It’s going to be a different kind of Christmas, with many of us unable to spend it with the people we’d like to. However, a silver lining to this most disruptive of years has been that everyone’s been forced to become more tech-savvy. Chances are that now even your grandparents and reclusive uncles living in log cabins have come to grips with the magic of webcams and Zoom calls.
A natural extension of the above skillset is playing digital board games online. Plenty of these games do a great job of recreating the homely experience of bundling around a table with friends or family this Christmas, competing or cooperating with each other in pursuit of victory.
If the people joining you for an online board game session have tightened their purse-strings in the wake of Christmas shopping splurges, then Tabletopia is a frugal and accessible option. The site has over 1,500 board games, ranging from classics like Chess and digital card packs, all the way through to modern games like Secret Hitler, Carcassonne and the excellent birdwatching card game Wingspan.
Certain games will require the host to grab a subscription plan (starting from $5 a month, cancel anytime), but once they have that then other players can join their games for free via a URL link.
Tabletop Simulator is part freeform board game simulator, part 3D sandbox where you can either sit down and take your board games seriously or just flip the whole table over, sending pieces flying.
The possibilities are endless. You can play classics like Chess and Mahjong, grab newer board games like Scythe and Wingspan as paid DLC, or dive into the world of custom player-made games, which include real games like Catan and Secret Hitler as well as all-new creations.
Only one person needs to own a DLC for others to join, and if your friends are reluctant to buy the base game you can always hook them into your PC via Parsec, which lets you stream your local PC games for online players to join – only one copy required!
The onset of the global pandemic meant that many a lengthy Dungeons & Dragons campaign got put on pause. Luckily, this online toolset and virtual tabletop for D&D, Call of Cthulhu, Pathfinder and myriad other tabletop RPGs has been around since 2012, and has risen to the challenge of taking on large numbers of players since the start of 2020.
The base version is free, though Game Masters may need to unlock one of the two paid tiers to do things like remove ads, use dynamic lighting, and share table features with people playing their campaign.
With its focus around shoddy drawings that you can’t backtrack on, Drawful 2 is a modern digitised twist on Pictionary, and a worthy alternative should some people be doing Christmas remotely this year.
The idea is that one player draws something based on a weird, wacky suggestion conceived by the game, then other players give their own interpretations of what the drawing is. The more players buy into your description of the drawing, the more points you get.
Leaning more into the videogame side of board games (and requiring every player to own a copy of the game), Armello blends strategy with RPG as you control one of several anthropomorphic animal critters vying for the throne of a fantasy land.
Each game lasts around 45 minutes, but within that there are so many permutations of battles, subterfuge and tactical possibilities that it feels like a new adventure for you and your friends every time.
Ticket to Ride
If you’re bored of the usual Risks and Monopolies you play with your family unto sherry-infused tedium every single year, then Ticket to Ride is a welcome progression from those. Each player is a railroad tycoon trying to reach various stations around the world while blocking other players from building out their own train routes.
It’s very accessible, while requiring a bit more strategic thinking than the usual boardgame go-tos. You can play it cross-platform across Android, iOS, Steam and PS4. Or just use Parsec and send people the link to join your game on your local computer.
Condensing the world-conquering formula of Heroes of Might and Magic or 4X games into a more simplified, manageable board game, Small World is a fun way to pass a couple of hours with friends and family.
Pick a fantasy race to play from Dwarves, Elves, Orcs and other mythical folk, then march them out to take over a world using tactics, special powers and strength of arms. It’s not just about expansion, but about gracefully leading your people into decline too.
Can be played cross-platform via Steam, Android, iOS and locally via Hot Seat.
Not technically a board game, but given the ease with which Among Us can be played across Steam, Android and iOS, and the fact that it’s the best videogame realisation of beloved party games like Mafia and Werewolf, it makes the cut.
You and up to nine friends or family control armless little spacemen trying to maintain a spaceship, but one of you – unbeknownst to the others – is an imposter trying to kill their crewmates. Everyone plays in silence until someone calls an emergency meeting, at which point chaos breaks loose and the accusations begins.
Warning: May lead to family fallouts.
Town of Salem
Similar to Among Us, but even more accessible thanks to a free browser-based version that lets players join those on Steam, Android and iOS. Up to 15 players are randomly assigned roles of town, mafia, coven, serial killers and other undesirables in the good God-fearing town of Salem. It’s up to innocent townsfolk to try and find the killers and perpetrators, while the perps seek to save their own skins at the expense of innocents.
So long as everyone promises to stick to the rule of silence during daytime sequences, you can play over Skype, Zoom or other voice chat to really add life to the meetings when discussing suspects and pointing the finger.