Abstract Strategy Games Online: The Definitive Guide
This is a (regularly updated) guide to the best places to learn about/discuss/play/buy abstract games online. I’m an abstract strategy games nutjob and apoplectic web surfer, so I was in a good position to compile this. I wish it had existed when I first got interested in the subject.
I’ve excluded sites dedicated to individual games, because there are too many to list. I’ve also excluded sites about board games generally, so you don’t have to wade through irrelevant stuff. I’ve tried to include only the most active/authoritative sites. In the comments, please point to stuff I should add.
1. Game Databases
2. Where to Play Abstract Games Online
3. Discussion (Forums)
4. Blogs and Individual Game Designers’ Sites
5. Abstract Games Publishers
Where you should go to find lists of games and their rules.
Abstract Game Collection at Board Game Geek – By far the biggest and most complete collection of abstract strategy games online (more than 1000), although it includes some mislabeled games which shouldn’t be there. It’s focus is on commercially published games. Newcomers often find the site hard to use.
World of Abstract Games – This site has been around forever and isn’t the prettiest on earth, but it’s easy to navigate, has lots of games, and I believe it’s still intermittently updated.
The List at AbstractStrategy.com – This one has also been around forever, and I’m not sure it’s updated anymore, but has a ton of games and must be included.
igGameCenter Rules Page – igGameCenter is a site for playing abstract games in real time online (see below), and it has a well-designed collection of rules for the more than 140 games you can play there.
List of Abstract Strategy Games at Wikipedia – Far from comprehensive but still good. Has great potential because it’s wikipedia and anyone can add games (and I hope you do).
ChessVariants.org – Chess variants are a major sub-genre of abstract games and many designers, present company included, started designing games through chess variants. This site is (emphatically) the first and last word on the subject.
Traditional Mancala Variants and Modern Mancala Variants – Mancala variants are a second major sub-genre of abstract games (Mancala is a several-thousand-years-old game from Africa). This site, Mancala World, describes more than two hundred variants.
Where to Play Abstract Games Online
The list below includes only the good sites, and not the many pretenders where it’s hard to find a game or use the interface.
igGameCenter – This is one of my two favorite sites for playing abstract games online in real-time. Features more than 140 games, a clean, simple interface, and lots of nice play-options (different time controls, etc.). The site also has a tool called the “sandbox”, which game designers use to playtest new game concepts.
Boardspace.net – My other favorite real-time play site. Doesn’t have as many games as igGameCenter, and is maybe a tad klunkier, but great graphics, lots of players, and 56 carefully curated games to choose from.
Little Golem – My favorite turn-based site (which means players don’t need to be online at the same time to play; one player takes a move whenever and the game just sits there until the other player gets online and makes her move). Features only 22 games, but they’re generally excellent.
Mindsports – Site owned by one of the pillars of abstract game design: Christian Freeling. Can play in real time, but you need to be running Java, I believe. Features 95 games (see here and here), many of which you can’t find online anywhere else.
Gamerz – Older turn-based site boasting an active membership, many prominent abstract game designers, and plenty of games.
Skill Games Board – Offers a small number of classic abstract games for turn-based play. I don’t know much about about and haven’t played there, but it looks sharp and is designed to work well on mobile devices, which isn’t always true of in-browser platforms.
Public Abstract Games Google Doc – I created this a few years ago, and at first not much happened, but then Clark Rodeffer stepped in and made it useful. Because Google Docs can be edited at the same time by two or more people, you can use it to play abstract games online in real time, and that’s what this document allows you to do. It’s a presentation doc where each slide pictures a board and pieces for playing a different game. There are 44 games there now, and it’s easy to make and add your own, which makes it excellent for playtesting new game concepts. Please treat it with care.
Definitive List of Abstract Games for iPhones and iPads – This is a curated list I created because it’s terribly hard to find what you’re looking for in the iTunes App Store. Contains about 50 games, both classic and modern. Many of them allow you to play online.
There have many attempts over the years to create thriving online discussion groups about abstract games. The following are the least dead among them, even if a couple are indeed mostly dead.
Abstract Game Forum at Board Game Geek – The most active forum for abstract games presently, though as with all things on Board Game Geek, newbies can find the site intimidating.
Abstract Games Subreddit – I’m one of those demented Reddit acolytes who can’t sing the site’s praises loudly enough. So I’m happy a subreddit for abstract games exists, even if it’s not very active here in its early days. If it gets active it’ll likely become my favorite discussion spot.
Recre.Games.Combinatorial – This is an invite-only site with a bunch of prominent designers in the membership. Fairly inactive, but it’s worth asking to become a member if you want to interact with good game designers.
Google+ Abstract Game Community – this is a new group, and not yet particularly active, but I think it has promise, not in the least because Google+ communities have groovy features.
Rec.Games.Abstract – This used to be the most important/active abstract games forum, but over the last 2 years has wilted in the heat of perpetual flame war. I may strike this from the list if it doesn’t shape up.
Discussion Page at Chessvariants.org – As mentioned, this site is just for Chess variants. The forum here is lively as abstract games forums go, which is a nice change of pace.
Blogs and Individual Game Designers’ Sites
There are many more active abstract game designers than designers who have good websites. Too bad. There’s been talk about creating a collective site where designers present their stuff and discuss games, so as to create a central hub for abstract games online, but as yet no one has put in the (considerable) work needed to start it.
Trabsact Sagme Diaries – The blog of Joao Pedro Neto and Bill Taylor, two of the great sages of abstract game design. I love these guys. The blog covers their own designs, modifications of other people’s designs, and uniquely, historical games about which I can find discussion nowhere else.
Cameron Browne’s Games – Cameron is ushering table game design into the 21st century by writing software that AUTONOMOUSLY DESIGNS GAMES. You read that right. That’s his day job. Which means I couldn’t more jealous of him. He doesn’t have a blog but he describes a bunch of his (excellent) games on this site.
Spielstein – The site of Deiter Stein, a German designer who concocts elegant abstract games and then gets them published in classy editions. I don’t know Deiter well, but I know and like his games plenty.
Mark Steere Games – I hesitate to put this here because, in addition to being a well-known game designer, Mark is a notorious internet troll. But his games are many and many are good (see Oust especially) and this list would feel incomplete if I didn’t include his site.
Nick Bentley Games – The site you’re reading right now this very instant. It’s a testament to how few online resources exist for abstract games that it merits mention.
Combinatorial Game Theory – This blog is maintained by a professor in combinatorial game theory. There are a number of other sites on the same subject but I decided to link to only one (the only one I know of that’s regularly updated) because game theory is a little obscure to most people. If you’re interested though, you can find a number of other good sites on the subject on the right side-bar of the site I’ve linked to.
Abstract Games Publishers
There are many companies that publish abstract games, but usually just one or two, either as sideline or as the only games they publish. The companies below both focus on abstract games and publish a bunch of them, which isn’t easy. I believe you can buy games directly from each of these publishers. I urge you to do so, because I want them to thrive, and they make more money when they don’t have to share revenue with middlemen.
Gerhards Spiel und Design – German publisher which makes a bunch of beautiful wooden abstract games. The link is to an English language version of their site.
Nestorgames – A small company offering a big bunch of excellent abstract strategy games. The sets themselves are inexpensive and portable, if a little cheap-feeling – mostly made of plastic, foam, and acrylic.
Kadon – Another little indie company. This one has been around forever and their website is old school, but the company is active as ever making abstract games and logic puzzles. Quality varies from game to game. Their sets are generally made of either laser-cut acrylic or wood.
Gigamic – French company known for making attractive wooden game sets. They’re perfect for leaving out on coffee-tables.
Foxmind – A Montreal company offering a number of abstract games (and a few non-abstracts as well). Their sets are made of wood and/or plastic.
Maranda – Maranda has only been making games for a couple of years but they’ve quickly built a good line of 2-player, luckless, abstract games. They generally have simple, intuitive rules, even by abstract game standards, which I love. Their sets are attractive and made of wood and/or plastic.
Marbles: The Brain Store – Marbles is both a publisher and retailer: they sell “brain” games through a chain of retail stores. What’s amazing about the retail part is that it’s premium retail (I first encountered their stores in the swanky Water Tower Place on Michigan Avenue in Chicago), and appears to be thriving, in an age when both abstract games and bricks-and-mortar game stores are sucker’s bets, commercially. The company has somehow managed to mush together two crappy businesses to create a good one. There’s some kind of black magic going on here (read: smart branding). See this list of all the abstract games they sell.
Last updated September 16, 2013