Where can I play it?
Steam
What’ll it cost me?
£5.19 ($6.99)
Alternatively:
For a different take on co-op games, try diving headlong into the burning buildings of Flash Point: Fire Rescue, available on Steam

Roll for the Galaxy

There aren’t many games that’ll let you dominate the stars with an intergalactic disco. Then again, Roll for the Galaxy isn’t your usual space-conquering affair. Rather than fighting directly, players secretly roll and assign dice to tasks like settling worlds, generating money, producing goods, and shipping valuable wares for victory points. Each new world grants further powers and dice, allowing you to build up a powerful engine of production over the course of a game.

Roll for the Galaxy is an undeniably great game, hidden under an icon-based UI that can prove confusing for newcomers. The app automates a lot to make the experience cleaner, but expect new players to be a little lost at first. So long as you spend some time familiarizing yourself with the rules, you’ll be fine.

Read more: The best space games on PC

The digital release of Roll for the Galaxy has only just hit the Steam store, making it one of the more polished online board games. Matches can be played in one sitting, or dropped in and out of over the course of several days or even weeks. A rules reference is easily available at all times, and you can practice your skills against a surprisingly competent range of AI difficulties.

Player count
2-5
Where can I play it?
Steam
What’ll it cost me?
£11.39 ($14.99)

Terraforming Mars

Red Alert may have taught us that space has yet to be corrupted by capitalism, but the Red Planet has other ideas. In Terraforming Mars, rival corporations have swarmed Earth’s next door neighbour in a race to create a habitable environment. Developing projects, players establish outposts on the surface, and advance life support systems to prove their company’s prowess to rich investors back on Earth.

Terraforming Mars is regarded as one of board gaming’s greats, but it’s also infamously ugly. The digital app manages to morph the eyesores of the boxed version into a more palatable presence for your peepers, though it’s still far from the prettiest offering on the market. Taking a digital holiday to Mars will also allow you to add AI to matches, as well as try out some extra modes and features that never made it to the physical release.

There’s a reason Terraforming Mars is regarded as one the all time board gaming greats. If the Steam version enables more chances for your gaming circle to sit down with this gem, it’s an all but essential addition to your digital shelf space.

Player count:
2-5
Where can I play it?
Steam
What’ll it cost me?
£15.49 ($19.99)

Secret Hitler

Time to find out if any of your friends are disturbingly good at tricking each other – Secret Hitler, the incredibly popular social deduction game, is now playable online. Players are separated into fascists and liberals, and the most evil among you (determined by a secret, mysteriously accurate algorithm) will be assigned the role of the Secret Hitler. Nasty old Hitler doesn’t know who their teammates are, but the fascists can win by either passing six fascist policies, or by getting Hitler elected chancellor after passing three. The good guys need to pass five liberal policies to win – or shoot Hitler in the head, to everyone’s delight.

More like this: Here are the best crime games on PC

Each round, a player will take their turn to be president, and propose electing a chancellor. If their proposal passes the popular vote, the president draws three policy cards, and selects two to pass on to the chancellor – who then chooses which one to enact. The moment a red fascist card pops onto the table, the chat erupts into wild accusations – “I sent you a red and a blue!” “He sent me two reds!” But probably with more swearing. “I sent you one of each, you lying sack of doodoo.” That’s more like it.

Player count:
5-10, 7 is ideal
Where can I play it?
Here’s a browser version of Secret Hitler
What’ll it cost me?
Zilch, zero, zip

That’s it for our list of the best online board games! If you prefer your strategy games to be kept strictly digital, we’ve constructed a list of the best 4X games on PC for you to check out.

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