Games nights usually can’t come around fast enough. Or maybe you’re in another part of the country/world and can only hook up via the internet. Or perhaps you’re just an antisocial git that prefers solo play from the comfort and seclusion of home?

Whatever the reason, sometimes the small screen of the monitor, tablet or phone must suffice to give your tabletop fix. So let’s have a look at the digital versions of some classics, past and present, and see how they measure up.

We’ll also look at a true simulator to see how the world of Virtual Reality (VR) is changing the way we play digital board games.

Ticket to Ride

Publisher: Days of Wonder
Price*: £39.99
No. of players: 2–5
Play time: 60+ mins
Age: 10+

Ticket to Ride from Days of Wonder is one of the most popular board games of recent times, responsible for introducing a legion of new fans to the tabletop genre, with new versions still appearing on shelves.

On the surface there’s not much to do beyond draw some cards and link routes with tiny train carriages, but there are plenty of ways to thwart your opponents and give yourself the best chance to come out as top railroad tycoon.

The digital version from the same publisher is pretty much a direct copy, from the graphic design to the gameplay.

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Publishing Inc
Price*: £10.99
No. of players: 1–5
Formats: PC/Mac/Android/iOS

Verdict: It’s Ticket to Ride, so you’ll either love or be bored to death by it. If the former, the digital version not only gives you the original game but pretty much every expansion (at extra cost), at a fraction of the price of the analogue versions.

Catan

Publisher: Kosmos
Price*: £39.99
No. of players: 2–4
Play time: 75+ mins
Age: 12+

Let’s face it, Catan (formerly Settlers of Catan) is one of the most well-known and influential board games of recent times, so digital versions in multiple formats were inevitable.

If you’re familiar with the game then you’ll find little here that’s baffling or markedly different. If you’re not, then where on earth have you been for the past 20 years?

 

Publisher: United Soft Media
Price*: £12.99
No. of players: 1
Formats: Formats: PC/Android/iOS

Verdict: One might have thought given the popularity of the game and the massive revenue that it’s garnered its publisher over the years, a good digital edition should be taken as read. Sadly, although the IOS/Android version plays decently enough, the PC version is buggy as hell and has seemingly been abandoned by the developers.

The latter might make you avoid this on principle alone, but it’s also single player only.

Poor Catan — it deserves better.

Talisman

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games/Games Workshop
Price*: £49.99
No. of players: 2–6
Play time: 120–240 mins
Age: 10+

Many a love affair with board games started with this old classic from Games Workshop. Even though it’s an entirely luck-based affair, the simple rules and colourful styling make it accessible to families and an enjoyable romp through a fantasy world.

The digital version is a fairly faithful reproduction of the board game from the 4th edition onward, and with a bunch of friends online to play it can be a giggle.

Publisher: Nomad Games
Price*: £5.59
No. of players: 1–6
Formats: PC/Mac/Android/iOS

Verdict: Talisman is pretty much “roll the dice and then go left or right” and I’ve always found the Crown of Command end game to be unsatisfying. There are also reports of general bugginess in the digital edition that point to a lack of polish in development.

But for some reason there’s still plenty of love floating around for this relic. If you can pick it up for a couple of bucks it can be a fun distraction for a game or two with your mates, but it’s best left on the table to be its awesome bonkers self.

Colt Express

Publisher: Asmodee/Ludonaute
Price*: £27.99
No. of players: 5
Play time: 30+ mins
Age: 10+

Colt Express was an instant hit on the table with it’s cartoony style and funky meeple train. Perhaps the only criticism it faced was from those with great big sausages for fingers, who struggled to prod their meeple around the train without derailing the lot.

The digital version is every ham-fisted gamer’s dream, faithfully reproducing the tabletop game in a fun, streamlined package.

Publisher: Asmodee Digital
Price*: £6.99
No. of players: 1-5
Formats: PC/Android/iOS

Verdict: The online functionality could be improved, and the AI isn’t the greatest, but everything is here from the original, it’s multiplayer and it all works pretty smoothly.

Battlelore

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Price*: £64.99
No. of players: 2
Play time: 60–90 mins
Age: 14+

Battlelore is a light war game set in the Runebound fantasy universe. It uses Richard Borg’s Command & Colours game system, with a few welcome tweaks, to create an accessible and entertaining romp for young and old.

In the digital Battlelore: Command there are some rule changes to individual units, which is strange as the original game seemed well-balanced. But otherwise it’s pretty much the Battlelore its fans know and love.

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Publishing Inc
Price*: £6.99
No. of players: 1–2
Formats: PC/Mac/Android/iOS

Verdict: The PC version shows its mobile roots and some of the unit changes are baffling, but most fans of the original will feel at home here. However, the lack of difficulty levels, and the AI’s uncanny luck with dice rolls may frustrate some.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

Publisher: Penguin
Price*: £8.99 (for 25th Anniversary Edition Hardback)
No. of players: 1
Play time: 30+ mins
Age: 8+

This first title in Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy book series introduced many to fantasy gaming. Whilst the older kids played D&D, I could solo an adventure of my own, without the need for their dubious company or the weird dice.

Converting such a cult title to a digital form that everyone loves was always going to be a tall order, but developers Tin Man Games have conjured up a winner that captures the essence (and some original art) from the book, yet has also created a uniquely worthy successor.

Publisher: Tin Man Games
Price*: £14.99
No. of players: 1
Formats: PC/Mac/SteamOS+Linux/Android/iOS

Verdict: It’s hard to get away from the random-number-generated nature of the combat and certain game play elements, but whilst I’d like to shout “bah, humbug!” and grumble about how good things were in the old days, this really is a hoot and will let you travel to Nostalgialand and Firetop Mountain at the same time. Pricey, but good.

Sorcery!

Publisher: Penguin
Price*: £5.99 to £34.99
No. of players: 1
Play time: 30+ mins
Age: 8+

If you liked the Fighting Fantasy books, then chances are that you also have a soft spot for the Sorcery! series by Steve Jackson. You’ll have to pay a pretty penny to pick up copies nowadays, but luckily you can buy all four parts of the digital version for less than the price of most board games.

What’s more, if you like D&D but want a solo adventure in the same vein to keep you going until your group next meets, then this could be just the fix you’re looking for. There’s a whole world to explore.

Publisher: Tin Man Games
Price*: £3.00-£6.99 for each part
No. of players: 1
Formats: PC/Mac/Android/iOS

Verdict: This is a crossover done right. It’s part video game, part tabletop game, part storybook. If you remember the originals you can wallow in the memories, but even if you just like a good yarn to craft as you go, then Sorcery! will keep you entertained for way beyond what the asking price should allow. Just buy it already.

Space Hulk

Publisher: Games Workshop
Price*: £150.00+
No. of players: 2
Play time: 60–120 mins
Age: 12+

This legendary board game sees you don powerful Terminator armour and face off against lethal Genestealers who can tear through that armour like it’s paper. Game over, man! Game over!

The digital version faithfully reproduces this turn-based affair with a little graphical glitz here and there. It’s as dark and unforgiving as the original and the Warhammer 40K universe is lovingly crafted. The updated Ascension version has considerably more customisation and content options.

Publisher: Nomad Games
Price*: £18.99
No. of players: 1–2
Formats: PC/Mac/SteamOS+Linux/Android/iOS

Verdict: Although the animations add some graphical pizazz, they slow things down and some game achievements are a little grindy. It’s also pretty pricey, but if you can get it in the sale (especially packaged with a few extra copies for your friends) then it’s enjoyable watching your terminators waddling about blasting ‘stealers, and definitely beats the set-up and tear-down time of the original.

Twilight Struggle

Publisher: GMT Games
Price*: £44.99
No. of players: 2
Play time: 180 mins
Age: 13+

The Cold War might not sound like the most exciting topic for a game, but Twilight Struggle has established itself as one of the greatest board games of all times. Two players take the roles of the US or USSR to push and shove in geopolitical power-plays to achieve world domination.

The digital version is a straight clone of the original, with the welcome addition of a tutorial to guide you through the game with some baby steps. It’s fair to say that although not overly complex, both versions of Twilight Struggletake a few games to get to know some of the optimal card plays.

Publisher: Playdek Inc
Price*: £10.99
No. of players: 1–2
Formats: PC/Mac/Android/iOS

Verdict: With both online and local multiplayer, plus an expansion add-on, this is a must-buy for ardent fans of the original. It’s also a good learning tool before playing the board game, despite the buggy tutorial game. However, if you’re looking for good AI competition to hone your game, then look elsewhere.

Heroes of Normandie

Publisher: Iello
Price*: £49.99
No. of players: 2
Play time: 60 mins
Age: 10+

If you like your WWII to be more like Kelly’s Heroes than The World At War, then you’ll probably dig the positive waves coming off Heroes of Normandie.

It’s the perfect blend of board game and war game with a colourful, stylised graphical style and gameplay that has more depth than Memoir ’44, without becoming bogged down in the realism of Advanced Squad Leader.

The digital version is a pretty faithful adaptation, with animated movement, and firing effects added to the digital card stock. It faced sharp criticism on release for the lack of player action decks from the board game, but these were quickly added, along with US Ranger and 21st Panzer troop expansions

Publisher: Slitherine Ltd
Price*: £22.99
No. of players: 2
Format: PC

Verdict: Pricey, but if you’re a fan of the original and can get it on sale, you’ll be pretty happy with your purchase. It needs more support and expansions, but with a nifty army and scenario builder, there’s plenty of replay value here already.

Elder Sign

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Price*: £27.99
No. of players: 1–8
Play time: 120 mins
Age: 14+

Dodge horrible death and mind-bending insanity, collect Elder Signs and save the world… or be devoured. A standard day at the Lovecraftian office then.

This dice-roller is a hit with some, whilst others dislike the randomness of it all. Actually with some careful character selection and a good use of items it’s possible to improve your odds no end, and the digital version (Elder Sign: Omens) allows the same tiptoeing around Lady Luck.

The visuals have been tweaked to do away with the card play of the original, and there’s the odd rule change, but it’s still basically the same game underneath.

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Publishing Inc
Price*: £10.99
No. of players: 1
Formats: PC/Mac/SteamOS+Linux/Android/iOS

Verdict: If you’re not a fan of the original then this is unlikely to win you over, but it’s a fun, challenging game and the multi-part campaigns against the trickier foes add some narrative spice. It is only single player though, which is a shame considering the original’s collaborative nature.

Chainsaw Warrior

Publisher: Games Workshop
Price*: £20.00+
No. of players: 1
Play time: 60 mins
Age: 12+

Back in the late 1980s, Chainsaw Warrior was a rarity — a solo boardgame — and many of us lapped it up for when we couldn’t find other geeks to play with, along with other solo Games Workshop titles like Dungeonquest , Advanced Heroquest and the Deathwing expansion to Space Hulk.

Chainsaw Warrior isn’t half as cool as those other games, nor designer Stephen Hand’s more famous creation, Fury of Dracula, but it does have some nice artwork, a cool theme… and hey, it’s solo playable!

The digital version is pretty much a straight copy, with the same art style and narrative.

Publisher: Auroch Digital
Price*: £3.99
No. of players: 1
Formats: PC/Mac/SteamOS+Linux/Android/iOS

Verdict: This game is as random as random can get and the digital version plays a little like a dice-rolling simulator. Whilst it’s faithfully reproduced the art style and gameplay, plus even has some expansions, if you really want to play this and wallow in nostalgia, I’d suggest picking up a copy of the original cheap on ebay. At least then you’ll own a collectible.

Small World

Publisher: Days of Wonder
Price*: £39.99
No. of players: 8+
Play time: 40+ mins
Age: 8+

The colourful style and easy-to-learn/teach rules of Small World have not only endeared it to many new gamers, but also disguised a fairly cutthroat area-control game on par with Risk, but without the excess random dice rolling.

Risk itself has been a staple both on the table and digitally in many forms, so it’s no surprise that Small World too has received the treatment, now in its second iteration with several expansions to boot.

Publisher: Days of Wonder
Price*: £6.99
No. of players: 1–5
Formats: PC/Mac/SteamOS+Linux/Android/iOS

Verdict: The great thing about Small World on the small screen is that it prevents players accidentally making illegal moves, and suggest some legal move options. It also effectively keeps track of the turns and troop counters, and all in all makes the game play faster and easier.

Unfortunately the PC/Mac version crashes a little too often to make this a truly reliable purchase, although patches will hopefully correct this. What’s unlikely to be corrected is the unforgiving nature of this version — no “take backsies” if you make a placement error is harsh and unnecessary.

Blood Bowl

Publisher: Games Workshop
Price*: £65.00
No. of players: 2
Play time: 60+ mins
Age: 12+

When I was about 12 I sneaked a watch of the movie Rollerball, and witnessed about the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Ball games crossed with a punch up? Sign me up! To watch, at least.

Blood Bowl for me has always been in the same vein, with the emphasis on darkly slapstick movie splatter, plus of course it’s a fantastically fun game of fantasy football to boot (no pun intended). The digital version and its sequel are fairly faithful reproductions of the board game, just with animated playing pieces.

Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Price*: £19.99-£34.99
No. of players: 1–2
Formats: PC/Mac/Android/iOS

Verdict: The PC/Mac version is now in its second iteration, which means you can pick up the first edition for a song. The graphics are better in Blood Bowl 2 but you have to pay for more content and the game play doesn’t really change. If you’re flush though, get both!

Splendor

Publisher: Space Cowboys
Price*: £24.99
No. of players: 2–4
Play time: 30+ mins
Age: 10+

I was actually introduced to this game through the Android app and instantly fell in love with its simple mechanics, yet elegantly subtle gameplay. I immediately then went out and bought it for the table. Awesome game.

Publisher: Days of Wonder
Price*: £6.99
No. of players: 1–4
Formats: Formats: PC/Android/iOS

Verdict: This is a direct copy of the original game in every way, and as such will please fans of the card game. No one is trying to reinvent the wheel here. The interface is intuitive and the gameplay unchanged. I still love the original for its organised insert and the way it looks on the table, but this is the perfect digital travel option, although there are reports that the Apple app is a little glitchy.

Warhammer Quest

Publisher: Games Workshop
Price*: £95.00 (2nd edition: The Silver Tower)
No. of players: 2–4
Play time: 120+ mins
Age: 12+

After Heroquest and Advanced Heroquest came Warhammer Quest, which was basically the same dungeon crawl as the previous two in a brand new snazzy, sparkling suit, with even more added plastic.

If that’s the kind of thing you’re into, then Warhammer Quest was pretty much at the top of its game until the likes of Descent came along. With it’s new incarnation The Silver Tower making a play for the title again, the digital version takes you back to the glory days (so to speak) of the original.

Publisher: Chilled Mouse
Price*: £10.99-£19.99
No. of players: 1
Formats: Formats: PC/Mac/SteamOS+Linux/Android/iOS

Verdict: This is pretty much a straight digital port, but with invisible dice rolls, (which is always a shame) and no roleplay book of course, and as such it’s unlikely to win any new fans. It’s also hardly cheap for what it is, and worse, it’s single player only. WTF??

However if your friends are busy playing Descent (the killjoys) and/or you haven’t got a table big enough to accommodate such an archaic absurdity in the flesh, then you’ll find plenty of fun to be had.

And lastly, an honourable mention…

Tabletop Simulator

Publisher: Berserk Games
Price*: £14.99
No. of players: 1+
Formats: PC/Mac/SteamOS+Linux/Android/iOS

If you’re looking for a digital board game experience almost identical to the analogue version, then Tabletop Simulator does exactly what it says on the tin.

You can craft just about any card, board, dice or even miniatures game you can think of to work on a digital tabletop. Better yet, a lot of those games have been thought of by other users and so are already available. For free!

There’s also a lot of the classics (chess, poker, jigsaw puzzles, dominoes etc.) already installed as standard.

You can also set about designing and/or play-testing your own games without having to source or scratch build components.

The only downside is that you literally play the game as you would on the tabletop, picking up and moving around pieces, turning over cards, rolling dice etc. All these actions that you take for granted are surprisingly fiddly with a mouse.

Look! Arkham Horror! Someone has even done a version of The Others already.

However, VR has just hit Tabletop Simulator and the new tech is just what this software has been crying out for. It’s cheap, fun (both playing and creating) and much of the content can either be had for a song or is free already.

So what are you waiting for? You’ll even get to have that snazzy gaming table you’ve always dreamed of!

*Quoted prices are recommended retail prices (RRP) only and do not represent the real world prices available in stores and online. Shop around for bargains!