Games may well be one of the most fundamental activities shared by cultures across the globe. In ancient times, we used rocks, sticks, and balls; in contemporary times, we use iPads.
Your iPad isn’t going to last another 5,000 years, but if you pair it with Apple’s App Store, you can enjoy digital renditions of tabletop gaming favorites that span decades. That’s more gaming than the ancient Sumerians could ever fathom. However, so much choice may leave you frozen with indecision. To avoid that, we’ve tested the most popular tabletop games that have been digitized for the iPad, and present them here for you to explore.
Why Play Tabletop Games on an iPad?
There are quite a few advantages that come with playing digital board games, with the most obvious being cost. iPad board games lack physical parts, and aren’t shipped to storefronts, so they’re typically cheaper than their analog counterparts. For example, the physical Dungeons & Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep costs $49.99; the digital version costs $6.99. You also don’t risk losing pieces. Cards, dice, and tokens—especially game-specific versions—can be tedious to replace. Then there’s tracking the various players’ stats or points; on a tablet, the computer’s got your numbers covered. Plus, iPad board games often come with online play, which proves invaluable in the COVID-19 era.
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Unfortunately, iPad board games can be plagued by the same bugs as any other software, or mechanically suffer in the move to digital (Carcassonne and some other classics met this fate). That said, we’ve selected iPad board games that play well, even if they aren’t household names. Download them, gather your friends, and family, and have fun.
Featuring excellent presentation and nuanced gameplay mechanics, Aeon’s End is a deck-building game that pits 1-4 players against an evil force. The mission? Work together to protect each other, and defeat the enemy. During play, you carefully chain attacks and abilities to fell the demonic Rageborne and other great beasts. Turn order, and knowing what’s coming next in the deck, plays a larger role here than other, comparable titles.
While the D&D name may conjure fond memories of character sheets and tokens, this iteration of Gary Gygax’s seminal work is a management game. Instead of building up your character, you help manage the city of Waterdeep from behind the shadows. You’ll take on the role of a masked lord, one of the city’s hidden rulers, and assign workers to the castle or harbor so that the city keeps running—no matter what challenges are visited on the unsuspecting townsfolk. Lords of Waterdeep features local multiplayer and online, cross-platform play.
D&D Lords of Waterdeep (for iPad) Review
Survival in the natural world makes for one of the last decade’s most exciting and replayable tabletop games. Evolution challenges you to adapt to a changing ecosystem by gathering traits so that your critters can evolve to suit the environment or survive predation. The transition to iPad includes sharp environmental and card art, as well as online play.
Trucking through the stars isn’t easy. Between space rocks, pirates, and debt, you’ll need a lot of help. In Galaxy Trucker, you must grab tiles that represent different vehicle parts (engines for speed, weapons for defense), and plug them into your interstellar semi. The physical version tasks players with scrambling across a table’s surface to pick up the best part ties; the digital version lets you do that by frantically tapping and dragging parts to install on your machine. In a nice touch, you can also play in a turn-based format that’s a bit fairer for people with slow reflexes. The kid-friendly Galaxy Trucker also features local and online play.
Race for the Galaxy is a beefy strategy game that tasks you with exploring and settling new worlds. You can scour the stars for resource-rich planets, or take the ones you have and beef up production to generate points. You can also field an interstellar navy to conquer your rivals, and snatch up the fruits of their investment. All of this takes place at a brisk pace, with games rarely hitting 20 minutes long. Unfortunately, Race for the Galaxy requires quite a bit of play to get a concrete idea of what you should do, and the game lacks local multiplayer action (although it supports cross-platform, online play).
Set in the Viking Age, Raiders of the North Seas challenges you with managing a ship, raiding new lands, impressing the Chieftain, and picking up the needed Victory Points for a win. Fundamentally, though, it’s a worker-placement game, like Lords of Waterdeep. The game maintains a fine tension between provisioning for an excursion and reaping the rewards of smart planning and bold gambits. The iOS version features local and online multiplayer strategizing.
Spirit Island flips the script for colony-management and exploration games. Here, you play as an island’s protective spirits, guiding and protecting the land’s indigenous inhabits, the fictional Dahan, from ravaging European invaders. You can summon flash floods or blazes to wipe away colonists, and wear away their settlements with corrosive winds. The online, multiplayer beta lets another player control an elemental force to help protect the island.
In this colony-management game, corporations are vying to take control of Mars, terraform it, and transport flocks of immigrants from Earth. Play alone or with up to four others players, to tweak the planet, boost oxygen, and cultivate new life. At the same time, rivals will be able to spend resources to disrupt or hinder your development. The key to victory is working together to make Mars habitable, while also trying to sabotage rival infrastructure. Terraforming Mars supports local and online multiplayer fun.
In the classic Ticket to Ride, your goal is to snake your rail line across the land. There’s a bit of strategy involved in setting up your route and some interesting risk-reward mechanics, but otherwise it’s the simplest of the games in our list—and that’s a selling point. Ticket to Ride is one of the most broadly played games today, and the iPad version is a convenient, portable, and comparatively inexpensive way to set up your train company. You can play solo, or compete with other titans of industry in online play.
Legendary tabletop strategy game Through the Ages makes for a stellar iPad title. It’s well-adapted, and almost infinitely replayable by yourself or with online friends. You’ll start play as a small tribe, struggling to stay alive. As you endure, you’ll build monuments, gather armies, and cultivate your culture to leave your mark on history. While it fundamentally represents recent and Western conceptualizations of what makes for a prosperous society, there’s scarcely a better translation of our past in a compact, digital game.