Boardgame apps vs physical games

I’ve found a very weird thing: some phone apps can be played so much quicker than the original that I could never have the patience for the physical copy,
once it reaches a certain level of complexity/weight my brain swaps. If there’s too much text / too many components I can only keep it all in my head if I have a physical copy in front of me, and online versions seem too big.

Also I absolutely love owning games as items when they’re beautiful enough and Nemo’s War definitely qualifies. But yeah, price alone has made me run away from others.


That’s what happened with me and Ticket to Ride.

Definitely, same. Apps are usually okay-ish for me despite components and complexity. I can play Terra Mystica on the app but it’s sure not the same kind of game and I keep losing digital Root. When it comes to games on Tabletopia or TTS… I either need to know them extremely well like Spirit Island or Gloomhaven or they need to be far less complex than what I would put on the table.

I have not tested a single Digital Spiel game because I find myself almost unable to teach myself a game in such a format.


The three biggest cases of “phone app is faster” for me are Onirim, Sagrada and One Deck Dungeon. No way would I go back to shuffling cards / rolling dice after the app.

On the other hand, I can barely read the Nemo’s War rules as PDF, I need the paper to hold.


I’d add Pandemic to that list too.


I know people who feel that way about Suburbia.


I have never played a cardboard version of Suburbia, I waffled a bit over the CE last year because I really enjoy it in the app but I am afraid there is a lot of mathy overhead in the cardboard that I’d hate after playing the app.

Definitely agree on One Deck Dungeon and Onirim.
Pandemic: I prefer that one on the table actually, it is one of those where I lose track of things in the app.

Kingdom Builder never saw the table again after I played it digitally.

“Finished” is one I played to death on the app until just yesterday I declared I needed a break after 131 games in about 2 months?

And then there is the Galaxy Trucker app that I played until I fell into a tile snatching, matching and turning delirium and started dreaming of… I haven’t touched it since.

One that doesn’t work for me as app is 7 Wonders. It’s over so fast there is barely any game. That’s no fun. Although the Duel app is okay.

Since I do not have the expansions for my cardboard version of Race for the Galaxy, I have played this almost exclusively in the app.

Elder Sign. I played this as app then bought the game which has been played twice before it hit the reject pile. The app is fun because no setup and quick reset if you fail. Cardboard: not so much–losing due to stupid luck of dice rolls and having to go through the whole setup shenanigans again and manually having to handle all that stuff… nope.


Suburbia broke me. I’ve never checked out that hard from a game I had been enjoying so much. Gloomhaven doesn’t count, because I wanted to find my happy place before we even got started with that one. But with Suburbia I was having an excellent time until that very sharp, specific moment where I really, really wasn’t anymore.

That game needs an Excel helper.


Totally agree with Elder Sign. Realized I did not need the physical version after playing the app.

Similarly, with all the bits and things to keep track of, I cannot imagine playing a physical copy of Twilight Struggle. I think I would make so many errors if the app were not enforcing the correct rules for me.


Here’s why you (supposedly) need the physical version of Elder Sign: I know multiple people who swear up and down the expansion Gates of Arkham makes it a great game. The app is just base Elder Sign with some wrinkles, none of what Gates brings to the table. I’m skeptical myself, because I think of Elder Sign as a pretty poor, highly luck-driven and doom-spiral prone game that’s only really tolerable in the app as a fast, pretty alternative to Solitaire with a bunch of cool art and sound design. But I’ve never had the chance to test it out because I sure as hell am not buying a game I don’t like and an expansion just to see if that expansion redeems the experience.


Do you TTS? There’s at least one mod that claims to include that expansion. (Not tried it myself.)


I do, but I’ve also been less than excited about playing Elder Sign when I could play games I love.


I think pandemic loses something in the app implementation. There is something about investing time doing stuff that makes caring about the situation a little more easy. I think with pandemic app it’s easier to chalk off bad luck and care less about the action.


My issue with the Pandemic app is it hides so much of the mechanics. Playing the boardgame you understand how the deck is changing, but when you use the app, it all just happens backstage. If you know the game, it’s fine (though I still find it slightly disorientating), but if anyone who has bought the app to avoid buying the boardgame is going to have issues.

I love the app for Ascension and Cartographers.

Deck builders work so well in an app, and Ascension with all its expansions to add or remove means you can play mix & match modes that would be a real headache to use in person.

Cartographers has obtuse scoring that takes time to add up and is probably quite easy to make an error. The app you can play a whole game in the time it takes to score. Plus the colours makes the sheet so much easier to read than hand drawn. Plus it has daily challenges. I wish it had the expansions and promos though.

I used to play that free Dominion campaign website app they had before it was ditched too. So great!


Thanks @RogerBW for making this into a separate thread.

Ah the scoring in Cartographers is so much easier and the colors much better than my horrible drawing. I left my physical game copy with friends and for all I care they can keep it.


Through the Ages app is sooo good. The board game is good too, but not as snappy as the app.


It’s Twilight Struggle for me. Partly because I got to play it against you lot, but I find stripping out setup and the rules enforcement to be superb.

I sold my physical copy


Oh and just a heads up. I really dislike the UI and handling of the new Wingspan app.

  1. even though I do not own a controller it doesn’t let me switch the control reminders to keyboard
  2. you get an animated popup between rounds that takes so much time when all the information is right there on the screen. A little hard to see in one glance but just give me the option to turn off the stupid popup.
  3. Apparently it was very tempting to implement beautiful backgrounds for each habitat that you have no way to see everything on screen at the same time instead you have to switch between habitats if f.e. you need to discard an egg and there is none in your currently selected habitat.
  4. It is absolutely counter-intuitive how you discard the egg or card or food token if you want to get a stronger action in that habitat.
  5. also I am miffed because I lost badly against the automa but that is in no way related to my gripes with the UI (seriously)

As for the rest of course: it’s pretty. I couldn’t find any bugs at first attempt. I suppose it has multiplayer…

PS: the Through the Ages app is superb. Played it way way more often than physical (because nobody here really likes Civ games–except me obviously)


Speaking of bad UX. Terra Mystica is a bad app and the BGA version was implemented better


Ah, I’m glad it got its own topic, because I thought this was too much detail to put in the Kickstarter thread but wanted to say:

The Elder Sign app is absolutely brilliant.
Doesn’t improve the game, but does mean you can play it quickly and in a nice-looking design with all the work taken out.


I find apps change how I play a game. I sold Race for the Galaxy physical after I got the app. I play against the AI on medium and get all experimental most of the time. So it’s turned in to some sort of abstract theorising motion which I don’t want to do with slow real life shuffling.

In some ways it’s a shame as Race is such a good game on the other hand it’s such a good game to have played thousands of times