I've mentioned tabletop simulator a few times in more recent polls. It's busy overtaking my nr. 1 played steam game, and not because I often idle for hours because baby needs attention or that I'm making mods myself. No...most of the time is spent on trying and playing board games. And that's somewhat of a surprise, considering that I barely have friends to play with (whom I've got a hell of a time to reach out to, let alone agree on a time to BE online, both in a voIP program and tabletop simulator).
Tabletop simulator simulates a board game environment. It allows for relatively easy importing of assets, images, custom dice, pawns and so on. It has gained traction as the first, and as such can count on a community to have replicated the majority of online board games. While the board game industry is less strict, it is not unheard of that they DMCA a mod. As such, I won't provide links. But at the time of writing, each can be found by simply googling "tabletop simulator <insert name>". If (one of) the first results is "Steam workshop :: <insert name>", then it's available for you to check the workshop page and subscribe. Note that you'll need a valid copy of tabletop simulator itself, but for a mere 20 bucks it's a steal.
Before I get to the list, the usual caveats: this is a personal list, based on my time with tabletop simulator. I've barely scratched the surface of possible mods, and for the roughly 50 I've tried there are easily a couple hundreds that I find interesting (and over 3000 mods in total, though there's quite some net pollution from people who...like to upload stuff like "cage match" for some reason ).
More specific: I've taken a look at games to be played with a significant other who sits beside you. That means there's no hidden information (e.g. cards to hold). I've also taken ease of learning and scripting into account. Scripting is convenient because things like "click a button to draw a card and put it in the correct position" is not only an easy Quality of Life but can assist in learning/enforcing rules. None of these games have an AI. Some have a solo mode, but that'll be something for another list.
10. Qwixx: this is a simple game I often use to lure people into board gaming. On your turn, you throw 6 dice (2 white, yellow, red, green and blue). First, EVERYONE may cross off the rolled total of the two white dice on any of the fields. Then, you (and only you) may choose one colored die and combine it with either white die result to cross off something. If you choose to cross off neither (which you don't really want), you mark a miss. The important thing: you may never cross off something on the left of what you've already crossed out. And with red and yellow starting at two and green and blue at twelve, you really want very high or very low results at the start, gradually more to the center in midgame and the reverse at the late game.
The reason I usually pick this is because it involves everyone (even if it's not your turn, you may consider picking a white die result), has some meaningful choices to make (as an active player, you've got up to ten different options) and progresses nicely. This mod does automatic score keeping, which is a nice touch when you're new to this (it breaks down to "the more you cross off on a field, the better the score for that field).
9. King of Hyrule: King of Tokyo is a modern classic. It pits all players against each other to fight until one remains. You roll dice yahtzee style. After three rolls you either gain some levels (should you reach level 20, you'll automatically win), heal some lives back, do some damage and/or gain some coins to purchase upgrades. If you're in Tokyo, you'll damage everyone else, if you're not in Tokyo you'll damage the one player who is in Tokyo. While this is really a boys game, it went over very well in my last boardgame meet group.
So why do I mention all this? Because this is a total reskin of the Godzilla-theme into the Zelda universe. And not some half-assed effort either: all the cards are thematically redone, the player board features hyrule, coins are rupees and - of course - characters from the Zelda universe are the pawns. It's pretty weird for me to see two universes collide like this, but either way this is a great game to play (though admittedly: it's best if you start out with three or four players).
8. Santorini: there's barely any scripting here, but on the other hand it doesn't NEED any either. This is another modern classic when it comes to tactical play. You and your opponent have two pawns on a 5x5 grid. You move on of 'em (even diagonally if you want, but not on top of someone else and you can climb but one floor), then build a floor next to where you end up. As you and your opponent keep moving around the board, you'll fill things up. The goal: have one character climb to a third flour of anything.
This is a game if you're a fan of chess or checkers. It's more tactical than strategic, but still extremely cutthroat. Once you're familiar with the base game you can give each player a bonus power, but really: it's already great as it is.
The board game is beautiful, but this digital rendering (with real world's Santorini's city Oia as the overview) takes it even a notch further
7. Point salad: another very simple game with great quality of life setup (you first choose how many players, then it sets it up correctly for you. Then a "refill the market" is all you really need to do). As the name implies, there are many different ways to score, but you'll need to manage these yourself. You see, each card has a vegetable on one side, and a scoring mechanic on the other. On your turn, you either pick two vegetables from the table, or one score card. Should you do the former, you'll refill these position with cards from the latter deck.
This game is especially intuitive: you know the rules almost immediately upon seeing a couple turns. But that doesn't make the game itself mundane or low in depth. If you like the sort of thought process that goes "okay, so I've got many tomatoes. That objective gives me two extra points per tomato, but also a negative point for each salad. Hmmm...."...then this is the game for you.
6. Ingenious (outdated version): I...have really no idea why the author labeled it 'outdated', as it certainly works. More so: this is the most advanced scripted scoring mechanic I've encountered thus far (okay, perhaps on par with nr. 4). But you can almost go in blind without knowing the rules: just placing some tiles will tell you how it's played based on the scoring. But anyway...ingenious is a game where you and your opponent place abstract tiles containing 2 symbols each. You really want to place these at least adjacent to one of the colors already on the board, because that'll score you points for that color. The disadvantage is that doing so means that your opponent can usually lay a tile that scores EVEN MORE points for that color, as this is how the scoring works.
Well...per lane, that is. You see, there are six colors, so six score tracks to increase. But your actual score is the LOWEST of these six tracks. So you need to diversify (if you ignore green completely, you'll end up with zero points), but filling up a color track up to 18 will grant you an extra turn. So...dilemma's abound in this one.
5. forbidden island / forbidden desert: Matt Leacock is mostly known for the pandemic-series, but his 'forbidden' series (also includes forbidden skies, but this hasn't made its way to TTS yet) are also great co-op games. They're a bit simpler in setup and rules explanation, yes, but they're not exactly easy to complete (unless, perhaps, playing on easy). What's more: these have more an adventure vibe, as you're digging for treasures as the island or desert is getting ever harder to navigate with each passing turn. I suggest starting with forbidden island, especially if you've got a youngster with you (I've actually rented out my real copy to my nephew to pass the corona-crisis). But both are very accessible and have a clean interface and intuitive gameplay.
4. kingdomino: the name already implies the gameplay: you build a kingdom by placing dominos. You start with a 1x1 kingdom square with 4 'wild' sides. Over the course of the game you and your opponents pick domino tiles (2x1) to expand your little kingdom to (hopefully) a 5x5 grid. As with dominoes, you can only place dominos next to a tile if they share at least the landscape on one of these sides. More importantly: the score at the end of the game will look at the size of each field and multiply that with the amount of crowns on this field. So if you've got a continuous grassland spanning four squares and have two crowns on it, that'll score you eight points. Plus two points for that one mine with two crowns on it. Plus zero points for that 3 tile spanning lake with zero crowns on it. Plus...and so on. Because not all tiles are equal (of course everyone wants those with crowns), each is assigned a sequence number. Tiles are given in groups of four, of which you each pick one (or two, if you use two player). However...the higher number of your pick, the later you'll get to pick the next tile.
The first mod I've tried already impressed me by making the relatively complex bidding situation and the initial setup extremely intuitive, but there's one even better. The "kingdomino" mod by Acemond blows that already impressive work right out of the water. Not only does this calculate scores as you're playing, but it also includes support for two mods and the full standalone queendomino. These make the game a bit harder to learn and play, but on the other hand: kingdomino is so easy you can literally use it to teach your children to count. The expansions aren't necessary (you can just pick the standard game and have a blast), but a very nice touch.
3. Azul (pokémon?): I have pondered to put this on the number one spot, if only because I have actually played it in couch co-op. More so: my girlfriend has requested to replay it two or three times now (meaning: it'll most likely end up in our board game collection sooner than later). And I can see why, because despite the very abstract nature of the game, it's very easy to explain...which is further enhanced by the setup scripts. To start, you lay out some locations (factories) in a circle...IIRC three more than your player count. Then you reach into a bag that contains 100 tiles (20 of each of the five colors) and randomly place these on the locations. Then in turn, you each pick a color within a factory and grab the tile(s) of that color off the factory. Any remaining tiles go to the common center; you place the tiles you've picked on your construction board. This goes on until all the tiles are picked (note: the first person to pick from the center becomes the first to pick next round). Important: tiles you can't place on your construction board count as minus points, so watch out for these.
Either way: after the round, you check which construction board's complete and place ONE of these tiles on your tableau. There it scores 1 point if it doesn't touch anything, and the sum of columns plus the sum of rows it touches in case it does touches other tiles.
Perhaps the explanation here is a bit vague, but a quick youtube video will have you understand everything within a couple minutes. And believe me: knowing the rules doesn't make this game easy. Rather the contrary: there's decent interaction between players but a lot of variaton as well. It's an inoffensive theme (you...basically lay a groundwork of tiles somehow) that's one of the best scoring abstract games on the planet. And for good reason. It has two sequels (stained glass of sintra and summer pavilion) that are also worth checking out, but might be a bit harder to come by.
Oh, right...there's a pokémon reskin of this game as well. It certainly looks fancy, but I've got to admit I never tried it. I'm rather indifferent to the franchise.
2. Ganz schöhn clever / doppelt so clever: these games put roll & write on the board game map. And for good reason: the boards might look a bit intimidating (it's like a luna park with fancy colors, bonusses everywhere...and no idea what to do), but I've taught it to many who quickly got the hang of it (ganz schöhn clever, that is). The premisse really isn't hard: you roll some dice, pick one to cross of something, then roll the remainder (except what was strictly smaller than what you picked). After three such actions, opponents pick one they want from the remaining dice. Each field scores in its own way, but the bonusses mean that on certain occasions adding something to field 1 will cause you to pick and choose something of field 2 (which might in turn add something to field 3 or 4...or even 1 ). I'm simplifying things, but not by much.
As with many other games, the score calculation is done all the way at the end. But to my own surprise, this game has a way to calculate the scores for you (if you use the cross tiles and the small dice to indicate what you've rolled rather than scribbling on the e-board).
Doppelt so clever is the sequel to it. Similar rules but six new fields with strange options. And again with its own scripted scoring mechanic.
Note that these games have low player interaction. As such, you can just as easily practice the game to score the most points (which is, ironically enough, exactly what the mobile apps allow you to do).
1. Gizmos: gizmos is a so-called 'engine builder'. And perhaps the most iconic ones of the bunch: you each play as mad professor-wannabe's that build contraptions to increase or convert energy. For this, you either pick an energy marble of your choice (red, blue, yellow or black), build a contraption with earlier gathered marbles, put an available contraption in your reserve pile to build later, or research (basically look into the first three cards of a stack and either build one or put one in your reserve). Fairly straightforward, right? Well...that's where the contraptions come in. These all trigger (once per turn) upon a certain action, making this action more valuable. Some let you grab a random marble when you pick a red marble. Some let you turn one blue marble in two blue marbles. Some let you handpick a marble when you build something from the archive...which might trigger that earlier mentioned "grab a random marble" should you pick a red marble (assuming you've got these contraptions). And so on. I've played games where I build contraptions and ended up with more marbles than I started with. Other times I got flooded with points just for reserving a contraption, and a second time when I built it from my reserve. This really is the sort of game where things start slow and accelerate over time. I've heard it compared to a cross of splendor and potion explosion. I absolutely agree. On top of that: on the actual board game you build an actual carbon chewing gum machine, which adds flavor like nothing else. It's no wonder that this has quickly grown into one of our favorite board games.
It's also why I was initially hesitant to try gizmos on TTS. I mean...this is the sort of game you want to put on the table to convince people that board games are awesome. Tabletop simulator has some quirky sandbox mechanics but this can't be enough to showcase a game like splendor, right?
Well...I can say I was wrong. This is actually the third time this game impresses me: the first time was when I heard about it and checked out some video's about it (which encouraged me to buy it). The second time was when it played so well that even my girlfriend consistently asks to play it again. And now the tabletop simulator version. I just...have no words for this. It's a f***ing peace of art, man. Not only does the gumball machine looks and works exactly as it should, but it keeps track of EVERYTHING. You see, in the game you start with a marble limit of five, one reservation spot and three research (meaning: draw three cards and pick one). But these are variables that can be upgraded with contraptions as well. this mod tracks it. Each contraption is worth a certain amount of points, and might provide more points where needed. Again: drag a contraption to your spot and it'll calculate what is needed. It even has a winner tribune after you've clicked "calculate scores" (after the last turn).
Really: someone out there must have put out many hours crafting this mod just to upload it amidst hundreds of others in a single game in the steam playstore. And it is, somehow, all worth it. Yes, the base game is great (which is undoubtedly why he started the work in the first place). But this mod somehow elevates even that. I...just get the damn thing if you've got TTS. You can thank me later.
So...that's my humble top ten. Tiny town and battle sheep just fell out of it, and if I hadn't put my standards so high there'd be even more great contenders. But I just wanted to get this out there. I'll probably do one with great single player games as well (you BET that tiny towns is in that one ). And perhaps I should lower the scripting standards a bit, because in some games it barely adds much. But still...at this point tabletop simulator is like an endless treasure trove to me. It's like for every game that I try and like, I remember three or four others that I want to try out. This probably won't last (e.g. I don't think it'll eclipse my steam library any time soon ), but for now it's just awesomeness with extra icing of more awesomeness.
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