Over the past few years, I’ve seen a lot of online tabletop solutions come and go. Some, like Tabletop Simulator, are popular but open the door to copyright infringement. Who wouldn’t want to click a button and download hundreds of dollars worth of Fantasy Flight Games’ X-Wing miniatures? Others, like the Vassal system, are opaque and unwieldy. But today there’s a new player in town, and it’s called Tabletopia.
I’ve been trading emails with the team at Tabletopia for a little while now, and over the past few years, they’ve been creating a tremendous, stable platform. But they’ve also been getting buy-in from some of the tabletop industry’s best minds. And, starting today, Tabletopia is available as a free-to-play game on Steam.
Here’s how it works.
Tabletopia isn’t a traditional digital port of a board game. It’s a virtual sandbox that recreates the physical bits — the game board, the player pawns and the decks of cards — in a 3D space. Launch a game and it’s set up, ready to play, in seconds. You can rotate the board, zoom in on individual pieces, draw cards from piles on the table and flip them over in front of you. And it includes high-resolution, licensed art from the original board games.
That means you have to know the rules in order to play, same as any other board game. There’s no in-engine hooks to keep you from playing it wrong.
But it’s the quality of life features that Tabletopia adds that have me so excited. One of the first things the platform does is invite you to the community Discord channel where you have instant access to a global pool of potential players. The tutorial is light yet comprehensive. The controls are intuitive for PC players: If you can drive a real-time strategy game or an isometric role-playing game, then you already know how to manipulate the camera and move pieces around the board in Tabletopia. There’s even a digital version of the game manual accessible from inside the client.
What’s better is that a free-to-play version of Scythe, one of this year’s very best strategy board games, is included. There’s even a working Automa deck-built artificial intelligence system, the same one that comes in the Scythe retail box, that allows you to play solo. Bottom line, if you’ve been curious about Scythe or had trouble getting your hands on a physical copy, it’s now available for you to experience in Tabletopia and with the designer and the publisher’s blessing.
It gets better, though. Check out this tweet:
Vesuvius Media has a Kickstarter going right now for Dwar7s Fall. I’ve never heard of it, and only a few pre-production copies exist. But Vesuvius Media made a digital version inside Tabletopia. So, before I plop money down for a copy, I can play it for free on Steam. It’s very impressive.
There’s a big drawback to Tabletopia right now, however. While it boasts more than 300 games, not many of them are terribly new or awfully exciting. Yes, you can play versions of Terra Mystica, Santorini, Imperial Settlers and Steampunk Rally. If you’ve got a hankering for some Whist or Parcheesi, they’ve got those as well. But it would be nice to see a broader catalog. Hopefully, as the system gains more users, more partners will come on board.
Also know that some games are locked behind a premium membership, which ranges from $1.99 for a “weekend with friends” 3-day package to $9.99 for a 30-day pass. But today Scythe isn’t one of them.
Free is free, so go enjoy some board games.