There are many ways to play board games virtually. Today, I am going to discuss my experiences with Tabletopia. You can access Tabletopia at Tabletopia.com, on Android devices, on ios devices and through STEAM (more on STEAM in a later post). I prefer to access Tabletopia online through the Google Chrome browser. I have found it quite stable and fast. Your mileage may vary. I have friends who say that they prefer other platforms because they have difficulties with the interface.
Once you go to Tabletopia.com, you will be asked to make an account. You will need an account to play games. There are three options available. The bronze level allows you to host free games, and play in up to two games at once (That means you have the games set up and active, not necessarily actively playing), and play in free and premium games hosted by other people. The silver level is $4.99/month and allows you to host free games, host premium games for other premium players, and play up to 6 games at once premium or free. The gold level is $9.99/month and allows you full access to all the games, both for hosting and playing, allows you to have guests in your premium games who are not premium members, and have up to 10 games open at one time.
If you were using this at a game convention, this means you could set up the rooms for convention play ahead of time, so that you would just add the players once you got their information. You would probably need the gold level membership, since in a virtual convention setting, you can’t guarantee that the attendees would even have accounts before game time. On a positive note, making a Tabletopia account takes literally seconds and you can dive right in afterwards.
As of this writing (August 25, 2020), Tabletopia offers 1227 games, 50 of which are premium only. Premium games include: Wingspan, Everdell, Tuscany, Scythe and Mage Wars Academy. An interesting note is that they have several very popular games with the base game free, but the expansions premium. Scythe, Terra Mystica, Imperial Settlers, and Champions of Midgard, to name a few. The free offerings are very nice as well, with games like Roll Player, Secret Hitler, Tapestry, Santorini, Viticulture Essential Edition, and Architects of the West Kingdom and many more.
You set up a game by searching for the game or clicking on it’s picture, which takes you to the game’s page. You will see several options on the right hand side. Play Hotseat, Play online and Play Solo (if available). Play Hotseat means that one or more players will be playing on the same device, so your hands or individual player information will be hidden on that device when it is the other player’s turn. Play online is what you use when everyone will be playing on different devices. You can also access the game rules from this page should you need them.
Clicking “Play Online” will start the program creating a “room” for the game. You will see a screen like is shown here. It shows you as the host, and then has a bar where you can select “Invite Players” below that. I haven’t had much luck inviting players that way, but if you copy the code shown in that bar, and tell it to your players, they can search for the code and will show up on this screen. Once everyone is there, you can click the large “Start” button at the top. Note that here is also where you would set it up if you were going to run it at a later time, you just click the box towards the bottom that says “Schedule game for later”. If you click “Visible to other players” the game will show up and allow anyone to join to sees it while browsing for games. You can access the rules from this screen as well.
Once you hit start, you are taken to the game table. Depending on the game, you may be able to choose your seat. If there are characters or Individualized setups, they will probably be already chosen for you randomly. Some games let you change, some don’t. I don’t want to get too deep into this area in this discussion because each game is set up differently and some are better than others. Some have little “quirks” that you will need to figure out.
One of the things I like about Tabletopia is that the rules are easily accessible at any time by pressing a “page” icon at the bottom left of the screen. Right below that is a “help” screen with all the controls that you will need to do things like roll dice or flip cards. I’ll let you explore all that on your own in your favorite game.
If you would like to try out some games, you can go back to the main menu and click “Find & Play”. There will be a list of folks hosting games and looking for players. You can pick one and jump right in. This is where your game will show up if you click the “Visible to other players” button mentioned above.
As far as I can tell (although I could be wrong), Tabletopia does not have audio or video capability within the game rooms, so you will need to use a Discord, Zoom or other audio channel to be able to speak with other players during the game. It does have a text chat for the game that you can use.
With your account you also have the workshop available to you, where you can create your own game to add to their list. I won’t even pretend that I know anything about that.
I have found all the virtual board game interfaces to be a little clunky and slow, and this is no exception to that rule. Because the rules are readily available to all players, I would recommend this platform if you were trying to teach a game and want the players to be able to reference rules. If you don’t want them to have access while you are teaching, don’t tell them where the rules are until after the game has been taught. They still might find them, but can’t really look at the rules and the game board at the same time.
Overall, I have found Tabletopia through my browser to be a very stable platform, easy to use and understand, with a lot of really good games available. I have not purchased any of the premium levels, but have been able to host and play games easily. The interface is fairly intuitive.