The Best Board Games for Android – December 2017
Tabletop board games never really went away, but the past decade has seen them rise from a niche community of nerds and gamers into something enjoyed by millions of players around the world. To many, it may seem absurd to learn that the “hobbyist games” market is worth more than a billion dollars all told, but thanks to the increase in spending on entertainment by younger 20 and 30-somethings, board games have come back swinging. Newer successes have moved past older, more traditional tabletop games, including classic titles like Monopoly and Clue, instead focusing in on complex games that focused their energies on strategy, complex storytelling, and gather much of their success and inspiration from classic tabletop games like Risk and Dungeons & Dragons. Titles like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride have created something special for players looking to gather around in a single room to compete for victory.
During this, we’ve also seen the rise of both smartphones and tablets, allowing for the popularity of large screen devices that are capable of recreating the classic tabletop experience. Tablets like the iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab series, along with growing display size when it comes to smartphones becoming larger and larger every year, allowed marketplaces like the Apple App Store and Google Play Store to flourish with incredible games. The portability and popularity of these devices allowed for board game ports to become incredibly successful on iOS and Android, and thanks to that rise in growth, there’s now a robust library of board games you can take with you wherever you go, both for single-player and multiplayer use. The advantages are obvious: playing on a smartphone or tablet means multiple board games can be kept in one device, brought to and from locations easily, and even teach new players the rules while playing through the game.
So, with the rebirth of board games on smartphones and tablets, the only true question is this: which board games on Android are worth playing? There are dozens and dozens of choices on Google Play for board games, and most of them priced between $2.99 to $4.99, far cheaper than the physical versions available for purchase on Amazon. But that doesn’t mean you should grab all of them—after all, not every app is a worthy recreation of the original. So, with all that said, these are our favorite board games available on the Play Store right now.
We’re all used to scheming, battling, and working against our family and friends in multiplayer games both board and video alike, but if you’ve ever had to play a cooperative game together with friends or family, you know half the battle is getting to work together to accomplish your goals. Pandemic is a great example of a cooperative board game, where havoc can break out at any moment in spite of the players actions and goals being identical and shared in nature—and that’s what makes it one of our favorite board game apps available on Android.
First, here’s what Pandemic is all about: you and your team of other players (2-4 players total) function as a team of specialized workers, including a dispatcher, a scientist, and a medic. Your role in the game is randomly selected, and using the abilities of both yourself and your teammates, you have to stop four diseases from spreading through the world, causing a pandemic. Players start in Atlanta, and take turns moving through connected cities and players, sharing information and trading cards with your teammates, treating infected units, constructing safe zones and research labs to find a cure, and drawing new player cards to gain abilities and functions. Because no role can cure the diseases on their own, players have to work together to cure all four diseases—and that’s where things get difficult. Competition can be fun, but trying to work together can truly test the bounds of your friendships and relationships. The game ends if more than seven outbreaks occur, you run out of a specific kind of disease cube or player cards, or you discover the cure for all diseases—the only winning scenario.
Pandemic is obviously a rare breed in board games, and the mobile port of Pandemic is, thankfully, a faithful port. For only $2.99, you get the entirety of the original board game,complete with pass-and-play mechanics. Three dollars is an amazing price for something as fun and enjoyable as Pandemic, especially since the virtual version comes with a few enhancements that make the game that much better. First, there’s an entire single-player mode that allows you to practice and play all on your own, making it ideal not just as a multiplayer game with your friends, but something to play on car rides or long plane trips. Second, for single and multiplayer modes alike, the virtual version includes difficulty modes, making it easy for new players to learn to play, seasoned players to experience a true challenge, and young players—as this game is family-friendly—to have a good chance at winning. There’s a fully-animated tutorial mode that makes it easy to learn how to play the game in real-time without having to read the instructions, but the full manual for the game is also included for referencing the rules at any time during gameplay. And of course, the virtual version adds all the visual and aural flourishes we’ve come to expect from mobile ports of board games, including a soundtrack that changes and adapts to the game as you play, an undo system that allows for accidental touches and actions to be fixed, and a mode that allows for in-game tips and rule hints to be displayed during actions.
What makes Pandemic on Android great isn’t just the gameplay—though local pass-and-play is always a must when it comes to board games—but the ways they modified Pandemic to be completely accessible for anyone to learn how to play. For $2.99, you’re not just getting a great board game—you’re getting a fantastic port of this game. Everything from the soundtrack to the visual animations have been enhanced for play, and the tutorial mode and in-app rulebook make the game that much easier to play. The app is entirely ad-free, and the popular expansion for Pandemic, “On the Brink,” adds a fifth player option and entirely new rules for only an additional $1.99 in-app purchase. It’s not just one of the best board games on the Play Store—it’s one of the best deals in gaming on Android.
Splendor is a relatively-new addition to the popular board game zeitgeist, first releasing as a physical board game in 2014. Unlike Pandemic, players will return to battling against one another, competing to gather resources and collect prestige points. In many ways, Splendor is similar in gameplay mechanics to older, more popular board games like Catan—which we’ll feature further down this list—but both the game itself, and the Android port of the board game, succeed in several different ways. Let’s take a look.
The first thing you need to understand about Splendor: it’s a resource management game. If that doesn’t sound like something you’d be interested in, you might not enjoy Splendor—but that doesn’t mean you should pass up the game entirely. Splendor is genius for how it rewards the player every turn with a rush of success. The game uses three separate kinds of materials: development cards, Noble tiles, and seven different types of gems (represented as chips, like in poker). Development cards are purchased by spending your gems on different varieties and prices of cards, and you spend your turn doing one of three various options. First, you can grab gems from the pool of gems in front of you. Second, you can purchase a development card as we detailed a moment ago. Finally, you can choose to reserve a development card by using your gems, in order to ensure your opponents cannot gain access to those resources. All of these cards and gems will eventually add up to prestige points, of which you need fifteen points to win the game. In many ways, this resource management plays similar to Catan, only with simplified turn actions and less negotiation between players.
What makes Splendor our runner-up isn’t necessarily the gameplay—though we think it’s excellent—but the quality of the port to Android tablets and phones. Similar to how we found Pandemic to be an excellent port, with all the visual flourishes you’d expect from an animated board game, the digital version of Splendor takes everything that players have loved about the game for the past three years and enhances it. Along with the presumptuous graphical animations and the addition of scored music to match the gameplay, Splendor on Android adds everything necessary to make a great digital game for on-the-go playing. First, the game adds every game mode you could think of: single player, pass-and-play, and online multiplayer are all here, making sure that everyone can play the game, regardless of device access. Second, Splendor adds a three-minute animated tutorial so good, we’re comfortable calling it the best game tutorial we’ve ever seen for a digital board game. Splendor isn’t complicated, but if you’re new to resource management games, it can be a lot to take in all at once. The included tutorial makes it easy for anyone to learn the game, and fast. The mobile version also adds achievements and a Challenge mode for single players, allowing you to take on tasks and missions based on real-world historical events. For anyone looking to play in single-player mode often, it’s a lovely addition to the game.
Splendor’s mobile version isn’t perfect—some users have reported crashes, even though we didn’t seem to run into any major problems through our testing gameplay. We also found some of the font on menus and settings to be occasionally difficult to read, but that’s a design choice more than anything else. Overall, we were enthralled with Splendor’s mobile port—just as we saw with Pandemic, the enhancements and additions added to a virtual version of a game can make playing that much more enjoyable. The tutorial, in particular, was excellent, a great way to show new players how the game works. And perhaps our favorite part: Splendor is available for $2.99, with no ads or in-app purchases to speak of—a bargain compared to the $22 asking price of the classic board version on Amazon. Pandemic might keep you and your friends busy working together to save the world, but if you’re looking for something to satisfy your taste for competition, Splendor is a great option on Android.
If you’ve never played Ticket to Ride, you’re in for a huge surprise: this board game from 2004 is a blast to play with your friends and family. Combining luck, strategy, and a card-based gameplay mechanic, the original tabletop version of the game is a great mix of board game tropes and fun for any level of player—and we’re happy to say that, overall, the mobile and tablet version of the game doesn’t disappoint. This version takes everything players loved about the original game and completely reinvents how the game controls, using a brand-new system of gameplay to replace the physical cards of the previous versions. Your cards are moved onto the display of your phone or tablet, kept in a small window along the bottom of the screen, and instead of sitting around a physical board, you can pass and share the tablet for local, offline playing. There are actually four different modes of playing: solo, for those wanting to practice their skills against the Ticket to Ride AI, Online, for those competing against other players around the world (do note this requires creating a “Days of Wonder” online account for playing on the Ticket to Ride servers), Local Multiplayer, which allows you to play against others physically around you who also own the app (which, luckily, supports Family Library on Android), and the aforementioned Pass and Play method. For only $2.99, Ticket to Ride is a nearly-complete experience—but, of course, there’s DLC here to purchase too, with additional maps and boards available for either $.99 or $1.99. Some of these maps completely change how the game is played, while other maps are simply re-skinned and redrawn. Overall, the mobile port of Ticket to Ride is a solid adaptation, with multiple play methods, and DLC that doesn’t break the bank. If you want to get into strategy games like Catan but need something a bit easier, Ticket to Ride is a great starting point.
Catan, also known as Settlers of Catan, is one of our favorite board games on the market today. Originally released in its first version in 1995, Catan is credited as one of the board games responsible for the rise in popularity of the genre throughout the ’00s and ’10s—more than 22 million copies of the game have been sold worldwide. If you’re unfamiliar, Catan is a resource-management game, similar to Splendor, but with the added strategy of building and expanding your empire, and of negotiating with your enemies. In Catan, bonds are created, broken, and betrayed in a matter of just a few turns—all in the pursuit of dominating the island of Catan with your colonies,settlements, and trails. If this were just a pure ranking of our favorite traditional board games, there’s no doubt Catan would make the list—it’s a blast competing and trading with your friends. Unfortunately, we found the mobile version of Catan to be a bit lacking overall—the app itself is buggy and occasionally crashes during gameplay, the game itself is lacking visual design and animation that makes some of our other favorite games on this list so great, and it’s one of the more expensive board game apps on our list, coming in at $4.99 with expensive in-app purchases. Most of this we can forgive—a crash here or there isn’t the worst thing in the world, and we don’t mind the lack of visual embellishment in the application. The true let-down here comes from the lack of pass-and-play multiplayer, a mode we’ve come to expect in most mobile ports of board games. It’s impossible to play against human opponents without each player having their own device and copy of the game, making the barrier of entry that much higher. And while the game does include a single-player mode, many have found the AI opponents unbalanced and difficult to beat, with the dice rolls typically benefitting the AI instead of the human player. Catan isn’t a terrible port of a mobile game, but the high price of admission and slightly-broken single player AI make it difficult to recommend to players unfamiliar with the game in the first place—and gamers who already own the board game will probably want to stick with the traditional style of play.
Mobile versions of existing board games are great and all, and we love seeing our favorite games reinvented with animation and improved game design that only mobile platforms can bring, but what about a radically-changed version of a game that’s existed for literal centuries? Chess is a classic board game in the most literal sense of the word—you have sixteen pieces, all in preset locations and designs, and each piece can move a certain direction, amount of spaces, and attack in certain ways. There are dozens of chess applications on the Play Store that allow you to play chess exactly how you’ve always played it—and that’s where Really Bad Chess comes in. Instead of playing chess as you always have, Really Bad Chess takes the game and turns it on its head: all of your pieces and their starting locations on the board have been randomized. The game still plays like chess theoretically would. Every piece on your chessboard moves with identical rules as in standard chess, but the entire game becomes unbalanced and, well, silly. As a free application, the game features a single player mode in which you battle against the AI; as you do better, your piece placement and selection become worse, making the game more difficult as you move on. If you decide to purchase the game with a $2.99 in-app purchase, you can remove ads and gain access to local play, where you and a friend can compete against each other in a versus mode. Whether you’re an old chess pro, or you’re still learning how to play, Really Bad Chess is the sort of game that can rejuvenate one of the oldest board games still manufactured today, making gameplay feel fresh and fun as you compete against both the AI and your friends. Really Bad Chess explores just how much the game can change—and remain the same—all while making the slightest adjustments to the pieces and placements on the board. It’s not only incredibly fun and funny, but it’s also one of the most interesting concepts we’ve seen in a long time in board games—and certainly one of the best new ideas for variations on chess.
Alright, Pokemon Duel might seem like an odd addition to this list—after all, it’s the first and only game on this list that isn’t an adaptation from a physical, pre-existing board game. And indeed, Pokemon Duel isn’t perfect. Some may find the gameplay uninteresting or boring, and others may simply be completely burnt out on the franchise as a whole. It’s a strange game, but for the right audience, Duel might be a perfect introduction to virtual board games—even if it does rely a bit too-much on luck when playing. Like most of the games on this list, Pokemon Duel is a strategy-based board game where your goal is to make one of your assorted characters reach your opponent’s goal. When compared to games like Catan or Pandemic, Duel seems designed for a younger audience, with a combination of familiar characters and a gameplay method similar to chess or checkers, but there is some amount of strategy and thought that goes into playing the game. First, your pieces typically differ from that of your opponent, since you build and assign your deck of six characters prior to playing the game. There are a few methods to playing through Pokemon Duel reliably, but they almost always rely on a combination of attack power and defense setups—some of your pieces will begin making their way across the board, while others will stay back to defend your own goal from the opponent. And, since the game is designed for anyone in elementary school and older to play through the game, there is an included ally AI who helps you decide what moves to make and when to strike against your opponent. A few negatives hold Duel back from truly hitting the highs expected from a Pokemon-licensed board game: first, as we said above, some players might find the game a bit too simplistic for their tastes. Second, the amount of luck that goes into building and assembling your deck is a bit silly, and since Duel is a free-to-play game, you can expect both ads and in-app purchases galore—in fact, some purchases range as high as $99, and no, we didn’t forget a decimal point. Multiplayer here is limited to online opponents, with no local or pass-and-play options to speak of. Overall, Pokemon Duel is worth checking out—especially since it’s a free game—but if you truly want some real strategy and board game fun, you’ll want to look elsewhere on this list.
Diving into the world of trading card games can be a fun and exciting proposition, especially if you have friends who are interested in joining in playing with you, or who have already built decks and joined the community. Unfortunately, cards can be expensive, and if you’re concerned about dropping $50 or more just to get started in the world of Magic: The Gathering or YuGiOh, the good news is that there’s a great free to play alternative that makes it easy to get into the genre without having to drop a single dime. Hearthstone is one of the most popular online multiplayer games on the planet, thanks to the support of Blizzard, the same developer behind World of Warcraft and Overwatch. Hearthstone supplies you with a starter deck and makes it easy to begin battling with other players online, or to simply train against the computer. It’s one of the friendliest online games to play, but don’t be fooled: there’s a ton of depth to Hearthstone, and it’s not nearly as easy as you might think. As you battle against more difficult opponents, you’ll begin to learn how to balance your deck, what strategies work for your type of play style, and how to reduce your enemy’s life points to zero the fastest. The mobile app on Android is large, requiring a 3GB download when you install the game on your phone, but once you have it active, you’ll realize how fun this game can be to play. Oh, and when it comes to paying for cards, you can drop cash on unlocks, or just keep playing the game for free expansion packs. Hearthstone may not be a direct translation of a game like YuGiOh or Magic (both of which also have apps available on the Play Store that are free to play), but Hearthstone is the first major trading card game to arrive first and foremost for digital devices. Whether you’re playing on mobile or PC, you’ll have a blast in this collectible trading card game. Definitely don’t sleep on this one.
Not everyone is going to want to dive into the sequel to one of the biggest social and mobile games of 2011, but if you’re looking for some more Scrabble-based fun, Words with Friends 2 is a surprisingly well-made app, complete with nearly every single advancement we would want to see in a brand-new version of the social hit. At its core, Words with Friends 2 is still Words with Friends, a social-friendly take on Scrabble. The biggest changes here come from the new modes, the rewards and trophies that come from completing challenges presented through the app (similar to a game like Fire Emblem Heroes), and additional changes to the gameplay like power-ups that makes the game feel a bit more fresh when playing through the game. It’s the two new game modes added to the app that are worth focusing on. The first is a brand-new solo mode that allows you to play against AI opponents of various strength and skill. The opponents seem to be themed based on the current seasonal event; for example, December featured Christmas-themed enemies like elves, fairies, and Santa Claus. These rounds typically aren’t full games; rather, they require your to defeat the character within a certain amount of turns, with each enemy becoming more difficult as time goes on. The other new game mode, Lightning Round, asks you to team up with up to five other players to compete against another team in a race to score the most points possible. Both Solo Challenges and Lightning Rounds ask you to play Words with Friends in an all-new style, making it feel fresher than the original game ever managed to do. And of course, traditional online multiplayer with your friends still exists, transferring over your games from the original title. While there are a large amount of ads when playing through the game, not to mention the inclusion of loot boxes, Words with Friends 2 manages to build on the original in new and meaningful ways while still continuing the core gameplay from the first game, making it a welcome revival for one of the oldest games on the Play Store today.
If you tried Really Bad Chess without much luck, and you’re still looking for a real way to play chess against either an AI opponent or a close friend or family member, you can’t do better than Real Chess, one of the best adaptations of the classic game we’ve seen on the Play Store. There are a ton of chess adaptations on the Play Store, but Real Chess is the only one that manages to capture the feeling of playing chess in real life. This adaptation features some incredible visuals and graphics that look great on both large tablet displays and modern high-resolution smartphones like the Note 8 or Pixel 2 XL. With fully 3D graphics, different skins, colors, and modes, and great performance on nearly any device, playing chess on a virtual display has never felt so real. In terms of gameplay, Real Chess doesn’t try to do anything special here—this is chess as you’ve always known it, simply remade for the 21st century. The difference comes in the featureset: both local and online multiplayer is supported, with Real Chess promoting over a million registered players all around the world. You can also practice or play against a smart AI opponent with 2,400 difficulty levels that can scale with you while you grow and improve as a player. If you’re new to chess, Real Chess can help you learn by supplying hints for new players on suggested moves or strategies. And if the realistic 3D graphics aren’t for you, Real Chess allows you to switch back to a more traditional 2D layout. As a free app, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Real Chess comes with both in-app purchases and advertisements, but for just a few bucks, you can unlock the full version of the app and remove ads to play chess without restriction wherever you go. Definitely check this one out.
A quick heads-up first: you’ll need an Android TV or Fire TV device to purchase and install this game; trying to buy it for your phone or tablet won’t work. With that out of the way, Jackbox Games’ line of Party Pack titles are some of the most fun you can have with a large group of friends, perfect for your next party of six to eight people or more! The Jackbox Party Pack series has been running for a few years now, offering players five games bundled into each $24.99 bundle. Once you have the Party Pack of your choice up and running on your Android TV or Fire TV device (and yes, the app works on the $35 Fire TV Stick as well), you’ll have five choices of games to choose from, ranging fro Pictionary-esque drawing games to trivia titles, to raunchy puzzle-solver or fill-in-the-blank games that make you get creative. The game is displayed on your television, while players use anything with a browser—be it a smartphone, tablet, or even a computer—to control the game. With four Party Packs now available online, players have access to twenty different games in total. Which you play is up to you; the Play Store and Amazon Appstore listings have in-depth listings on how each game is played, but if you’re looking for a suggestion to get started, we think the Jackbox Party Pack 3 is great for beginners. Quiplash 2 is a great fill-in-the-blank game that challenges you to be creative and hilarious enough to win over your friends, and Trivia Murder Party puts a deadly spin on classic trivia games by adding in darkness and despair. It’s Fakin’ It that truly stands out here, though. In the game, one of the 3-6 players playing will be “the faker,” forced to lie their way through a series of personal questions delivered to the other players through their smartphones without giving up their identity. Each round involves the players guessing who the faker is before time runs out, challenging your friends to work together and use their knowledge of everyone else in the room to their advantage. Overall, Jackbox’s Party Pack series is perfect for everything from parties to holidays, designed to make everyone in the room compete against each other while having a laugh at the same time. Though Android TV isn’t a popular platform outside of the Shield TV, Fire TV owners can also grab the app to make their get-togethers just a bit more fun. And if you don’t have those devices, the games are also available on Steam for Windows and MacOS, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Apple TV.