Board Game Arena: A fun lockdown activity

Board Game Arena: A fun lockdown activity

Board Game ArenaDo you like board games? Are you curious about board games, but haven’t had a chance to try them out? Do you miss playing board games with your friends? Are you looking for a new quarantine activity? Are you bored? Let me tell you about and introduce you to four games that I’ve enjoyed.

If you’re already familiar with the site or just here to hear about the games, you can just skip this part and go to the game recommendations!

Board Game Arena is a website created in 2010, but I first discovered it when the pandemic started, and everyone moved online for various activities. I personally love board games and miss the opportunity to play them with different people in real life, and I’m so glad I discovered this website. It’s free to join (there is a premium membership too, but there’s still loads of free games to play) and doesn’t require installation – only creating an account. You can play on laptop or your phone. It’s such an easy way to discover different games considering that they can be a bit pricey and hard to find as real copies. I also think it’s a much more fun way to procrastinate than browsing social media all the time if you’re bored!

If you’re a bit worried about not knowing whether you quite understand the rules or what you’re allowed to click etc, I can tell you that the games are really well designed for online use. When you’re playing a game, the site will tell you when it’s your turn and what you have to do (for example: “You must play a card” / “You can do X or Y”) and if you make a mistake, the site won’t let you do that action and will say why (“You can’t have more than 7 cards in your hand” etc). The site will also automatically set up the board/pieces/cards and track your scores/points/etc.

Now, how does it work? There’s a list of games that you can scroll through and clicking on them will tell you a bit more about them (how complex they are from 0 to 5, how many players, the premise) and will link you to a video explaining the rules and a PDF of the rulebook. When you click “play now”, you are directed to a lobby where you can create a “table” or join a table made by others. If you create a table, you can choose how many people you want to play with and what other additional settings to use (for example, some games have expansions or alternative rules that can be applied).

You can invite your friends only to play with you or leave the table open for strangers to join. All players have a reputation ranking: it means that if someone stops playing or leaves the game entirely, they will lose some reputation. All players also have an “ELO” ranking for different games. It shows how experienced they are at that specific game: others can see if you’re a beginner and will know that you might take your time to think during your move.

I recommend watching the video tutorial first and having a PDF of the rules open on a different tab just in case when playing a game for the first time.

That’s the basics!

I’m now going to tell you about four games, ranging from 1/5 to 3/5 complexity, that are all relatively easy to learn but aren’t too one-dimensional either.

CuBirds (1/5 complexity) (2-5 players)

Board Game CuBirds

CuBirds is a card game where you collect flocks of birds. On your turn you have to place birds from your hand to the table (and by doing this you will gain new bird cards) and can complete a flock if you have enough birds. If someone gains 7 flocks of different species OR 3 flocks of 2 species in their collection, that player wins. That’s it; the gameplay is very simple to learn, but it has a couple of rules that make it very interesting and fun!

For example, when placing birds on one of the rows, you have to put all of the cards in your hand of the species you’re placing. If the species you placed is already present on the row, you get all the cards that are between those cards (for example, if the row looks like duck + owl + flamingo and you place a duck on the right end, you will get owl and flamingo). Also, if someone’s hand is empty, everyone else’s cards may disappear too and will be dealt 8 new ones. So, it’s not always easy to collect the species you want, and you need to pay attention to what others are doing.

I think it’s best with 3 players!

Tokaido (2/5 complexity) (2-5 players)

Board Game Tokaido

In Tokaido, you’re a traveller in Japan. The board is a “road” that you and your fellow players move on, and each space is a destination (village, hot spring, panorama, etc) or an inn, where the players buy food. The game ends when everyone has reached the final inn, and the player with the highest score wins.

This game is awesome because the artwork is so pretty and it’s quite a calm game as you only need to move forward and complete the actions on the stops. But there’s also a lot to think about when playing because you can earn points in so many ways and you have to keep in mind that you need money as well. You will also have to choose a character at the start, and each character has a special ability or bonus. What’s also interesting about this game is that the player who’s “first” on the road is not the one whose turn it is first: the player who’s last gets to go next. So, there might be a stop you really want to go to (for example the farm to get money), but if it’s far away you will have to think if it’s worth missing a few turns for.

There’s also an expansion called “Crossroads” which adds even more actions that you can take on the stops and makes the game quite chaotic – if you’re playing for the first time, make sure that the game set to the normal version when joining or creating a table!

I think this game is best with 4 players!

Letter Tycoon (2/5 complexity) (2-5 players)

Board Game Letter Tycoon

Letter Tycoon is like Scrabble and Monopoly combined in the form of a card game. You create words out of cards in your own hand (you can use the communal letters too), and you get money for your word. The longer it is, the more money you get (and possibly stocks, which are basically extra points). With your money you can buy “patents” for the letters you used in your latest word: if you own the letter A, you will get royalties if another player uses A in their word. Some of the patents also have special abilities that you can use! The game will end when one of the players has bought enough patents to match or surpass a specific value, for example in a two-player game the limit is 45. The player who has most points at the end wins (money, patents and stocks count as points).

This is great because not only will you need to think about good and long words, but you also have to think whether you want to use the letters that other players already own to avoid giving them extra points.

I think it’s best with 2 players because you get a better grasp of what’s going on!

Alhambra (3/5 complexity) (2-6 players)

Board Game Alhambra

This is a bit more complicated than the others, but not overwhelmingly confusing once you’ve browsed the rules and tried it out. You’re building your own palaces consisting of different buildings, and you buy those buildings with money. On your turn, you can a) take money from the board b) buy a building and place it in your reserve or your palace or c) redesign your palace. There are three scoring rounds (the final one ends the game), during which players will get points depending on what buildings they have and how many of them. The player with the most points wins.

What’s fun about this one is that there are four “currencies” aka different colours of money. So if you want to buy the building that’s currently on sale on the green market square, you have to use green money. Also, if you use exact change when buying the building, you get another turn. So you will have to think whether you want to buy quickly or wait to collect more money cards. You also can’t know when the first two scoring rounds happen! And on top of that, some of the buildings have walls on them, which means they can’t be placed anywhere, but the player who has the longest wall will also get extra points. What was most confusing to me was how exactly you’re allowed to place the buildings in your palace, but this game is so interesting that I don’t mind. I’m still figuring it out!

I’ve only played this one with 3 players, and I really liked it!

That’s all! Bear in mind that although some games are for premium users, you can still join a table created by a premium user for those games, so they’re not completely off limits. I wanted to recommend free games only, but I’ll give a special mention to Takenoko, a game where you’re growing bamboo for a panda and have to complete missions. Highly recommend it.

If you have questions, suggestions, or want to add me as a friend on boardgamearena, drop a comment!

Published by Students, University of Aberdeen


  1. #1

    Great article! I used to gather with my friends for board game sessions all the time before the pandemic, it feels reassuring to know that now we can continue the tradition c:

  2. #2
    Laura Mälkiä

    Thanks Mihail! :)

  3. #3
    Ariel bick

    You have posted a unique article, it's really interesting and helpful For those who are searching for it, Very good work!

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