The 10 best board games on PC

PC

Did you hear? Board games are cool again. In fact, they’re so cool that big hitters from the cardboard world are making their way over to the digital one on a more and more regular basis. To help you get your virtual collection of cardboard started, we’ve gathered the 10 best board games available on PC today, all in one handy list. You’ll find co-op hits, thinky strategy and everything in-between. The thing they all have in common is that they’re worth your time and precious pennies, so there’s no need to roll the dice, so to speak.

Digital board games are great for a number of reasons. First of all, you don’t have to bother with all the faff of unpacking a bunch of tokens and cards from a box, before trying to squeeze them back into the same box two hours later, only to find that they somehow do not fit. Secondly, you don’t have to try and convince your friends and family to all gather around the same table. Life’s tricky enough without adding more scheduling. Stuff that – just play against random strangers on the internet, or even a trusty AI, safe in the knowledge that Medium Difficulty can never cancel at the last minute because their babysitter fell through.

Another big benefit is that it takes up a lot less space, and generally costs a lot less. Why drop £100 on 15kg of plastic miniatures and enough cardboard to crush a Honda Civic when, for a fraction of that price, you can add a dozen new games to your Steam library? If you like them enough to play with friends around the table, the option to go out and pick up a physical copy is still there, after all.

This list isn’t exhaustive, and you might find that your own favourite board game game isn’t in the final 10. As always, that means that it was number 11. Why not head to the comments to give an impassioned speech in its favour? You might convert some readers to your team, and muster enough to break down the door of the treehouse and force us to include it when we update the list.

10. Magic: The Gathering Arena

Magic: The Gathering is the biggest trading card game in the world. It’s been around for decades and taken a few stabs at crossing over to the digital world in that time, but it’s only with the recent Magic: The Gathering Arena that it feels like it’s really hit its stride on PC. Arena is the same MTG you know from the tabletop, but translated into a fast-flowing, visually impressive app that sees it step up to the likes of digital-only card games such as Hearthstone. Best of all, Arena lets you unlock any physical cards you buy for free, so you don’t need to buy everything twice to keep your collection the same across paper and pixels. With plenty of popular Magic: The Gathering formats from the original collectable card game, as well as some new formats exclusive to the digital version, and the chance to play upcoming sets a little ahead of their release, Arena proves MTG isn’t going anywhere but up for a while.

Where can I buy it?: Directly from Wizards. A Mac release is planned for the future.

9. Through The Ages

Civilisation games were born on the tabletop, with the first – 1980’s Civilization by legendary designer Francis Tresham – serving as inspiration for Sid Meier’s Civilization series on the PC. (Which then inspired board games based on the PC games based on the board game; it’s a whole thing.) Through The Ages takes the classic genre in a new direction, seeing players build up their empire using little more than a bunch of cards. You draft technology, leaders, wonders and more from a shared queue of cards, making sure to keep your people happy and fed while also fending off attacks from your neighbours. The tabletop version of Through The Ages is a grand creation that takes hours to play and quite a bit of effort to keep all the cards in the right places. Having all the cardboard admin handled by your PC means you can focus on the game itself – which is a cracker.

Where can I buy it?: Steam, GOG

8. Ticket To Ride

Ticket To Ride has become a modern classic of board gaming since it first chugged out of the brain of designer Alan R. Moon in 2004 – and for good reason. There’s a simple pleasure to spending matching sets of coloured cards to link up locations on the map with sets of dinky train carriages, aiming to complete your secret tickets by the end of the game. The original version starring the map of North America has been followed by numerous expansions and spin-offs that see the players travel everywhere from Europe to India. They also bring new features to the experience, with ferries, tunnels and more taking the trains on an epic worldwide journey. Ticket To Ride remains a joy in cardboard, and its PC version is just as delightful. Plus, you get to hear it go ‘choo choo’ every time you take a turn in the app; good luck resisting the urge to do your own Thomas the Tank Engine impression after a few rounds.

Where can I buy it?: Steam

7. Colt Express

Sure, building railways in Ticket To Ride is great. But have you ever wanted to rob a train instead? If so, you should probably find a new ambition, but Colt Express will let you live out your fantasies of being like Jesse James by rootin’, tootin’ and shootin’ your way through a Wild West train heist. Everyone chooses an action to take each turn in secret, before they all play out in the order they were played – leading to inevitable chaos. You might go to blast a rival only to find they’ve scarpered onto the roof of the carriage, or make a move to grab some loot just as somebody pinches it right in front of you. Meanwhile, the marshal is on the hunt for the outlaws and will fill you full of lead if you end up in the same carriage, making it harder to draw a decent hand on future turns. On the tabletop, Colt Express already packed a visual punch thanks to an impressive 3D cardboard train – on PC, it looks just as stylish thanks to some slick animation and strong cartoon artwork. Hop on board and have a blast.

Where can I buy it?: Steam

6. Twilight Struggle

Set during the Cold War, Twilight Struggle is almost as tense as the period that inspired it. Two players each take control of the US and USSR, working to exert their influence over the rest of the world as the nuclear threat simmers over to boiling point. Each card is based on actual historical events, with particular actions increasing the DEFCON level and driving either side closer to the brink of nuclear war. While the rules aren’t complicated by themselves, play gives way to a deep level of strategy that will keep you trying to outplay your opponent throughout. The political tug-of-war has long been considered one of the greatest board games of all time on the tabletop, and its digital adaptation does it ample justice. How many other games have the chance of ending in mutually-assured destruction?

Where can I buy it?: Steam

5. Splendor

Splendor is a gem of a game about gems. You’re aiming to collect the most valuable cards by buying them using a combination of gem chips in various colours – which you can pick up each turn – and cards you’ve bought on previous turns that are worth permanent gems in your collection. As you buy more cards, you can afford even more expensive cards from the grid, giving the game a satisfying sense of momentum. Add in the race to collect bonuses for claiming certain sets of cards, and the passive-aggressive nature of reserving cards your opponents may want to stop them cashing in, and you can see why Splendor’s one of the best quick(ish) board games of the last decade. If you’re looking for something to pick up after the likes of Catan and Carcassonne, start here.

Where can I buy it?: Steam

4. Scythe: Digital Edition

Set in an alternative 1920s dieselpunk Europe where mechs are the latest innovation in war machinery, Scythe is an immersive strategy game where five different factions are all looking to stake their claim to the land around a mysterious city-state known as The Factory. Each of the factions has different starting abilities, but all can invest in their workers, mechs and buildings during the game to gather more resources, traverse the land and drive off their rivals in combat they have full control over. With numerous ways to build your strength and amass points, Scythe opens up into a fascinating 4X experience with the lore and story of its world delivered through events and player decisions as they explore. Little wonder that artist Jakub Rozalski’s evocative 1920s-ish setting – which serves as the engrossing backdrop to Scythe – has since been expanded with video game Iron Harvest.

Where can I buy it?: Steam

3. Flash Point: Fire Rescue

Flash Point is the hottest board game on the tabletop – literally. Players are firefighters tackling burning blazes together, moving their squad of extinguishing experts through different buildings to put out flames and rescue survivors trapped inside. Like in co-op board game classic Pandemic (which we haven’t included on this list because frankly its PC version sucks), the players’ characters have different unique abilities to help them triumph. It’s how you use your team’s talents – from smashing through walls to reviving unconscious survivors – and coordinate your plan that’ll decide how you fare, though don’t expect it to be easy.

Where can I buy it?: Steam

2. The Lord Of The Rings: Adventure Card Game

Less a perfect digital recreation of the excellent co-op living card game The Lord Of The Rings: The Card Game and more a game of its own that takes heavy inspiration from its tabletop cousin (not to mention more than a splash of Hearthstone’s visual style), LOTR: Adventure Card Game sees players’ own fellowship braving the monsters of Middle-earth on a number of quests. You get to customise your deck of cards with characters, abilities and more, before seeing how it stacks up against the forces of darkness controlled by the computer’s Sauron. The game nails the sense of adventure from Tolkien’s books, journeying through different locations and throwing up a variety of objectives for players to complete along the way. It’s also bloody tough; Sauron doesn’t mess around.

Where can I buy it?: Steam

1. Hive

With its stark black and white pieces, Hive instantly brings to mind chess. And, honestly, it wouldn’t be too much to say it should go on to become as much of a classic. Similarly a battle of abstract strategy between two players, Hive challenges each side to surround their opponent’s queen bee by manoeuvring their creepy-crawly pieces around the connected tiles. Each bug moves in a unique and specific way made easy to remember by the insect pictures – the spider crawls an exact number of spaces, the grasshopper jumps over pieces, the beetle crawls on top of other pieces. and so on. It’s an intense challenge of careful planning ahead and outwitting your opponent that you’ll want to master.

Where can I buy it?: Steam

For more board game and tabletop recommendations, reviews, news and video playthroughs, head over to Rock Paper Shotgun’s brand new sibling site Dicebreaker.

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