The best moments in board games happen while making intense eye contact. They’re when a twitch betrays a lie in a game of deception, or when you’re fixed with a look of smugness and sympathy as your neighbour marches into your territory. Digital board games definitely have their drawbacks, but so does spending hundreds of pounds on cardboard you can only break out when people lug their fleshsacks into your vicinity.
Fortunately, Steam is flogging dozens of computerised tabletops in a sale this weekend. I’ve hardly played any of these on my PC but I’ve poured hours into their physical originals, so here are my faves.
Scythe, 15% off for £13/$17/€17
Scythe blends the thinky resource-tinkering of a Eurogame with the territory control and bombastic miniatures more closely associated with Ameritrash (I’ll let ex-board games maestro Robert Florence tell you what those words mean). There are also little story decision moments, and the rulebook for the physical version insists that you show everyone at the table the artwork on them so everyone can appreciate that a mech is about to step on a cow or whatever. It’s a shame you won’t get that with this version, though it’s also fantastic that you won’t have to spend 20 minutes setting it up.
Race For The Galaxy, 30% off for £5/$5/€6
My favourite ‘engine-building’ game, largely because it revolves around one of the greatest ideas a game designer has ever come up with: using plans as currency. To play one of the cards in your hand you need to throw away others, which creates a delicate balancing act between preserving your long-term goals while actually playing cards that will get you there. I tend to prefer games that lean heavily on player interaction, so the lack of it here says a lot about just how good this is. That makes it a a good fit for solitary computer-based pursuits, too.
One thing that curtails my interest in digital board games is the worry that I’ll get too much practice with them, and so when I get the chance to play in person the game will be boringly one sided. I’ve played so much Race For The Galaxy over the years that that’s already happened, so I’m definitely going to pick this up along with the expansions I’ve never had the chance to try.
Carcassonne, 60% off for £3/$4/€4
Carcassone is pleasant, simple and satisfying. Every turn you draw a tile, and decide where to place it as you and the other players build up a pastiche of rural France. It’s about scoring points in a bunch of different ways, but it never feels fiddly or overwhelming. Maybe you’ll finish a road, or wall off a town. It’s not exciting, but it is one of the best examples of why sometimes games don’t need to be.
Tabletop Simulator, 50% off for £7.50/$10/€10
Tabletop Simulator isn’t a game. It’s a portal to thousands of games, and a popular enough one that someone’s probably already made the game you’re interested in playing within it.
Moving cards and pieces around inevitably feels awkward compared to getting up to that stuff with your hands, but it works as well as could reasonably be expected.
(Some of) The Jackbox Party Packs
These… these aren’t board games either and I’d say you need to be in the same room as people for them to work properly (though remote screen sharing will do in a pinch), but they’re in the sale and great fun so here I am writing about them. The Party Packs each contain four or five games that everyone plays using their phones/tablets. They’re hit and miss, but four of them are all-time classics. Fibbage is about making up stupid answers to quirky trivia questions, then trying to pick out the real answer from your friends’ fictions. Drawful asks you to draw something, gets your friends to describe that drawing, then gets them to figure out what your original prompt was. Those are both in the first Jackbox Party Pack, which is 60% off for £8/$10/€9.
I’d also recommend The Jackbox Party Pack 3, which includes Quiplash 2 and Fakin’ it. Quiplash gets everyone to make jokes about different prompts, then slaps them on the screen one at a time and gets everyone to vote on which is funniest. You’d think putting people on the spot like that would wind up with more limp responses than genuinely funny ones, but you’d be surprised. Last but not least is Fakin’ it, in which everyone has to simultaneously answer a question honestly – except for one person, who has to pretend they’ve seen the same prompt as everyone else. The best bit is when everyone has to ‘point at the person you’d eat if you all crashed in the Alps’ or something, then getting to watch the faker’s doomed attempts to explain why they’d eat your little brother. The Jackbox Party Pack 3 is 50% off for £9.50/$12.50/€11.50.
The sale lasts until 6pm British time (10am PT) on August 5th.