The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many industries, and the gaming industry is no exception. Some of the biggest casualties include the cancellation of E3 and various other esports and gaming events, as well as the postponing of The Last of Us Part 2’s release date. It’s not all bad news, as gamers stuck on lockdown still found ways to get their hands on the latest releases, like Final Fantasy VII Remake, Persona 5 Royal, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
When there’s no way to go out to the game shop and buy a physical copy of a new game, there’s always the last resort of buying a digital copy. But what about board games, a strictly physical-copy format that also requires a small to medium-sized gathering of people? The COVID-19 pandemic definitely hurt the video game industry, but it seems to have hit the board game industry even harder.
In a lengthy update in late January from Nathan McNair of Pandasaurus Games (creators of board games CTRL, Sonora, and many others), McNair detailed the impact of the current pandemic on the production and sales of their board games. Most of the board games we play are manufactured in China, and due to the lockdown, several factories that manufacture toys and board games had to be closed, causing an abrupt halt to the production of countless board games. Add to that the complications of shipping as well as players being unable to purchase and play board games, and you have one of the biggest-ever crises to hit the board game industry.
While we’ve yet to see how big and small board game companies find their ways to stay afloat amidst an international crisis, the good news is that there are many board games with affordable, official digital versions. Not only can we still keep our board game groups running via online voice chat and digital board games, we can also help some of our favorite board game companies recoup some of their losses by supporting their games.
Here are five board games with digital versions that you can play online with your friends.
Catan, formerly known as Settlers of Catan, is a timeless classic of a board game, and one that I personally favor over other board games because it’s the board game that’s least likely to instigate any fight or conflict among friends (I’m looking at you, Avalon). Catan is all about trading resources, building structures, and gaining victory points by growing your settlers’ community to be bigger than the rest.
There are actually two digital versions of Catan available, with one being Catan Universe and the other being Catan Classic. Universe is the latest version, and it’s free-to-play on Steam, but there are in-game purchases for Catan’s many expansions. Catan Classic is an older version for iOS and Android with a much simpler user interface, so some players might prefer it over Universe.
Smash Up is a card-shuffling and deckbuilding game that lets you pit your chosen faction against three to four opponents and their own factions. Each faction has their own special powers to help you gain those sweet victory points, but most of the time it’s fun to play the faction you think is coolest. You can choose from robots, ninjas, zombies, and even dinosaurs. Expansions let you choose from even more factions and cards.
The digital version of Smash Up is available on Steam for PC, and while the user interface takes some getting used to, it’s the best way to play Smash Up next to actually playing with your friends on a tabletop. It takes time to get used to the rules of even the physical Smash Up game, but if your board game group has that one guy who loves to explain board game rules and mechanics, then you’re all set to go.
While the prolonged homestay has got us all down, and life in the real world seems to have been put into a standstill (at least for those of us who have the privilege of being able to stay safely at home), we can at least get our friends together on a Discord server and play the Game of Life, where everything is colorful and life is but a series of spins on the wheel of fortune.
The Game of Life is another classic board game with simple rules that you can play even with your friends and family who aren’t into board games. The digital version of Life is a fantastically rendered iteration of the game, and it perfectly captures the whimsical retro vibe of the original game. It’s available on Steam for PC, and it’s a great alternative to the physical board game we know and love.
If you’re an expert at getting the Longest Road card in Catan, then Ticket to Ride is the board game for you. It’s basically Longest Road, the board game, with a few extra ways to get victory points here and there. In Ticket to Ride, your main focus is building routes to the destinations you’re assigned through destination cards, and the more routes and trains you have, the more victory points you end up with.
The digital version of Ticket to Ride is available on Steam for PC and macOS, and it’s a faithful recreation of the original game. The user interface is simple and streamlined, making the game very easy to learn and play, and there are several expansions for the game available on Steam as well, if you ever want to take your trains around Europe and Asia. Ticket to Ride is a fun game to play over and over, and it’s simple enough that everyone can get onboard.
Tokaido is a relaxing board game where your only goal is to make the most of your travels. You play as a traveler, moving through a game board set in ancient Japan, full of fateful encounters and wonderful sights. You gain victory points through your traveler’s unique abilities, as well as through the sights you go to see, and souvenirs you purchase in your travels. By the end of the game there’s always a definite winner, but it feels more like a victory for everyone as each player reaches the end of their own unique journey through Kyoto and the East Sea Road. Tokaido is less about the final destination, and more about the climb (Miley Cyrus would love it).
The digital version of Tokaido is one of the best board game-to-video game adaptations you’ll ever play, as the digital version even feels superior to the physical game at times. With beautifully rendered environments and an aesthetically pleasing color palette, Tokaido only gets better as a video game. It’s available on Steam for macOS and PC, as well as iOS and Android.
So those were some of the official digital versions of board games that you can play with your friends online. It’ll be a while before any of us get to play our physical copies of our board games, but there’s no reason to skip board game night. Your next session’s just a download and a Discord server away.
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