Nowaday’s popularity of board games also led to a similar surge in applications that are becoming available for tablets and smartphones, some come out very often, digital versions immediately appear as soon as the board game appeared in its original form on the store shelves. I have tried more than 50 such applications, and all of them are based on games that you can buy in stores, and here are my top 15. Many are available on both Android and iOS, some only on Android, and some on Steam. My list does not include such applications as “Samurai” and “Desert”, which stopped working in the “app-ocalypse” in June 2017. Some are paid and some are free, but all of these games worth for trying and refreshing your mind.
With new game apps coming all the time, I will update this list regularly to reflect any new titles that merit inclusion.
Catan is one of the classic board games. It's also a favorite of our own Gary Sims! Each player has to make settlements on the game board. The goal is to make the longest road with the largest army. Each settlement is adjacent to resources with numbers. Every time the dice hits that number, you get that resource. The game also features the original board game rules, online multiplayer, various expansions (available as in-app purchases), and more. It's a seriously good board game.
2. Lost Cities
More Knizia. A two-player title this time, with competitors playing cards from five “expeditions” and trying to place those cards in numerical order — once you’ve played a card, you can’t pick it up or play a card of the same color with a smaller number. You score points if an expedition’s total exceeds 20, lose points if it’s less, and can play multipliers to double, triple, or quadruple your score, for better or for worse. The AI players are competent but could be better. This is only available on iOS.
3. Galaxy Trucker
Galaxy Trucker is one of the newer board games comparatively speaking. Players build ships to survive the harshness of space. You simply draw tiles and place them to build your ship. You also have to dodge obstacles and fight off bad guys. The game also features local multiplayer, online multiplayer, a campaign mode, and a couple of gameplay modes. The base game costs $4.99. There is optional DLC available for an additional $4.99 as an in-app purchase.
Steam has players competing to build rail lines on any of various maps — one standard map is New England — to connect cities and towns and then ship various colored cubes across their rail lines. You get money each time a good travels along one of your tracks, regardless of who’s shipping it. There’s almost no randomness or luck involved here, making this a great game if you enjoyed that operations-research class you took in business school.
5. The Jackbox Party Pack
The Jackbox Party Pack games aren't traditional board games. Each title is a collection of mini-games. The mini-games range from trivia to puzzle and some other types. Players connect to a central device with their smartphones. Each round is played by each player on their individual devices. These games are ridiculously expensive. However, none of them have in-app purchases. The whole collection is about $100. These games are also available on Steam.
Friday is a solo board game that turns you into Robinson Crusoe, asking you to work through your deck of cards, each of which has two halves, one that gives you an ability, the other showing a “hazard” you must fight to gain that card. Each hazard card shows the number of cards you can draw to fight it; drawing more than that costs you one life point per card. Part of the challenge involves trashing cards that won’t help you from your deck so that you don’t waste your draws on useless cards and drain your life points. The game gets harder each time you turn over the deck, and then you must fight two bigger challenges at game-end to win. It’s maddeningly addictive, and you can amp up the difficulty by starting with fewer life points and incorporating strongly negative ability cards like the “very stupid” option. The tutorial is very helpful, especially if you haven’t played deck-builder games before.
7. One Night Ultimate Werewolf
One Night Ultimate Werewolf is actually a companion free Android app for the board game. The game is actually pretty fun. Players get assigned various roles in the game. Some are villagers and others are werewolves. The app tells players what they need to do. Then players spend a few minutes trying to figure out who the werewolf is. This one technically requires the actual game pieces to play. However, players can make their own cards and use the app to control everything. We do recommend getting the actual game, though. It's good to support the makers.
Carcassonne is my all-time favorite board game because it’s quick to learn, has little downtime between turns, has just a bit of luck, and yet still offers plenty of room for strategic thinking. It’s a puzzle that also involves a lot of interaction with your opponents, and it’s different every time out.
The iOS port of Carcassonne, which goes back at least to late 2010, is the granddaddy of all board-game ports, bringing excellent graphics, a wide range of AI options (including the “evil” option, both difficult and spiteful), clear scoring, good music, and an extensive set of solo challenges. Want expansions? They’ve got ‘em: the Abbot, the Princess & Dragon, Winter, the Phantom, Traders & Builders, Inns & Cathedrals, the River 1 and 2, and German Cathedrals are all available as in-app purchases on iOS. Although it’s one of the most expensive board-game apps at $9.99, that’s a bargain given how good the app is and how much replay value it offers.
Pandemic is definitely among the best board games ever. The game turns players into members of the CDC. Their job is to travel the world and eradicate disease before the disease turns into a pandemic. Each player gets their own role that has its own abilities and downfalls. It supports up to four people with pass-and-play local multiplayer. There is also additional content available as DLC. It really is a fantastic board game. The price does fluctuate so do beware of that. It's $4.99 at the time of this writing.
10. Through the Ages
Here’s a game I haven’t played on tabletop because it’s so long and fairly heavy, but the app is stunning, featuring by far the best tutorial I’ve seen. It even has a legitimately funny joke buried within it. Through the Ages is a 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) style game played out with cards, where you try to build a civilization, complete wonders for points, beat opponents with your military, improve your government, and ensure that your workers don’t riot. There is a lot going on in this game, and too much accounting for my tastes, but the app takes care of that stuff for you, so you can focus just on playing the game itself. It also has built-in warnings if your workers are going to riot or you’re going to lose resources before the next turn. The false 3-D perspective also helps them cram a lot of buildings onto your screen without crowding it. Games against AI players take 20-plus minutes, more than anything else on this list, but there’s very little downtime involved.
11. Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride is one of the most popular board games right now. Players control a railroad. The goal is to build the longest railroad and complete the most challenges. The player with the most points at the end wins. The game includes seven maps, solo play, local and online multiplayer modes, and even leaderboards. The DLC contains additional maps and variants to play with. This one is excellent on both mobile or in real life. It's not too difficult to learn and it's fun to play.
One of the most successful worker-placement games in history and the reason we have since been inundated with games that pretend that farming is fun and easy, Agricola is really about feeding your family: You grow crops, raise animals, bake bread, build out your house, and maybe learn an occupation or two. It’s actually more enjoyable than it sounds because it’s a sort of puzzle of how to balance gaining points with the requirement that every few turns you turn in enough food to feed your family members. The huge decks of cards with occupations and additions called minor improvements gives the game replay value as well. Le Havre, a heavier game that combines elements of Agricola and Caylus, also has an app version from Codito.
13. Words With Friends 2
Words With Friends 2 is the third game in the acclaimed board game franchise. This one is a riff off of the popular Scrabble game. You and friends take turns putting words on a game board. The person with the most points at the end wins. This version of the game includes online multiplayer mode, a single player mode, and various challenges to complete. Additionally, it has a rather large library of words that includes pop culture and other stuff. It's a freemium game and that's not great. However, it's still the best Scrabble-style game on mobile.
14. 7 Wonders
The 7 Wonders app appeared in November after years of anticipation, delays, and testing … and it was worth the wait. 7 Wonders itself is one of the best board games we’ve seen because it condenses the city-building theme into a consistent 30-minute playing time. Each player gets a hand of seven cards per round, plays one, and then passes the remaining cards to the next player, who selects one from his or her hand and passes the remainder around … so that everyone plays six cards per round (discarding one), but the cards you get to choose from keep changing as the hands move around the table. You do this three times, playing 18 cards, building a little engine that gives you the resources and coins you’ll need to play more buildings or complete your Wonder. There are lots of ways to score, so part of the game is finding a path to points that your opponents aren’t following. Moves are simultaneous, so solo games fly by on the app, although it can be tough to follow what all opponents are doing, AI or real, if you’re playing against more than three other players. The developer just added the Leaders expansion as a $1.99 in-app purchase. It’s a tremendous game that finally got the app it deserved.
Splendor is a one of the simple board games. Players collect various items. The goal is to be the largest jewel collector in the game. The game also features a solo offline mode, local multiplayer, and online multiplayer game modes. Additionally, it has a quick tutorial, various challenges to complete, achievements, and leaderboards. The challenges require the player to do certain things in a certain number of moves. It's an excellent example of a real-life board game mixed with a proper mobile gaming experience.