Going Analog

Where video game industry veterans introduce great board games to video gamers

Digital board games that are better than their originals

Skip the shuffling so you can get straight into the game.

It’s about time we considered whether board games are wasting our lives. Not the fun, actual playing of the games, mind you. We're talking about all the fiddly organization and preparation that accompanies them. With the cumulative time we’ve lost to card shuffling, cube grabbing, token shifting, and points tallying during board games, we probably could have mastered quantum mechanics by now. Thankfully, there are plenty of stellar digital adaptations out there that’ll cut these needless frustrations from your life.

Digital board games that are better than their originals

By automating the hobby’s most fiddlesome aspects, some digital games even surpass their analog originals. Make the switch to the superb digital board games below and you’ll free up plenty of time to dedicate to more noble pursuits. Or, y’know, to just browse Twitter some more.

Deckbuilders: Ascension or Shards of Infinity

digital board games better than their originals
  

With its incessant shuffling and myriad expansion packs, the deckbuilder is perhaps the genre most in need of digital redemption. Thankfully, there are plenty of contenders out there desperate to take those meddlesome card stacks off your hands.

Charging forward first with a mighty battle cry, Ascension: Deckbuilding Game delivers a superb fantasy-themed race to amass runes, purchase heroes, and defeat monsters. The Steam release crams a frankly ludicrous nine expansions into a price tag of $10 (iOS and Google Play users will need to buy them separately). We checked, and that’s more cards than there are atoms in the universe. Ascension hammered down the foundations upon which many modern deckbuilders are constructed, and the digital adaptation is by far the best means to experience everything this bit of history offers.

True to its name, Shards of Infinity delivers but a sliver of Ascension’s all-encompassing approach. But fans of dueling deckbuilder Star Realms (also available for a bitesize price on Steam) would do well to check out this slick evolution of the format. Damage isn’t the only king here; victory is achievable through your mastery track as well, encouraging fresh designs for your card-crunching engine. One-on-one fights can be over in 10 minutes or less, but you can also expand into lengthier three-to-four-player free-for-alls as well.
The digital editions of both games work flawlessly on Steam and mobile and are a great chance to set up regular showdowns with distanced friends. They’ll also save you from agonizing hours spent sleeving each and every card in your favorite boxes -- the only wear and tear you’ll have to suffer on a digital release is the slow, inevitable death of your solid state drive. 

Eurogame (economic): Terraforming Mars

digital board games better than the originals

Jacob Fryxelius’ 2016 release is an irrefutably genius creation. Rival corporations race to transform the red planet into a new home for earth, funding projects to improve production of plants, heat, energy, and their own Terraforming Rating. It’s a temptingly realistic prospect, and the myriad routes to victory mean every game plays out in a unique fashion. Unfortunately, it’s also hideous.

If you’re a dedicated Going Analog fan – and we won’t accept viewpoints to the contrary – you’ll know that Terraforming Mars already secured a tainted place on our list of great games with dreadful art. The physical edition is packed with stock photo art assets, garish color choices, and printing mishaps. It's fortunate that the game pairs its out-of-this-world setting with quality to match, or we likely wouldn’t have given it a second look.

Thank the stars (or perhaps planets), then, that someone at Asmodee Digital recognized a problem begging to be fixed. Maintaining the card art of the original, the digital edition masks its faults under a stylish futuristic interface and subtle-yet-satisfying animations. Instead of an overworked scientist desperately scrawling equations on the back of a notepad, this version of Terraforming Mars has you feeling like a cool and calculating project lead. Basically like Elon Musk but less of a dick.

Roll-and-write: Ganz Schӧn Clever (That’s Pretty Clever)

digital board games that are better than their originals

A roll-and-write without any rolling or writing might seem like a pretty stupid idea. But we’d ask you to hold onto those pithy insults until you’ve tossed the digital dice of Ganz Schӧn Clever’s mobile release. Trading pencils and paper for quick taps of the finger turns an already speedy game into a blitz of iteration and improvement. As a result, the app becomes a phenomenally digestible yet moreish puzzle.

It’s not just for sudoku-loving souls, either. Unlike most rigid brainteasers, Ganz Schӧn Clever allows the player to approach its boxes as they please. You’ll never hit a roadblock for ticking one region over another. Begin to tease out the combos and interlacing powers, however, and optimal paths will naturally begin to emerge.

We’d probably still opt pen and paper when playing with friends, but the upgrade in efficiency (and blessed removal of end-round math) here turns Ganz Schӧn Clever into one of the best solo puzzle games we’ve ever played. Runs take mere minutes to complete, but attempting different combos and paths through each chamber of this acutely designed puzzle is capable of gobbling up hours.

Eurogame (drafting): 7 Wonders

The best digital board games

Among the illustrious Hanging Gardens of Babylon and towering Colossus of Rhodes, do you know what didn’t make it into the 7 Wonders of the World? The Dreary Den of Card Dealing. Shocking, we know, but somehow such grand human actions didn’t really warrant a place in the history books. 

Advancing through 7 Wonders’ ages offers an immensely rewarding sense of progress. Chaining previous constructions into free upgrades or capitalizing on your neighbors’ rare resource needs with smart forward planning feels glorious. Setting up and dishing out the generational cards each game, sadly, does not. 

Fortunately, as the Wonders themselves demonstrate, humanity’s ingenuity knows no bounds. Technology has once again come to the rescue, this time in the form of Board Game Arena. Sign up and you’ll find an official adaptation of Antoine Bauza’s 2010 box that’s good enough to grace the Temple of Artemis. 

Board Game Arena’s version will likely never rival the visual splendor of the physical release. But by whittling away all of the time-consuming edges, it transforms 7 Wonders into a different category of game entirely. Rather than an hour-long, invested affair, an automated game with experienced players can be breezed through in a swift 30 minutes or less. 

Suddenly, 7 Wonders becomes the perfect way to kick off an online gaming night or to fill in some time while someone drops out to order food or cook. It won’t replace the box on our shelves, but in the current world climate this version of 7 Wonders fills a much needed space in our virtual catalogues.


If you’ve been enjoying any other standout digital adaptations of board games, then be sure to share them with us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Check out the Going Analog Podcast to hear more of our gaming loves, or challenge yourself with a watch of our ongoing board game Quiz Show!

When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Gloomhaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found gobbling up all the latest and greatest party games, then wondering why he can never find the time to actually play them with friends. Share your love of deckbuilders with him on Twitter @Fernoface or drop an email to hstenhouse@rektglobal.com.