Board Gaming Online: Board Game Arena

I’ve always loved board games. From the hours I spent playing Monopoly as a kid to the hours I spent playing Risk as a teen to when I was first introduced to Settlers of Catan in college. I still play a fair number of them, and I have a self-confessed hoarding problem when it comes to them. And of course, with the pandemic raging everywhere, one area I thought I would really end up suffering in was in the opportunities I had to play board games with people outside my family.

That’s what happened for the first while at least. But then a friend of mine introduced me to boardgamearena.com a month ago. It’s a web-based platform for playing a wide assortment of games. Carcassonne, 7 Wonders, Puerto Rico, Race for the Galaxy, Through the Ages, Stone Age, Hanabi, Backgammon, Can’t Stop, Hearts, and more. They don’t have literally all games on there, but they have an awful lot. Many of them are available for people to play for free, and all of them are available to play if at least one person in the group has a paid subscription to the service. (That costs about $28/year.)

Once I knew the ropes of the platform, I started using it to play with family members across the country, as well as friends in different states. I plunked down the $28 without hesitation, since I’d spend three times that much on a board game. This lets me play a whole slew of games I’d always meant to try but never got around to, and all of them are included in that one price.

While Zoom isn’t my favorite thing in the world, since I have so many hours spent on it every day, it does do an awfully good job of connecting people regardless of where they are. I have a Zoom room through the university, and I can set up meetings on the fly for as many people as I want. It’s very simple, then, to have everyone in the Zoom room be on boardgamearena, and suddenly you’re gaming almost the same way you were before the pandemic.

In some ways, it’s better. I mean, I’m playing with people I usually can’t game with more than once or twice a year at most. That’s lovely. And the ability to pick something up and learn it is great, since the platform keeps track of all the rules.

In other ways, it falls short. As much as it can be no fun to keep track of all the bits and pieces of a game, it’s also . . . fun to have them in front of you. And the social aspect over Zoom fails to get the same level of connection you get when you can take a break and go grab a bite to eat together. Being in person is just different than being on Zoom. Duh.

But it can get me to a 7/10 experience. Maybe even an 8/10 if it goes just right, and for the middle of the pandemic (or hopefully the end of it), that’s nothing to sniff at.

Anyway. Just wanted to put that out there, in case some of you were in the same boat I was. I can heartily recommend the service, and I’m looking forward to them adding even more games in the future. Anyone else out there already using it?

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