Games might just be one of the most fundamental activities shared by cultures around the world. In ancient times we used stones, sticks and balls; in contemporary times, we use iPads.
Your iPad won’t last 5,000 years yet, but if you pair it with Apple’s App Store, you can enjoy digital renders of tabletop game favorites that span decades. That’s more games than the ancient Sumerians could ever imagine. However, so many choices can leave you frozen with indecision. To avoid this, 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?
Playing digital board games has many benefits, the most obvious being the cost. iPad board games lack physical parts and don’t ship to storefronts, so they’re usually cheaper than their analog counterparts. For example, the Dungeons & Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep physics costs $49.99; the digital version costs $6.99. You also do not risk losing coins. Cards, dice, and tokens, especially game-specific versions, can be cumbersome to replace. Then there is the tracking of the statistics or points of the different players; on a tablet, the computer does your numbers. Additionally, iPad board games are often accompanied by online games, which proves invaluable in the age of COVID-19.
Recommended by our editors
Unfortunately, board games on the iPad can be plagued by the same bugs as any other software, or suffer mechanically from the digital switchover (Carcassonne and a few other classics have suffered this fate). That said, we’ve picked out board games for iPad that work well, even if they’re not widely known. Download them, gather your friends and family and have fun.
Featuring excellent presentation and nuanced game mechanics, Aeon’s End is a deck-building game that pits 1-4 players against an evil force. The mission? Work together to protect yourself and defeat the enemy. During gameplay, you carefully chain together attacks and abilities to take down the demonic Rageborne and other great beasts. Turn order and knowing what’s next in the game play a bigger role here than in other comparable titles.
While the name D&D may conjure up fond memories of character sheets and tokens, this iteration of Gary Gygax’s seminal work is a management game. Instead of building your character, you help run 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 port to keep the city running no matter what challenges the unsuspecting townspeople face. Lords of Waterdeep features local multiplayer and online cross-platform play.
D&D Lords of Waterdeep review (for iPad)
Survival in the natural world makes this one of the most exciting and replayable tabletop games of the past decade. Evolution challenges you to adapt to a changing ecosystem by putting traits together so your creatures can evolve to adapt to the environment or survive predation. The transition to the iPad includes crisp environmental and map art, as well as online play.
Trucking through the stars is not easy. Between space rocks, pirates and debts, you will need a lot of help. In Galaxy Trucker, you must grab tiles that represent different parts of the vehicle (engines for speed, weapons for defense) and plug them into your interstellar semi. The physical version tasks players with dashing across the surface of a table to pick up the best ties; the digital version allows you to do this by frantically tapping and dragging parts to install on your machine. In a nice touch, you can also play in a turn-based format which is a bit fairer for people with slow reflexes. The kid-friendly Galaxy Trucker also offers local and online games.
Race for the Galaxy is a beefy strategy game that tasks you with exploring and colonizing new worlds. You can scour the stars for resource-rich planets, or take the ones you have and increase production to generate points. You can also deploy an interstellar navy to conquer your rivals and snatch the fruits of their investment. All of this happens at a brisk pace, matches rarely last 20 minutes. Unfortunately, Race for the Galaxy requires quite a bit of gameplay to get a concrete feel for what you need to do, and the game lacks local multiplayer action (though it does support cross-platform online play).
Set in the Viking Age, Raiders of the North Seas challenges you to manage a ship, raid new lands, impress the leader, and collect the victory points needed to win. Basically, though, it’s a worker placement game, like Lords of Waterdeep. The game maintains a fine tension between sourcing for an excursion and reaping the rewards of clever planning and daring gambits. The iOS version features local and online multiplayer strategy.
Spirit Island reverses the scenario of colony management and exploration games. Here, you play as the protective spirits of an island, guiding and protecting the land’s native inhabitants, the fictional Dahan, from ravaging European invaders. You can summon flash floods or fires to wipe out settlers and destroy 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 compete to take over Mars, terraform it, and transport herds of immigrants from Earth. Play alone or with up to four other players, to alter the planet, increase 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 trying to sabotage rival infrastructure. Terraforming Mars supports local and online multiplayer fun.
In the classic Ticket to Ride, your objective is to meander your railroad line across the country. There’s a bit of strategy involved in setting your route and some interesting risk-reward mechanics, but otherwise it’s the easiest game on our list – and that’s a selling point. Ticket to Ride is one of the most played games today, and the iPad version is a convenient, portable, and relatively inexpensive way to build your train company. You can play solo or compete with other industry titans in online play.
The legendary tabletop strategy game Through the Ages is a stellar iPad title. It’s well-suited and almost infinitely replayable alone or with friends online. You will start playing 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, Western conceptualizations of what makes a society successful, there is hardly a better translation of our past into a compact digital game.