How to play board games online: play with friends or family over the web

Play board games online
Play board games online (Image credit: Shutterstock / TechRadar)

The ability to play board games online might be a great way of continuing your Christmas traditions, if you usually enjoy a certain title with your family after a delicious dinner, but are prohibited from seeing others this year for whatever reason.

Whether you're tech-savvy or recoil in fear at the thought of a touch-screen, there's a way for you to play games. The internet is packed with various ways to play online board games, with apps on your phone as well as websites and digital downloads for your favorite titles.

And these aren't just online versions of chess or drafts, either – plenty of your favorite board games like Settlers of Catan, Scyth and Carcasonne are all available to play online. That's as well as popular classics like Words with Friends, a popular app-based version of Scrabble.

There are actually quite a few different ways to play board games online, so we've detailed a few different options that are open to you.

How to play board games online at a glance: these are your options

  1. Play physical board games over chatting apps
  2. Use Tabletop Simulator
  3. Play on apps together
  4. Online board games (paid)
  5. Online board games (free)

How to play board games online: in detail

1. Play physical board games over chatting apps

best webcams

(Image credit: Future)

If you've already got the board game you want to play, it may be easier simply to jump in a calling app or a chat app with other people, and play the game over webcam.

Sure, this won't work for all games – if you need to keep your cards a secret, it's going to be hard to show one person their card without showing everyone else on the call too.

But if one person can organize the game, especially if no-one needs secret cards, there are plenty of games that could be enjoyed, like Monopoly, Carcasonne or Settlers of Catan.

For this you'll need the board game – check out our list of the best board games if you need inspiration – and also a webcam. For the latter, if you find them at a premium right now, we've got a guide on where webcams are currently in stock, but of course the built-in camera for your laptop, smartphone or tablet will work fine too.

Here are some board and card games to choose from:

2. Use Tabletop Simulator

(Image credit: Berserk Games)

If you want that tabletop gaming experience but can't actually get around a table with your friends or family, there's an alternative in the form of Tabletop Simulator.

Tabletop Simulator is, as the name suggests, a way of emulating a real table but in a video game. It's a steam app that puts you and your friends around the desk with puzzles, chess, poker and more. However it gets more interesting when you look at the plethora of downloadable extras you can get, for a variety of popular board games.

There are DLC versions of Scyth, Cosmic Encounters, Viticulture, Tortuga 1667 and more, all which let you play the full game over this simulator. All you need to do now is jump on a voice call, book up the game and you're good to go.

The only problem is that Tabletop Simulator isn't free, and of course the DLC has to be bought separately – the game and DLC has to be bought by all your players too, so this option might end up costing more than the game itself. If you play loads of games on Tabletop Simulator, though, it could end up more affordable than the physical object.

You can download Tabletop Simulator on Steam here.

3. Play on smartphone or tablet apps together

(Image credit: Catan GmbH)

Lots of your favorite board games exist as apps for your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet, and plenty of these have online multiplayer modes so you can play while voice or video calling.

If you're playing on a smartphone, maybe a tablet with a bigger screen will be useful? Check out our list of the best tablets, as well as the best iPads and best Android tablets.

If you search the App Store or Play Store for the best games, plenty of them come up – Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, Pandemic and Terraforming Mars are all available to buy and download. Lots of these have single-player modes too, if you want to play but your competitors aren't available.

Some of your favorite games might be available under different names. Words with Friends is a hugely popular version of Scrabble that you can play with friends. You can play games over hours, days or weeks as you don't need to play words straight away, so it's a nice way of staying connected to people by playing a game in the background to your life.

Sure, playing on apps doesn't have exactly the same feel as physical (or even pseudo-physical, in the case of Tabletop Simulator) board games, but lots of the apps are cheap to buy, so you won't break the bank by playing this way.

4. Online board games (paid)

(Image credit: Hasbro)

There are other ways to play board games online, particularly by buying digital versions of the games, or through paid websites.

On Steam you can find plenty of digital board games available to buy, and we'd recommend checking some out on there.

For many of the biggest board games, we'd also recommend checking out Tabletopia. It's a site where you can play plenty of the biggest games and have many on the go at once, all for a fairly affordable subscription fee.

Hasbro, which makes Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Risk and Scrabble has created a compilation pack of all of them, which you can see here, and it might be a great way to recreate a family games night.

5. Online board games (free)

(Image credit: Days of Wonder)

Certain board games can be played online for free, if you search around enough, although it may not be as smooth an experience as if you paid for the privilege.

Days of Wonder, a popular board games company, has some of its collection available in digital form to play online for free, and you can find this by clicking here. The website is a little 'old-school', though, so you might find it a bit slow.

Tabletopia, mentioned above, has a few games available to play for free, and tester introductory games for some of the bigger titles out there.

Certain board game apps are free too, and we'd recommend checking out Star Realms, Uno or Catan Universe on your smartphone or tablet.

Tom Bedford

Tom Bedford was deputy phones editor on TechRadar until late 2022, having worked his way up from staff writer. Though he specialized in phones and tablets, he also took on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK and now works for the entertainment site What To Watch.

He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working on TechRadar, he freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist.