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  • Writer's pictureSteve Haywood

Playing Board Games Online with Board Game Arena

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

As anyone who knows me will be well aware, I’m a keen board gamer. Normally, my wife and I host board game evenings with friends a couple of times a week. At the moment though, due to the global Coronavirus pandemic, this isn’t possible due to social distancing. We have however, replaced these with online games evenings. One way of doing this is via video conferencing – if you each have a copy of the game, this works okay. However a better way of doing this is using an online board gaming platform. The best of these in my opinion is Board Game Arena (

Who Can You Play Against?

What Board Game Arena doesn’t have is player AI, so you can’t play against the computer – instead you play against real people. These can either be friends or strangers. There are always lots of available games which you can join, with games starting all the time, or you can start your own. The games are played in real time, so you’ve got to commit to sit at your computer and play in one go – some games can take an hour or so, others are done in 10 minutes. It will tell you the approximate game length before you start. It is worth noting that games probably play at least twice as quick on Board Game Arena than playing the board game at home as setup, round clean up, dealing cards etc. is instantaneous.

How Much Does It Cost?

Nothing! You can play for free online! There are some limits to the free account, mainly that there are some games you can’t create if you have a free account, but you can join them. If you’ve got a group of friends, if one of you has a premium account they can setup the games and you can all play. Premium members can do voice and even video chat and even choose their favourite playing colour, so if you always play green at home, you can do that too. The other main advantage is that if they are really busy and have to limit the number of people online, they prioritise premium members. The great thing though is that a premium account is only around £4 per month, or £22 for a year’s membership.

What Games Have They Got?

They’ve got over a hundred games you can play including classic Euro games like Carcassonne, Stone Age, Race for the Galaxy, Caylus and Tzolkin. They’ve also got classic games like Yahtzee, Reversi, Backgammon & Hearts.

To get started I’d recommend playing something you are familiar with. Alternatively, try learning a new game that is quite simple. Below are several easy games I’d recommend to start you off, along with a link to a Youtube video of how to play.

Coloretto - A fun, quick set collecting game (see picture above) - Youtube guide here

Perudo – Fun, bluffing dice game – Youtube guide here (with Stephen Fry & Chris Evans!)

Can’t Stop – Simple, push your look game – Youtube guide here

Love Letter – Simple role selection and deduction game – YouTube guide here

There’s also a link to rules explanations below each game when you are playing, which can be handy to check the rules.

Some of the above are better with 3+ players (or require at least 3 players in some cases). If you want to try with just two of you, then here’s a couple of good two player card games:

Jaipur – YouTube Guide

Lost Cities – YouTube Guide

What Else Should I Know?

Here’s a few other points:

  1. Games are timed. You start off with approximately 5 minutes and each turn you get extra time, which varies but lets say 30 seconds. If you run out of time, you’ll get a time penalty which doesn’t affect your game score but affects your reputation (if you have too bad a reputation, people won’t want to play with you). If you are in negative time, other players can kick you out of the game. If you are just playing with friends, this isn’t usually an issue.

You also lose reputation if you leave a game part way through – this is frowned upon but can happen if for instance you have network problems (or get distracted!)

You can play with other players in your household, so you and your significant other could be sat together on the sofa, each on your own laptop, playing on Board Game Arena. To do this, at least one of you needs a premium account though. The other thing to note, if you are playing with other players, it will show that two of you are playing from the same location (you have the same IP address). If playing with strangers, this can be a bit of a no no, as you could in theory be cheating by colluding with each other against other players. If only playing with friends though, it doesn’t matter.

There’s a text chat on each game. When playing with strangers, this is generally polite and not used much other than to say, ‘Are you going to take your turn?’  if someone is taking too long, or ‘Good game’ at the end (gg = good game). There are lots of different nationalities/languages playing, which is one reason why there isn’t much chatting! It’s good if you are playing with friends though.

For premium members, there is video (not tried this) or voice chat (works quite well, but can be a bit buggy). With strangers, I’ve never seen this used.

Talking of friends, you can add them as friends on Board Game Arena which makes it easier to invite them into games, check who is online etc.

Playing with Friends

Just a quick guide to adding and playing with friends. Once you’ve registered and signed in, click on the ‘Community’ tab at the top of the screen. This will take you to the page where you can add friends. You’ll need to know their nickname/username. Type in their name in the search box and hit enter – it should come up with them. You can then click the ‘Add to my friends’ box.

Once you’ve got friends, you’ll see a list of them on the ‘Community’ page. They’ll have a green filled in circle by their name if they are online. Clicking on them will tell you which game they are in, and you can click to go to it (it’ll probably be in progress, but you can join games as a watcher).

Getting a game started with friends can be a bit fiddly, so here’s my easy method:

Click the ‘Play Now’ tab at the top of the screen. There’ll be a little option toward the top of the screen that says ‘Play with friends’. Click to expand this.

You can then select which friends you want to invite. If you’ve already done this previously, it will remember your last selection (so click x if you don’t want to invite them at this point). Once you’ve selected who you want to invite, choose a game and click ‘Create table’. It will then create a table and invite all the selected friends (if they aren’t currently online, it will send them an email invite, but it’s easier just to only invite friends who are already online). Here’s the fiddly bit. There will be an option for how many players you want. Click plus or minus to get the number you are playing with, then once you’ve got that number who’ve accepted, you can click Start Game (if you don’t, you’ll need to select ‘Open table to other players’ before you can click start).

Once a game has ended, I find the easiest thing to do if you want to play again is to agree via the chat window what game you want to play next, and choose a player to start that game. Then click ‘Return to main site’, and the nominated player can then start a new game. If you don’t do this, different people start clicking rematch, play new game, etc. and you can get in a mess with different people trying to start a game table).

If you don't want to play with friends of course, that's fine too. Most people on Board Game Arena play with strangers - just click on the Play Now tab, click on a game you want to play, and the site will automatically pair you up with people wanting to play the same game. These days, there's always some people wanting to play the game you want to play, so works quite well.

That’s it, hope it’s useful and enjoy!

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