The Best Board Games on PC 2019

By Matt Thrower 22 May 2019 2

Board games are enjoying a huge renaissance right now. A lot of that is due to the quality of the games on offer, which are leaps and bounds ahead of the Monopoly and Risk you knew growing up. Modern games are compact, exciting and challenging to play. 

No surprise then that many of them have also migrated into digital form. There are many advantages to doing so: it makes them easier to learn, faster to play and means you can find matches against other humans online. Which is a little ironic given that increasing face to face time is another driver of the rising popularity of board games. But hey, we're happy with anything that gets more people playing.

If you like the complex, long-term decision making of board games, then grand strategy games are also for you.

This is a ‘living’ list, in the sense that there are many worthy candidates and not enough room to fit them all in. Every so often (especially as new games come out), we’ll give this list a refresh and an update to bring some other titles their turn in the spotlight.

Fort Sumter (Review)

Developer/Publisher: Playdek
Platforms: Steam, Mobile
Price: $8.99
Multiplayer: Online, Cross-Platform

Fort Sumter 5

Playdek grace this list once again with another excellent adaptation of this abstract historical strategy board game. This is a card-driven game where players must try and control several key zones in the lead up to the American Civil War. Historically, the Confederates opening fire on Fort Sumter itself marked the start of the conflict, but in this game the Unionists and the Confederate players must exert their political influence through the tactical use of cards to gain the upper hand.

The digital port is excellently made, with some unique visual options to offer a smoother - and more legible - playing experience, and Playdek's multiplayer infrastructure is as robust as ever, meaning your online machinations will be a breeze. Fort Sumter features much of the nuance and tension of Twlight Struggle, but is played in a fraction of the time. If you'd rather not take up more room on your physical shelf, than this may be the perfect digital board game for two.

Galaxy Trucker: Extended Edition (Mobile Review)

Developer/Publisher: CGE Digital
Platforms: Steam, Mobile
Price: £7.19
Multiplayer: Online, Local & Split-screen, Cross-Platform

Galaxy Trucker pc board games

Although this digital adaptation dates from 2014, it remains the gold standard for the genre. It's two race games welded together. First, players frantically grab face-down parts from a communal pile and try to puzzle together a functional spacecraft. The literal melee this engenders has no equivalent on a screen, making this an unlikely candidate for virtual play. They then fly their rickety constructs down a random course of aliens, pirates and asteroids trying to be the first to finish.

Not only does it capture the feel of scrabbling for virtual components very well, it even adds an all-new point-based building mode. It also boasts all the standard features of digital adaptations like a tutorial and online play. But as well as solo play against an AI it had a full single-player campaign, so good that play was even better offline than on.

Twilight Struggle (Mobile Review)

Developer/Publisher: Playdek / Asmodee Digital
Platforms: Steam, Mobile
Price: £7.19
Multiplayer: Online, Local/Same Device, Cross-Platform

Twilight Struggle pc board games

The undisputed king of hobby board game rankings for years, Twilight Struggle had accessibility issues. Its subject matter, the history of the Cold War, was niche. And its mechanics, which borrowed from complex card-driven wargames, proved daunting for many. What it needed was a digital adaptation to help teach new players the ropes and in Playdek, it found an able developer.

With help from its tutorial and hints, anyone can now enjoy this brilliant slice of ever-increasing DEFCON tension. The heart of the game is the way it makes cards keyed to either the US or USSR player. You can take actions by playing an opponent's card, but the card effect triggers anyway. This makes every turn of every play an absorbing, baffling balancing act of limiting damage while maximising gains.

Slay the Spire

Developer/Publisher: Mega Crit Games
Platforms: Steam
Price: £19.49
Multiplayer: Not Available

Slay the Spire pc board games

This is the only game on the list that didn't start life as a physical board game. But it could have: there's little here that wouldn't work on a real-life tabletop. Your adventurer starts with a small deck of weak cards which they must use to battle up the ever-tougher levels of the titular Spire. Along the way, you'll gain magic items and have plenty of chances to add to, upgrade or remove the cards in your deck.

Tabletop veterans will recognise this as an offspring of the deck-building genre. And it makes the best of very simple attack and defence mechanics to create a fascinating card game in its own right. But it then uses the PC platform to burnish the basic mechanics with all manner of rogue-like delight. Random maps, unexpected encounters and the ever-uncertain whim of the card gods combine to create an addictive wonder.

Mystic Vale

Developer/Publisher: Nomad Games
Platforms: Steam
Price: £11.39
Multiplayer: Online

Mystic Vale pc board games

From a deck-builder that's on PC only to one that perhaps should be. Mystic Vale takes the well-worn formula to a whole new level. You don't just construct your deck in this game but also the actual cards in it, filling up to three slots with purchased powers and effects. The physical game handles this with stacked transparencies, but it's a whole lot easier in this digital version. We're starting to see a few cases now where the digital adaptations of games make playing the physical version especially cumbersome, with the social aspect being the only saving grace left. 

This twist allows the game to open up several whole new layers of strategy for the genre. Often it matters as much where you put an effect as what it does, adding an extra dimension to deck selection. Players, representing Druid clans, are in a race for points from both playing and buying cards, giving you even more to think about. Saving nature has never been so much fun.

Terraforming Mars (Review)

Developer/Publisher: Luckyhammers / Asmodee Digital
Platforms: Steam
Price: £19.49
Multiplayer: Online, Local

Terraforming Mars pc board games

The digital version of this acclaimed heavy strategy game was a hot ticket in the build-up to release. When it arrived, however, it proved unfinished and riddled with minor bugs. We gave it a lukewarm review, accordingly. But in the months since developer Asmodee Digital has stepped up the plate with a host of updates. And while the interface remains a bit obtuse, the game itself is shining as it should.

Terraforming Mars is, at its core, an engine building game. You'll buy and play cards to generate various resources. But the game sparks to life when you come to spend them. You're not buying abstract effects here but adding water and forests, cities and climate to the surface of the red planet. Illustrated by the game's rich graphics, squabbling for space adds hot interaction to the dry but demanding economics of card play. The most recent update (at the time of writing) has further improved the UI, as well as introduced a new 'draft' format which allows for a more strategic start to the game, meaning you can somewhat control & choose which strategy you end up pursuing. 

Ticket to Ride (Mobile Review)

Developer/Publisher: Days of Wonder / Asmodee Digital
Platforms: Steam, Mobile
Price: £6.99
Multiplayer: Online, Local, Shared/Split Screen

Ticket to Ride PC board games

Such a popular breakthrough boardgame demanded a polished digital version for mass consumption. And boy did Days of Wonder deliver, with a smooth, shiny interface onto the game. A combination of Rummy and rail games, Ticket to Ride has players collecting sets of coloured cards to claim routes on a map. But the fire in the engine is the limited lines that connect distant cities for bonus points, creating a fierce competition to claim first.

It proved well suited to the online experience, delivering fast, tense games that were a perfect fit for the light, fun mechanics. There's cross-platform play ensuring you're never short of opponents. And fans had the extra convenience of being able to buy and play the plethora of maps and expansions in one place. (I've personally found it a great game to play with my wife on mobile-ED)

Lords of Waterdeep (Mobile Review)

Developer/Publisher: Playdek Inc.
Platforms: Steam, Mobile
Price: £10.99
Multiplayer: Online, Local, Shared/Split-screen, Cross-Platform

Lords of Waterdeeop pc board games

You'd never believe that one of the best Dungeons and Dragons video games has you hiring adventurers rather than being one. Yet here it is. You'll play as a powerful noble in the City of Splendors, using your resources to complete quests and build buildings. For all the resource management, there's also the huge satisfaction of sticking one over on your foes with worthless mandatory quests.

It's a worker placement title which owes a big debt to another game, Caylus. But Lords of Waterdeep strikes deeper notes with easier rules, more variety and a richer setting. This adaptation makes the latter really come to life with digital dragons soaring over the board. And the well-encapsulated player turns make it brilliant for online asynchronous play to hone your skills. 

Istanbul: Digital Edition (Mobile Review)

Developer/Publisher: Acram Digital
Platforms: Steam, Mobile
Price: £7.19
Multiplayer: Online, Local, Shared/Split-screen, Cross-Platform

Istanbul pc board games

Amid the mass of optimisation games, Istanbul stands out for its clever innovation in movement. Each time you move to one of the sixteen tiles and get its effect, you have to leave an assistant piece behind. If you run out, you have to waste an action to get them back, so it's far better to plan a route that lets you pick them up again. But doing that, of course, means you might not be getting the effects you want the most.

Layered atop a more typical framework of gathering and trading resources, assistants push Istanbul to a new level with tons to think about every turn. This digital version doesn't have the nice plastic rubies of the original. But instead you get online and AI play and you don't have to faff setting up the tiles anew for every session. That's way more than an even deal.

Scythe: Digital Edition

Developer/Publisher: The Knights of Unity / Asmodee Digital
Platforms: Steam
Price: £15.49
Multiplayer: Online, Local

Scythe pc board games

If you threw a bit of each genre of boardgame into a melting pot and cast the result into an alt-history steampunk mech, you'd get something a lot like Scythe. This thrilling blend of economic engine, narrative and robot war took gamers by storm in 2016 thanks partly to its incredible art. It helped that the game was pretty ace too.

This digital version preserves much of the artwork in glorious high definition and adds to it with some sweet 3D effects. The original is information dense, but some clever interface tweaks make it as accessible on screen as is realistic. But the real pull here is simply the ease of being able to enjoy this long, expensive yet excellent game online. With ever turn teetering on the see-saw of choosing to gather resources or spend them in the fight, it's rarely less than compelling.

RECENT RELEASES & OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS

Here are a few extra suggestions. Some just missed out on the list or maybe aren't quite considered board games. Others are too new to bed in or have had significant updates that we haven't had a chance to re-evaluate.

  • Potion Explosion
  • Faeria
  • Talisman: Digital Edition
  • Race for the Galaxy
  • Evolution: The Video Game
  • Into the Breach
  • Shards of Infinity
  • Small Worlds 2
  • Zombicide: Tactics & Shotguns

What are your favourite digital & PC board games? Let us know in the comments!

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