So here it is, my Board Game Arena top 10 games. This is the third website I’m covering where you can play board games online for free. In previous posts I’ve covered Yucata and Boite a Jeux, but now it’s the turn of probably the biggest site of them all. So if it’s the biggest, why wait until now?
I personally don’t use Board Game Arena (BGA) as much as the others. Some games are behind a paywall. Everyone has to make a living. And a yearly sub is only about £2 per month. But weirdly, I’d be more likely to pay if it was voluntary. Also many here play timed games, while you can also ‘rate’ players (earning them reputation). Neither of these elements appeal to me. And finally, some of the game implementations are worse here than elsewhere.
Having said all that, I’m clearly in the minority. It’s easy to see 10,000+ players playing online at once; probably 10 times what you’ll find on rival sites. It also has a lot of games you won’t find elsewhere and seems to be a little more up to date than its rivals. Popular recent games available (that I don’t talk about below) include Rallyman GT, Dice Forge, Dragon Castle, Clans of Caledonia, Hanabi and Teotihuacan.
The online experience
Sign up is simple, though starting games is a little clunky and we often need a few attempts to get things going. It has an annoying little noise to tell you it’s your go – which would be super useful if I didn’t have to mute it due to the annoying-ness lol. It also feels as if it’s running on the best engine of the three, as transitions between players are smooth, with generally more animations etc than you’ll expect elsewhere. Also like the other two sites, this is a scripted experience (unlike Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator): available actions are highlighted, so you can’t cheat or make game-breaking mistakes.
Board Game Arena has more than 180 games online at the time of writing, which certainly beats the competition. And just 18 of those are behind the paywall. I haven’t included any pay-to-play games in my list, but they include classics such as Race for the Galaxy, Seven Wonders, Puerto Rico, For Sale and Kingdomino. There’s also Terra Mystica, which seems odd because you can play that for free at Yucata anyway. It also has classics such as Yahtzee, Connect Four, Battleships, Chess, Go and Hearts.
Board Game Arena top 10 games
- Expedition: North West Passage (2-4 players). A really neat and original euro game that nicely implements its theme. There’s a weather mechanism that slowly makes areas impassable by boat, but then fine for your sleds. Which adds a nice element of push-your-luck, adding a great tension to an already enjoyable game.
- In the Year of the Dragon (2-5 players). This is quite the departure from Stefan Feld’s usual trademarks, being highly tense and interactive (via denial). You spend the game trying your best to deal with problems, doing your best to prepare for as many as possible. But you can’t deal with them all, making for many tricky decisions.
- Kahuna (2 players). An excellent two-player abstract game, with a small card deck adding clever restrictions to a pretty looking area majorities game. It’s a game of trying to build up to big plays, and where a single move can see a cascade of areas changing sides in a very satisfying way. If you’re on the right side, of course…
- Caylus (2-5 players). One of the original worker placement games, and arguably still one of the best. The real tension comes from taking risks. You can attempt better actions further along the game’s action selection road – but other players can conspire against you to stop them happening. A clever, interactive and elegant experience.
- Colt Express (2-6 players). The 2015 Spiel des Jahres winner loses little online, despite being such a visual treat ‘in real life’. The train is represented nicely, while the game loses none of its card-programming daftness. If you predict things right, you’ll be moving away from your opponents shoot. But if not, it may end in tears.
- Red7 (2-4 players). This clever abstract game is a simple blend of numbered coloured cards. The twist being, you need to be ‘winning’ at the end of the turn, or you’re out. Different colours have different winning conditions which you can change on your turn – while also playing cards into your tableau to meet that condition. Clever, fast and fun.
- Keyflower (2-6 players). This award-winning euro game blends tile-laying, worker placement, bidding and tile-laying. But don’t get too attached to your little engine, as other players can use it too – and block you out of your own spaces. A clever and complex game that’s a lot more cutthroat than the pretty visuals might allude to.
- Tash Kalar (2-4 players). An arena fighting game with a difference. You try to place your pieces in patterns that will unleash attacks from your warriors (represented by cards). The harder the pattern, the stronger the attack. But of course, your opponents aren’t going to sit back and let you achieve them. A really clever, thinky battle game.
- The Ruhr (2-4 players). Euro games don’t come much more German than this. It has a super tight economy, victory points are scarce, and politely (if infuriatingly) getting in each others’ way is key to victory. Plus, you’re delivering coal, by canal, to industrial sites (such as Essen) in the 18th century. Tough, competitive and fluid.
- Madeira (2-4 players). You’ll have to excuse this addition, as I haven’t actually played it. Madeira is in the top 500 of all time on Board Game Geek, rating a 7.6 average from thousands of reviews. Its a worker placement game with lovely pieces, so looks right up my street. Highlighting a big plus of online play – catching up on games you missed.
So that’s my Board Game Arena Top 10. There were so many more I could’ve mentioned, but hopefully this will encourage you to explore the site for yourself. Fancy a game? You’ll find me on Board Game Arena as ‘hairyarsenal’.