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9 Beginner-Friendly Tabletop Games You Can Play Online for Free

If you’re just new to the modern tabletop gaming hobby, it can be overwhelming. There are literally thousands of games to choose from and more being published every day. Where do you start? We asked our writers to choose some of their favorite games to teach newer players (that are still fun for experienced gamers, too). If you’re a pro at Ticket to Ride or Catan and you’re ready to jump into something new—or even if you’re only familiar with family classics like Monopoly and Sorry—check out their suggestions below! The best part is that all of them are available to play for free online if your game-enthusiast friends don’t live nearby, and they can each be played with just two people if you just want to play with your BFF on the other side the country (but most of them will accommodate at least four players).

Tokaido

Available on Board Game Arena

Imagine yourself as a pilgrim in feudal Japan on a journey from Kyoto to Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Though you’re traveling long before Instagram was invented, you’ll still want to show off just how good of a time you’re having to everyone along this Tokaido (東海道, “eastern sea route”). I love to teach this game to new players because it has both an inviting premise and simple mechanisms. Every playthrough is a delightful vacation where you leapfrog your way to the “best” tourist attractions along the way. The traveler with the most points wins. Tokaido is very intuitive on Board Game Arena, with clear options and 2.5 minutes allowed per turn for real-time play. BGA keeps score for you and you can also see what everyone else has in their hands, so you can plan your stops a little better if you’re trying to block someone or know if they’re competing for the same stops as you. If you like the game and are looking for something a little more portable, you can get the mobile app for just a few dollars and either play against people online or pass-n-play with the people around you.

Madeline Turnipseed

Dominion

Available at Dominion Online (base content free; expansions available to purchase as add-ons)

Dominion is one of those games that was foundational in shaping my tabletop gaming addiction. It’s the grandfather of all deck-building* games, and while it’s not the best (in my opinion) of its genre, it’s both fairly simple and can be played over and over again without getting old, which is a great place to start when you’re new to tabletop gaming. What’s better is that you can play the base game completely for free on the game’s official digital website, and when you’re ready to add some extra complexity you can buy a monthly subscription to add additional expansions. The user interface is a bit outdated and can be tricky to navigate at first, but if you’re willing to play around a little to figure it out, it’s worth it—it’s packed full of features (such as banning or “liking” specific cards) if you want to try out the game before deciding to buy your own copy, or play against opponents on the other side of the world (or the other side of town). You can also play against bot players if you’re not ready for human opponents.

* A deck-building game is a game where each player uses an individual deck of cards that they add to and improve as they play the game—as opposed to a game like Magic: the Gathering, where you construct an individual deck of cards before gameplay begins and that deck doesn’t change during the game.

April-Lyn Caouette

Potion Explosion

Available on Board Game Arena

If you’ve ever played a color-matching puzzle game like Candy Crush, you’ll get the concept of Potion Explosion right away. Connect two or more matching marbles and they’ll “explode” meaning you can take them from the dispenser and add them to your personal flasks. Your flasks will require specific colors of marbles to fill them up. Once a flask is full you can use your potion’s special powers, such as taking specific marbles out of the dispenser for free, or other powers that help you to create some fun chain-reaction explosions, in turn letting you fill up even more flasks. Playing a physical copy has a special appeal because the marbles click and clack, and sit nicely in the holes on your flasks, but the free digital version on Board Game Arena does a great job of taking a game that could be a little fiddly and making it very simple to play, even from your phone. While it is a step up from Candy Crush in complexity, if you like that sort of game then this unique tactical puzzle experience could be the perfect game for you to test your wits against human opponents.

– Joel Smart

Stone Age

Available on Board Game Arena

In Stone Age, you are playing as a tribe at the very beginning of civilized life—what better place to begin your board game journey? Players take turns placing their game pieces (workers*) at spaces on the game board to gain food, wood, and other building materials, all in the name of having the most successful tribe. Stone Age is a great introduction to the popular game mechanisms of worker placement* and resource management*. I love teaching this game to people who aren’t familiar with what worker placement means because the game is so thematically integrated. If you want to build buildings, you’re going to need resources to do that, so you ought to put some workers there to collect those resources. But some resources are harder to gather than others. Panning for gold is more difficult than chopping down a tree so I might want to dedicate more workers to finding gold. There are dice to roll and if you want to make sure you roll high, build some tools to make your work easier. Having trouble feeding your tribe? Develop agriculture that makes food automatically for you each round. Everything makes sense, which makes Stone Age easier to master, and Board Game Arena does a great job keeping track of your resources for you so you always know exactly what you have and need to build your way to success!

Michael Murphy

Dice Throne Season 1

Available on Tabletopia (Barbarian vs. Moon Elf only)

Growing up I heard a lot about Dungeons & Dragons, but I could never get myself to dive in. Then I found Dice Throne. It was a way for me to play a variety of specific character types, which was part of what had attracted me to D&D. If the idea of fantasy combat meeting Yahtzee-style dice mechanics appeals to you, then you’ll probably like this game. Each character has a unique set of skills, and each one plays differently. To get just a quick idea of what it’s like, you can play online for free on Tabletopia. While you can only play as two of the characters, the Barbarian and the Moon Elf, it still lets you experience the gameplay and mechanics, and have a whole lot of fun in the process. Causing a “Concussion” with the Barbarian is very gratifying; so is dodging a whole bunch of damage with the Moon Elf. Since the rules aren’t built into the gameplay on Tabletopia, there’s nothing to guide you through the game, so you’ll need to have some familiarity with the rules. It takes a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the controls but the question mark “help” button explains things clearly when you have questions.

Chris Mikesell

Autumn

Available on Tabletopia

Autumn is a deceptively simple game. It only contains eighteen cards. Players take turns laying out cards so that they overlap one another, trying to have the largest connected number of squares in their leaf color. But what seems simple on the surface can quickly turn complex. Each card contains four quadrants, each assigned at random to a player color. So get ready for grins and groans when you draw the ONE card that doesn’t have your color and actually shrinks your area of control! This plays very quick in Tabletopia and can be played with a friend or solo. I did have a glitch where the deck locked on me when I had around five cards left, but this was easily solved by “dealing” the remaining cards face down and drawing them individually. If you like this game, there’s a print-and-play version available from the designers, Brote de Juegos, complete with rules in English if you can’t read Spanish.

Madeline Turnipseed

Cartographers

Available on Tabletopia

In Cartographers, players compete to be the best map maker in the land over the course of four seasons. Instead of exploring a map on a gameboard, each player will literally be creating their own map as you play. Cards determine which terrain and Tetris-like shapes you should draw on a 11×11 grid, as well as which configurations of terrains will get you the highest reputation score in each game. Some of the scoring cards are a little obtuse in their wording (and you’ll need to zoom in on the cards to read them), but overall this is a fairly straightforward and satisfying game for players of all skill levels. If you’re not sure about a digital game that requires you to draw on a computer, don’t worry—the Tabletopia version uses bags full of tiles for each of the terrain types instead. The tiles even make a satisfying “plunk” (“clink”? “Clank”? “plink”?) noise when you place them. I still prefer the charm of drawing little stick-figure trees and monsters in the physical game, but this is a good alternative.

April-Lyn Caouette

The Shipwreck Arcana

Available on Tabletopia

The Shipwreck Arcana is a cooperative game where everyone wins or loses together. The rules are straightforward: on your turn, you simply tell your teammates everything they need to know about the game piece you have in your hand, without saying a single word.

Wait…what?

Let me start from the beginning. The Shipwreck Arcana is a logic puzzle. If you and your team enjoy the challenge of giving clues that lead to only one logical solution, then this is the game for you. The goal of the game is to score 7 points before the Doom counter gets to 7. Throughout the game you will be giving clues and guessing solutions by using your powers of logic and deduction.

Each player starts by drawing two number tiles, called fates, from a bag. In the middle of the table are four Arcana cards chosen at random from the deck of cards. Each of those cards contains a unique rule, such as “If the sum of your fates is odd, play one of them here.” Each turn, a player plays one fate tile according to the rules on the Arcana cards, hopefully giving the rest of the players enough information to guess what the other fate in their hand is. Each game you play will be different, because the available Arcana cards will change each time.

The premise of the game may be simple but it comes with a lot of thought and complexity. The rules will constantly change throughout the game, providing you with new challenges and puzzles to figure out in order to give your team the best chance at success. As you improve, you can ramp up the difficulty level by starting the Doom counter anywhere from 0–6, making this a game that grows with you as your skill increases.

Aaron Waltmann

Puerto Rico

Available on Board Game Arena

Puerto Rico is one of three games that I will always remember as my introductions to Eurogames* in the mid 2000s. (The other two games were Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne, if you were wondering.) In this classic game of colonization, players compete to see who can most successfully develop the city of San Juan and the surrounding farmlands. You’ll farm goods to ship out for victory points, or sell for money, with which you can fund new buildings, which in turn help you make more money, farm more goods, and earn more points. It may seem like a lot at first, but I like this as a starter Eurogame because it’s a good introduction to a number of board game mechanics that appear over and over in this style of gaming, such as engine building, action drafting, end game bonuses, and variable phase order.** If you’re new to modern board gaming, you may have never played anything like this, and it might behoove you to watch a rules video before you jump in. You’ll also want to have a copy of the rulebook on hand to look up explanations of the buildings until you get used to them. Originally the game was made for 3–5 players, but BGA also will let you play with the official 2-player variant, as well as some variants that change the game balance in interesting ways.

* (If you’re like most new tabletop gamers and don’t know what the heck a Eurogame is, it’s a style of modern board game that (surprise!) originated in Europe, which tends to have a heavy focus on strategy and individual player mats, as opposed to games where players move around a common gameboard and rely more on luck and direct conflict.)

** Stay tuned for our “Beginner’s Guide to Tabletop Gaming Lingo” to get explanations of these terms and more!

April-Lyn Caouette





Co-founder | Chief Resource Nerd
April-Lyn is Chief Resource Nerd and a co-founder at Love Thy Nerd. Her passion is to help both nerds and church leaders alike learn to love their nerdy neighbors the way Jesus does—unconditionally, personally, and without reservation. She writes, edits, and solicits articles and training materials for Love Thy Nerd, and has also written for the UYWI blog, GROW Curriculum, and Explore the Bible for Students. She lives in Southern California where, in addition to her work with Love Thy Nerd, she is a freelance editor, tabletop gamer, avid reader, and gashapon collector.
Assignment Editor
Assignment Editor at Love Thy Nerd, Madeline lives in Texas where she takes care of people, plays games, watches, reads, writes, and makes things.
Aaron lives in Spokane with his wife and two children. And when it comes to Crazy Ivans, you can always expect him to go starboard in the bottom half of the hour.
Veteran youth pastor, rookie board gamer. Chris has a passion for people, and thanks to this new-found hobby, he also now has a passion for beating people in games. When not working or exploring new board game worlds, Chris enjoys time with his wife and two boys in North Carolina (the better Carolina).

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