As the interest in board games continues to rise, so too does the interest in exploring new ways of playing those games. One such way is through digital ports of those games – translating them PCs, consoles, phones, and tablets.
Few people advocate that the digital counterpart to a beloved board game should replace it, but many designers add subtle tweaks to the game that make them great alternatives for solo play, or as a supplemental way to enjoy the game. We don’t wish to completely dismiss their existence entirely, and so we welcome you to the Pixel Provinces.
While The Cardboard Republic is dedicated to the fantastic experience that is playing a board game with friends, we all have overlapping interests and hobbies. A sizable slice of my geek pie belongs to video games.
Let’s face it: video games have more popularity in the general population than board games in part to the fact that they require real-life human interaction. Even the biggest board game geek will struggle with the dilemma that most board games require multiple people. When friends are not readily available, playing a board game can be very difficult.
I spend approximately four hours a day commuting to and from work, mostly on public transportation. I could read, or check Facebook ,or Twitter, or any other Internet distraction one could think of, but I always default to a good digital version of a board or card game. I’m not an Angry/Flappy Bird player. I’m not a Candy Crusher. What I want to do when I’m sitting on a train for an hour or two is to play a board game. So, if you’re anything like me, you want that board game fix in a digital, mobile, solo form.
Well, fear not. I’ve rounded up some suggestions and thoughts on great digitized versions of board games.
Settlers of Catan
There’s no better place to start than one of the classics. The digital version of Settlers is, unsurprisingly, one of the most popular digital board games on the market. There appears to be two mainstream editions: one for Xbox, and one for most everything else (though the browser-based and home computer versions are slightly different). All versions showcase a great AI system for computer players as well as a healthy online community that is pretty active.
The Xbox version suffers from not having the Seafarers or Cities & Knights expansions available, but that doesn’t deter the popularity of the game amongst the Xbox Live community. You could log onto the game at any time day or night and still get into a game against other people within a minute or two. Better still, the AIs have different personalities, so there’s a large variety of matches you can play just on your own, depending on the AIs you get as opponents. Of all the games covered in this article, this is the one that gets the most play time from me in digital form, whether it’s on my phone, my computer, or my Xbox.
Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride is another digital game with multiple versions, but it’s either the version for Xbox or iPhone that suffers most. All versions have the 1910 expansion available, and the Xbox version also has the Europe maps. All other supported digital devices tout all the expansions, but they each have varying multiplayer experiences. If you’re looking for online multiplayer, steer clear of the Xbox version. The Xbox version, while good in and of itself, has a non-existent online community. It seems that the online community for it never really caught on with the console, and one could spend hours waiting to find other people on Xbox to play a game.
On the other hand, the Ticket to Ride platform for other digital devices has a thriving online community, as well as a Pass and Play option for multiplayer. (The Xbox version also has this, but there’s no secrecy in a player’s destination tickets and train cards in hand).
However, when looking for a solo game, the Xbox platform gets the advantage. The more popular platforms of Steam and mobile devices has some nice AI variety, but some decisions made by the AI seem to be nonsensical. This is to the point where routes are built for no apparent reason, without really blocking any opponent routes or helping to complete a destination ticket. Also, they appear to be terrified of ever selecting a Locomotive.
The AI for Xbox shines though. While there is no variety with the Xbox AI, it’s much truer to the nature and goals of a standard Ticket to Ride player. Increase the difficulty to “Hard”, and you’ll find an unforgiving AI that will go out of its way to build routes just to block your progress, giving the ultimate challenge for any veteran player.
The digital version of Carcassonne is available on Xbox, mobile, and tablet devices, but it’s important to note that there are two versions of the game. The first version is available for Android devices and features a solid AI for playing the game solo. An updated version is available for the iOS platforms and features online play, online rankings, as well as a Solitaire mode as a one-player variant.
I have the Android version (thanks Amazon Free App of the Day!), but the tutorial and rules explanations are incomplete at best. I personally don’t have the luxury of having played the table top version of Carcassonne, and the in-game tutorial falls short in giving full details of the rules. While it covers the basics of the game and how to score points, what it doesn’t cover is smaller but important things, such as legal tile plays and how/when a potential tile space is deemed “blocked off”. However, don’t let that discourage you from getting the game. A little online research can help fill in the rules gaps and guide a player to a better understanding of the game.
The digital version of Elder Sign is, by far, the most frustrating game on this list. As if the tabletop dice game wasn’t frustrating enough for players, the mobile version cranks it up to 11. As a solo player, you get to choose four Investigators for your team, and you choose your Elder One to challenge. On the easier levels, the game functions just like the tabletop game. But get into harder Elder Ones (or the expansions to the game), and you’ll find variant rules that challenge even the most veteran players.
Some users will claim an unfairness to the game (to the point of accusations of the game “cheating”), but my experience with the game seems to be pretty fair along the lines of odds and probabilities. Where the game gets really frustrating is the near-impossible challenges with some of the Elder Ones later in the game. Make no mistake: this game probably isn’t the best choice for a casual player. However, if you love a good challenge and enjoy the table top game enough, it’s worth the money to give this one a shot.
Lords of Waterdeep
One of the most popular board games within my local gamer circle finally received a digital release last November, and we couldn’t be more excited about it. The only disadvantage is that there is currently only a version for iOS platforms. While the bigger screens of an iPad benefit the most from a game with such a large board and lots of cards and pieces, the iPhone version holds its own just fine, doing a fantastic job of shrinking down the UI to a manageable and readable level.
The game offers an online multiplayer option, as well as a Pass and Play option, and a well-developed AI for solo play. My lack of a Mac device makes me very jealous of my friends that get to play this game with their free time, although there are unannounced talks of an Android version I can hope for.
If you do own an iPad or iPhone though, I would personally consider this game a “must have”.
Lords of Waterdeep is available on Apple’s App Store for iPhone & iPad.
Of course, this is just a small list of the available digital board games on the market. Keep an eye out for future articles to see which board games we enjoy here at The Cardboard Republic have found their ways onto our phones, tables, computers, and home consoles.
Feel free to share your thoughts with us over on our social media pages!
Photo Credits: Settlers cover by Mayfair Games; Ticket to Ride logo by Days of Wonder; Carcassonne cover by Rio Grande Games; Elder Sign Omens logo by Fantasy Flight Games; Lords of Waterdeep cover by Wizards of the Coast.