One of the greatest joys of tabletop gaming is its ability to foster friendships, camaraderie, and stellar social gatherings. But what about in times when meeting face-to-face is difficult or impossible (like, say, during a global pandemic?) Should we consign ourselves to months of cloistered tabletop celibacy, unable to see sparks of joy across the faces of family and friends; forever pining for those days of intense wargame tournaments and everlasting board game nights?
No! Fear no more, for there are remote, contact-free solutions to continue your tile-laying and dice-rolling needs in these dark times – and foremost among them is PC-based emulation swiss army knife Tabletop Simulator. Costing a mere $19.99 / £ 14.99 on Steam, the overflowing repository of free (or very cheap) board game delights within features some of the best, most popular games, lovingly converted into digital form.
Browsing its Steam Workshop page for mods to load into the game engine, you’ll find everything from quick-fire card games, to epic grand-strategy titles, to miniature wargames, to award-winning Eurogames. Something for everyone, and many of high quality.
But among all this choice, it can be difficult to know where to start, and with so many duplicate games uploaded to Steam, it can be even harder narrowing down which mod is going to give you the best replication of your chosen game. To provide a guiding hand, we’ve created this list of the very finest games available to play through Tabletop Simulator. Take a pick of one of your firm favourites, or branch out and try a new title that grabs your attention.
Take note, the games listed here are fan-made mods. We’ve selected a fairly refined bunch, with little in the way of bugs or technical faults. That can’t be said for all offerings you’ll come across, though, so make sure to read any mod’s description and reviews, to scope out its level of completeness before diving in.
Prepare your cyberdice and initialise your digiboards, because…
These are the best Tabletop Simulator games:
- Dungeons and Dragons
- Star Wars: X-Wing
- Spirit Island
- Warhammer 40k
- Cuba Libre
- Secret Hitler
- Twilight Imperium
Dungeons and Dragons
The original and everlasting classic of tabletop RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons is particularly well-suited to online play. Requiring only pen and paper and a single 20-sided die in its most basic form, its roleplaying lends itself to remote video chats, where the shared tabletop is cast aside and the game master has only their dulcet tones to descriptively colour the players’ quest. Now, D&D can just as easily be played across Roll20 and other digital map-making platforms, as it can on the table.
But many of these remote adaptations don’t capture the sheer scale or physicality of an adventure. It may be possible to play D&D with only the boxed faces of your party members accompanying you over video chat, but for lots of players, the RPG is at its best when it embraces the tabletop – when you can plan characters’ movement across a realised, 3D environment, see the beholder’s bulbous eye shift ever closer to your vulnerable party, and taste that sweet smell of victory as your animated die lands on a natural 20.
Tabletop Simulator mods do a great job of recreating the action of D&D in the absence of proximity. Map your party’s encounters, model the hamlet they’ve stumbled into, and use miniatures to simulate large battles. With a growing selection of tables to choose from (we recommend this DND 5e Table for its bevy of additional features, like rollable dice and support sheets), and a host of miniatures mods to juggle your favourite models (like this popular DnD 5e Miniatures mod), it’s easy to dive right into a game. Pick a table, grab some friends, and start hosting a D&D campaign with all the visual accessories in a few minutes.
In some cases, shifting your roleplaying to the screen might improve your D&D experience. Few people have space in their home for a gigantic gaming table on which to skirmish, and may not feel inclined to cart out several pretty pennies to build a formidable miniatures collection. Music and sound effects are also more of a breeze, requiring just a few clicks to cue up, mix and fade in.Test your roleplaying on the small screen; maybe it will become your go-to.
STAR WARS: X-WING
Star Wars: X-Wing aptly recreates the frenetic dogfighting of the classic sci-fi franchise. Starfighters zip around asteroid fields, barrel-roll to evade incoming fire, and perform daring manoeuvres as they line up the perfect shot to blast their pursuant into specks of shiny space-dust. You’ll be commanding a small squadron of fighters, tactically planning their movements and resolving their attacks in anticipation of your enemy’s move.
All the classic Star Wars ships make an appearance – from various Tie Fighters, to the stalwart Y-Wing bombers, to more renowned ships, like Boba Fett’s Slave 1 – and each can be kitted out with customisable loadouts and pilots that grant powerful combat abilities. Fly directly through an asteroid field and pray your pilot’s defensive buffs keep your ship intact, or perform a tight U-turn and leverage your increased accuracy to shoot down the enemy vessel before they have a chance to nab you.
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This scripted mod provides all the models, upgrade cards, and pilots, needed to dive into a quick game of tactical space dogfighting, presented with an easy-to-use squad builder. A massive supply of models from the Rebel, Empire, and Scum and Villainy factions lets you test out virtually any ship that tickles your fancy, and automated movement, range finder, and target locks dispense any need to handle fiddly movement templates. Models are automatically moved forward upon your selection.
Aside from being a fantastic recreation of the tabletop game, it’s also a great means of playing any models you haven’t yet bought. See if that Tie Defender is all it’s cracked up to be in the digital version, before making the investment in hard, Imperial grey plastic.
A venerable classic strategy board game with a charmingly destructive theme, Spirit Island charges you to defend a magical island from nefarious European invaders who would exploit its elemental power. You’ll be cooperating with other players, each playing as a unique elemental spirit, to cast powers and disrupt the encroaching colonisers. Call upon the mighty forces of nature to destroy their settlements, burn their houses, and drown their people, casting a message so stark, so powerful, so wanton, that they have no choice but to surrender and leave your Elysium in peace.
Colonisers invade new areas of the island as the game progresses, spreading their industrial blight to gradually ravage your territory if left unchecked. Fortunately, you’ll also accumulate new spirit powers, developing your abilities to more easily wipe the island of colonisers. Settlements will quickly grow, and the colonisers’ presence may spiral out of control before you’ve realised what’s happened. Plan ahead and leverage every power you can to show those invasive settlers what’s what.
The Tabletop Simulator version of Spirit Island works so well because of the game’s lethargic turn-to-turn mechanics. Tokens are added to the main game board and cards played, but there’s no fast-paced movement or action to account for. The mod is comprehensive and well-tailored to capture the simple aesthetics and functionality of the original game.
The most popular sci-fi miniatures game in the world, Warhammer 40K is a tricky beast to play online. With none of the many (arguably too many) licensed videogames aptly recreating the structure or mechanics of the tabletop game, there’s no official means of waging virtual miniature war in the grimdark future.
And of course, no one wants to merely describe their skirmishes over a video call. As thrilling as it sounds to vocalise the raw power of a Redemptor Dreadnought stomping across the battlefield, waving its flamer in the face of a Necron Warrior, and burning its soulless mechanical husk, it’s far more engaging to actually see the hulking mech towering above the puny skeletal machine, before flicking it from the field.
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Tabletop Simulator presents a perfect solution. A casual search in Steam Workshop reveals pages upon pages of miniatures mods (from individual models to whole army rosters) for units of most factions, with complimentary maps, terrain, and even snippets of army codexes to fully digitise your session. An in-game measurement tool helps move units and assess firing range, and dice mods will have you rolling all the requisite six-sided friends. To start, check out this Simple Warhammer 40K mod of maps, terrain, and scripted objectives, this huge Space Marine miniatures mod, and this Chaos Space Marine army mod. It’s not a dead simple process getting your game set up, but there are some cracking tools out there – look out for a more in-depth Wargamer guide on this very soon!
Of course, the miniatures aren’t as gorgeously painted as many of their tabletop counterparts, and budging them around in-game isn’t so flexible. But between playing an albeit clunky version of Warhammer 40K complete with lovingly-modelled miniatures of all your favourite units, and playing none at all, we think the former wins out.
CUBA LIBRE (A GMT COIN GAME)
Widely hailed as the smoothest introduction to GMT Games’ counter-insurgency (COIN) wargames series, Cuba Libra takes you to the heart of the Cuban Revolution. Playing as Fidel Castro’s revolutionary leftists, anti-communists, the corrupt Cuban Government, or the shadowy criminal Syndicate, players will jostle for territorial control, settling through force and guile the question of who should be running things in the Caribbean Island.
Military actions will see you recruit and move troops across provinces and attack enemy forces, while political and economic decisions will disrupt the enemy and sabotage their war efforts. Factions have unique abilities and must leverage their strengths to stay on top of their opponents, but a deck of ‘event cards’ is the real driving force of conflict. Reflecting historical moments of the revolution, the events throw up moments of disruption, benefiting some factions and harming others. Each time an event card is played, the next event is revealed, allowing players to prepare for its effects and bolster their forces in anticipation.
The game’s slow, considered turn-taking translates wonderfully to the digital board of Tabletop Simulator, and this Cuba Libre mod recreates the game’s core components smoothly. Emphasising deliberate strategy over fast action, Cuba Libre is a fantastic game to play over an evening, with friends eager to delve deep into tactical decision-making, and formulating plans of action. Or, if they’re busy, play it solitaire and test your mettle against the card deck.
It’s simple, it’s charming, and it’s the most popular gateway board game around: Catan (as in ‘The Settlers Of’) is an excellent pick for players new to the world of tabletop gaming and veteran board gamers alike – especially if you’re tired of million-piece megaboxes and in need of light relief.
Players become colonisers of an uninhabited island, collecting resources to build new settlements, construct connecting roads, and rack up enough victory points to crown themselves settler king. Plan your city construction carefully to ensure access to all necessary resources, scupper your opponents’ plans by grabbing the best available construction spots, and trade your way up to building a sizable colony. But don’t let hubris bring you down – ultimately, the luck of the die will decide the resources you amass; you decide how best to use them.
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There’s a slew of Tabletop Simulator Catan mods floating around Steam Workshop, but in our books, the best is the punnily-named The Scripts of Catan. Automatic board generation and tile layout dispense with any pre-game faff, and a running tally scoreboard takes all notetaking out of your hands. It comes packed with the board game’s expansion for five to six players, too, so is perfect for big game nights.
Only the base game is included, so look around to other mods if you’re desperate to play the Seafarers or Cities and Knights expansion. For everyone else, though, it provides quick, streamlined fun.
Accusing your friends of being fascists isn’t the most obviously enjoyable pastime, but Secret Hitler proves that discovering your mates’ most reprehensible political machinations can be as thrilling as it is nerve-wracking. Even better when the game is set during the tumultuous devolution of 1930s Weimar Germany.
A social deduction party game, some players will be assigned the role of secret fascists, whose political leanings are known only to themselves, and are tasked with disrupting the orderly government proceedings of their supposed fellow liberal policymakers. They’ll be looking to sabotage the liberal teams’ bills to assert their authoritarian might, while the opposing team must gradually deduct who among them are the saboteurs. If the liberals can pass five of their bills or kill the Secret Hitler leading the fascist insurrection, they’ll achieve victory. Otherwise, the road to dictatorship awaits.
All of the game’s shrewd deduction and nervous second-guessing translates marvellously to Tabletop Simulator. With little action taking place on the table, the mod serves more to provide the pieces of the game, while your voice chats and harried accusations generate the fun. The game’s scripted gameplay mechanics, including assigning player roles and dealing cards, quicken setup and are perfect for a quick party session.
The big daddy of cooperative RPG dungeon-crawlers, Gloomhaven is a big game, in a big box, with a big Tabletop Simulator mod. Build a character, journey across the realm of Gloomhaven, and dive into scenarios of tactical, hex-grid combat wherein battle is simulated through unique class decks of combat cards. You’ll be leveraging your character’s class abilities to fend off swarms of monsters, bandits, and dungeon horrors, while levelling your skills and developing new abilities. Add a bit of roleplay, if that’s your flavour, among the plentiful opportunities for players to flesh out their characters and relationships in the world.
But if you don’t fancy purchasing its gargantuan box, nor sorting through its reams of tokens, modular map tiles, and character icons before setting up each scenario, this Tabletop Simulator Gloomhaven mod does a superb job of transferring its constituent parts into a fully scripted game.
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The whole campaign has been digitally recreated, with every one of the nearly 100 scenarios and 17 unlockable classes included, allowing you to play the game just as you would on the tabletop.
Character and scenario setup is automatic, the health of player characters and enemy monsters is recorded alongside their (many) status effects, and 3D models of all six starting classes are included to give a touch of visual flair. And if none of your buddies will play with you, jump into its solo mode. A little more punishing that the cooperative counterpart, but just as fun.
A gargantuan sci-fi universe replete with intergalactic political manoeuvrings, fluctuating diplomatic relationships, military dependencies, and hilariously ridiculous alien races that isn’t Dune, Twilight Imperium could well be the pinnacle of space strategy gameplay in board game form.
The game is huge – bigger than whatever you’re currently thinking – and will likely take days for you to finally bring to a close. Players take control of one of 17 factions, each with unique abilities and technological variants, across a violent struggle of empire-building, political backstabbing, and economic harrying to declare themselves master of the galaxy and sit upon the throne of Mecatol Rex (because why would it be called anything else?).
This Tabletop Simulator Twilight Imperium mod loyally recreates the game in all of its vast grand-strategy glory. Don’t expect any kind of hand-holding, though. If the original board game strikes you as a confusing mess of infinite possibilities that sits closer to spreadsheet management than a rip-roaring board game, this digital version will be no different. But if you’re au fait with the game already, the mod does wonders for your remote machinations.
Kickstarter success story Nemesis drops you into a sci-fi horror nightmare, replete with a bloodthirsty alien menace, crumbling spaceship, and moments of such sheer anxiety-producing nausea it veers on the cinematic. Not bad for a board game. Taking a not-so-subtle nod from Alien, you play as a spaceship crew member recently awoken from hypersleep, finding yourself wounded, your spaceship malfunctioning, and one of your crewmates so violently decimated within their hypersleep pod, it could only have been the work of some malevolent intruder. You’ll have to fix the ship, get back to Earth and, more pressingly, stay alive.
Nemesis plays as a semi-cooperative game of cat and mouse. Each crew member is dealt secret, personal objective cards. Some are community-spirited and will have you helping the whole crew, while others are more selfish, tasking you to complete goals that will jeopardise the lives of others or conflict with the objectives of others. Explore the ship and discover its randomised layout, feeling your way through its dark interior.
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Butting heads with fellow crew members will be the least of your worries, though. Hostile alien organisms stalk the claustrophobic corridors of your vessel, evolving into more deadly trans-dimensional life forms as the game progresses. Careful not to walk into an empty room lest one of these monstrosities is waiting to puncture and infect you, stay close to your crewmates for backup (or bait), but watch their moves – they’ll only help you so long as you’re useful to their objective.
Nemesis works so wonderfully in Tabletop Simulator because it encourages frenzied communication within its action-oriented gameplay. Form tense alliances with your crew members before stabbing them in the back, leaving them to face the aliens’ wrath while you scurry away to the last escape pod; bluff them for assistance, before leaving them helpless. Detailed digital miniatures are also a joy to push around the table, and turn the lights off if you’re really in the mood for a spook.