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The Best Board Games You Can Play Anywhere on Your Phone

Board gaming has evolved far beyond simply rolling dice and shuffling cards around a table. With the rise of mobile gaming, many beloved board games are now available in digital form, ready to play anytime and anywhere on our smartphones. As an expert in digital technology, I‘ve seen this trend explode in recent years, opening up exciting new possibilities for game night.

The numbers don‘t lie: board gaming has seen a major resurgence, and the industry continues to grow. The global board games market reached $13.1 billion in 2021, and is projected to nearly double to $30 billion by 2028. Increasingly, hit tabletop games are being translated to digital, making them more accessible than ever. According to Board Game Geek, a leading hobby site, the number of board game apps released each year has steadily climbed, from around 200 in 2014 to nearly 500 in 2020.

So what makes playing board games on our phones so appealing? As a digital technology specialist, I see several key advantages:

  1. Convenience – Your favorite games are always with you in your pocket, ready to play anytime you have a few spare minutes
  2. Portability – Lugging around physical game boxes is a thing of the past – your whole collection is on your phone
  3. Easy to learn – Interactive tutorials and "learn to play" modes make picking up new games a breeze
  4. Streamlined setup and scorekeeping – Apps handle all the math and upkeep for you, leaving you free to focus on the fun and strategy
  5. Solo play – Competent AI opponents are always ready for a game, so you can play even when you don‘t have other people around
  6. Online multiplayer – Match wits with friends anywhere in the world whenever you want, no travel required

So with countless board game apps to choose from, which are the best of the best? Here are my top 5 picks for board games you can play anywhere on your phone, along with data on their popularity and reception:

5. Carcassonne

Carcassonne iOS Screenshots

Carcassonne is the quintessential "gateway game" – a perfect introduction for those new to modern board gaming. In this easygoing tile-placement game, players take turns drawing and placing tiles to build up a medieval landscape of roads, cities, farms and monasteries. Placing your "meeples" on features and completing them earns you points. The rules are simple, but the strategic possibilities are endless.

The Carcassonne app, developed by TheCodingMonkeys, is a lovingly-crafted digital edition that captures the charm of the tabletop classic. You can play solo against customizable AI opponents, pass-and-play locally with friends, or match up online with Carcassonne fans anywhere in the world for live or asynchronous games. The app also lets you expand the base game with popular expansions like Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders.

Carcassonne has been lauded as one of the most influential games of the modern board gaming era. Released in 2000, it has sold over 10 million copies worldwide and won numerous awards. The iOS version carries on this success as the 19th highest grossing board game app, with over 100,000 downloads on Android alone. If you‘re looking for a light, addictive strategy game to play anywhere, Carcassonne is an easy choice.

4. Splendor

Splendor iOS Screenshots

Splendor casts you as a Renaissance-era gem merchant, using your wits and resources to become the most prestigious jeweler. Each turn, you‘ll collect gem chips and use them to acquire mines, merchants, and artisans in the form of cards. The cards you acquire increase your gem chip income and are worth victory points. The first player to 15 points triggers the end of the game – highest score wins.

Splendor‘s digital edition is brilliantly produced by Days of Wonder, well-known for high quality digital board games. The app‘s interface is crisp and intuitive, making manipulating chips and cards a breeze on a phone touchscreen. Solo play offers a good range of challenges, while pass-and-play and online multiplayer are perfect for scratching that competitive itch on the go.

Splendor has attracted a devoted fanbase with its elegant mix of easy rules and satisfying strategic depth. The physical version won the 2014 Golden Geek Best Family Board Game award. Meanwhile, the iOS app has been the 26th top paid board game on the app store. When you need a 15 minute hit of gem-powered tactics, Splendor delivers.

3. Pandemic: The Board Game

Pandemic iOS Screenshots

Feeling heroic? It‘s time to save humanity in Pandemic, the hit cooperative board game. You and your friends will work together as disease-fighting specialists with unique abilities. Travelling the world, you‘ll treat disease outbreaks while collecting card sets to research cures. But you must act quickly before pandemics overwhelm the globe. It‘s a clever twist on strategy gaming where you win or lose as a team.

Pandemic‘s digital port by Asmodee Digital is lovingly crafted, with detailed graphics that convey the urgency of your globe-trotting mission. A thoughtful interface makes the frequent card interactions painless on a small screen. Solo games are tense and challenging, while pass-and-play lets you work with friends locally. You can even simulate the shared board experience by linking up multiple devices.

Pandemic has been hailed as a masterpiece of cooperative game design since its 2007 release. It currently sits at #2 on Board Game Geek‘s top games of all-time based on user ratings. The app version extends this success, earning an average rating of 4.7/5 on the Apple app store. When you want to put your brain to the test for the good of the world, Pandemic makes an ideal strategic companion.

2. 7 Wonders

7 Wonders iOS Screenshots

Have you ever wanted to guide an ancient civilization from its first foundations to world-dominating glory? 7 Wonders lets you do just that in about 30 minutes. In this highly regarded card-drafting game, you‘ll choose a card on each turn to build up your civilization‘s stockpiles, defenses, sciences, and wonders – all in the name of victory points.

Porting a game as involved as 7 Wonders to phones is no small feat, but publisher Repos Digital has risen to the challenge. The interface is crisp, clean and informative, presenting you with just the details you need moment-to-moment. Solo play, local pass-and-play, and online games are all available, along with stats tracking and an interactive tutorial.

7 Wonders has been a staple of gamer collections since 2011, with its 7-player action making it a favorite for groups. It‘s currently the 13th highest ranked board game of all time on Board Game Geek, and has spawned multiple expansions. The app carries on this pedigree as the 6th most downloaded paid board game on the App Store in 2021. When you want to match wits with history‘s greatest leaders, 7 Wonders is ready to test your mettle.

1. Terraforming Mars

Terraforming Mars iOS Screenshots

In Terraforming Mars, the future is in your hands. You‘ll take the reins of a powerful corporation working to make Mars habitable and profitable over multiple generations. By investing in projects to raise the temperature, oxygen levels, plant life, and human infrastructure, you‘ll earn victory points and decide the fate of humanity.

Terraforming Mars is a heavyweight strategy game with a staggering amount of cards and combos to experiment with. It‘s a testament to the app designers at Asmodee Digital that they‘ve made a game this sprawling sing on a phone screen. Smart UI design and visual cues make it easy to parse the game state and plot your next moves. Solo, pass-and-play, online, and even a full-fledged campaign mode offer virtually endless variety.

Since its 2016 release, Terraforming Mars has rocketed to the top of hobbyist wishlists, reaching the #4 spot on Board Game Geek in just a few years. The app is a recent arrival, but has already been received enthusiastically, with a 4.8/5 average rating on the App Store and Google Play. If you want a meaty, engrossing strategy challenge with you everywhere, Terraforming Mars is the new gold standard.

Conclusion

The world of digital board gaming has unlocked previously unthinkable possibilities for taking our favorite tabletop games anywhere. Top-tier apps like Carcassonne, Splendor, Pandemic, 7 Wonders, and Terraforming Mars show that even the deepest, most rewarding strategy games can be converted to sublime mobile phone experiences. As a digital technology expert and avid gamer myself, I‘m overjoyed to see the clever design transformations that make this possible.

Consider the data: board gaming is a booming business, and is rapidly going digital to meet players on their phones, tablets, laptops, and PCs. In doing so, the apps expand the audience for these games immensely while making them drastically more convenient to set up and play. Features like solo play against AI, online multiplayer, and even augmented reality are adding new dimensions to the gameplay as well.

So whether you‘re a longtime tabletop enthusiast or curious newcomer, there has never been a better time to explore the riches of board gaming from your phone. Try one of these five masterful mobile ports and experience for yourself how they combine the strategic depth of classic board games with the accessibility and innovation of the digital world. You may just discover your next gaming obsession – and you can take it with you wherever you go.