We’re huge board game geeks in my family. Our stack of strategy games is up to the ceiling. And while we’re always up for a new game, they’re expensive. So my new solution has been playing board games online before I buy! I get the full experience of gaming (and a chance to learn the rules easily) before I buy a hard copy. I know which ones I find boring, and which ones I find myself raving to my husband about.

Related: 7 of the best video games to play together as a family

But there are actually more benefits, too like playing online with friends we haven’t been able to see in person during the quarantine, or not having to protect that game board with 7,424 pieces from our rambunctious youngest child who might gleefully knock the whole thing over when we’re four hours into a game.

If you’re struggling to find a way to play board games with friends, or you just want to be sure you buy the right games for you, here are three websites where you can play board games online. See ya, Candy Crush. We have a new obsession.

At top: Terra Mystica on Board Game Arena

This post contains affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission from certain purchases to help support the work we do at no additional cost to you. Photo by Surface on Unsplash.

Related: 7 fun 80s-movie-themed board games that are totally excellent

3 ways to play board games online before you buy: Play with friends on Board Game Arena

A screen shot of my Kingdom Builders game in progress.

Board Game Arena

My number 1 recommendation would be Board Game Arena. They have many of my favorite games from my personal collection, alongside plenty I’ve been wanting to try…all in an easy-to-use interface. Plus, they were just purchased by Asmodee games (Settlers of Catan, anyone?), so I expect them to just keep getting better.

Simple tutorials walk you through guided gameplay when you try a new game, so you can easily figure out what you’re supposed to be doing. Whether you’re an experienced gamer or are just starting, you’ll be able to easily navigate this site.

I love, love, love how easy it is to start a new game and customize your gameplay here. Most people will use “simple play” mode, although there are also tournaments and arena play modes too. In simple play, you can choose real time (play right now against someone else) or turn-by-turn (come back to the game to take your turn when it’s convenient…over several days). Then, you can choose if you’re going to play against random users or your actual friends; and then you can even choose if they’re remote or sharing the same screen with you. Being able to customize exactly how I want to play is a big reason why I prefer this site.

One downside, though, is that it can take awhile for a new game to start. My new game said it could be up to 15 minutes, and just to sit back and wait for my email to come to start the game. Kind of a bummer.

Some sites boast that they have thousands upon thousands of games, while Board Game Arena has 288 games. But don’t be fooled. BGA has some of the best strategy games around. You don’t really need thousands, right? Although some are limited to users with a premium membership, if you get invited to play by a friend who has the premium membership, you can play even if you don’t.

Finally, their games are arranged into smart categories (from time length to number of players to most popular and even games that are in BETA testing phase) that make it easy to browse and choose one.

Related: 20 educational board games that totally count as homeschool time

How to play board games online: Tabletopia is a geek-culture trove of games

Tabletopia

Tabletopia has a decidedly more geek-culture feel to it than Board Game Arena, which is boosted by the Discord community they’ve built, too. At first glance, the games available to join (from 1600+ in their library) were not as familiar to me, other than the card game Whist.

Also, figuring out how to start up a new game the way you want isn’t as intuitive or clear as it is at Board Game Arena. But once you’ve got the new game up, you can just copy the link in your browser and send it to a friend to play with you. Or, you can join any of the available games or start a new one that’s open to any of their users.

Tabletopia does offer a premium membership, where certain games (usually, more appealing ones) are only available to premium members—you can’t join a premium game if you don’t have the membership.

I like that Tabletopia posts video tutorials of their games on the side of the screen, so you can click through to watch how it’s played. But their actual in-game tutorials are harder to follow than those on Board Game Arena. And they don’t use AI to enforce the rules, meaning you could get into a big debates over a nit-picky rule if you’re not careful.

One really cool feature on Tabletopia, however, is their Workshop that allows you to build and test your own board game ideas. Just note that they reserve all rights to games you create here.

Bottom line: this isn’t the best site for beginners who are trying to figure out if board games are their thing or not.

Related: 11 of the best board games for older kids

3 ways to play board games online: Join Happy Meeple for an easy interface but limited game choice.

Happy Meeple

Happy Meeple has an easy interface but a very limited number of games, and they’re all organized by number of players on their home page. The site looks a bit low tech, in a geeky, gamer way, but their as-you-play tutorials are good. I started a new game I’d never played before, and learned what I was doing in just a couple minutes. When it ended, I still had a few questions about the rules, but generally it made sense to me.

Playing with a friend is relatively easy too. You simply choose the game you want to play and click the “play with a friend” option (which costs you 11 “food,” a currency on the site you earn by spending more time there). Then, just copy and paste the URL in a message to your friend and wait for them to join.

Beware, the boxes with game images at the bottom of the screen aren’t actually games you can play at Happy Meeple; they’re links to purchase. I wish this site had more games, because it was easy to play the ones I did try. That said, I’d recommend closing the running chat boxes on the side of the screen, as mine were occasionally littered with Trumper propaganda.

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