5 best open source board games to play online

I have always had a fascination with board games, in part because they are a device of social interaction, they challenge the mind and, most importantly, they are great fun to play. In my misspent youth, myself and a group of friends gathered together to escape the horrors of the classroom, and indulge in a little escapism. The time provided an outlet for tension and rivalry. Board games help teach diplomacy, how to make and break alliances, bring families and friends together, and learn valuable lessons.

I had a panache for abstract strategy games such as chess and draughts, as well as word games. I can still never resist a game of Escape from Colditz, a strategy card and dice-based board game, or Risk; two timeless multi-player strategy board games. But Catan remains my favourite board game.

Board games have seen a resurgence in recent years, and Linux has a good range of board games to choose from. There is a credible implementation of Catan called Pioneers. But for my favourite implementations of classic board games to play online, check out the recommendations below.


TripleA in action

TripleA is an open source online turn based strategy game. It allows people to implement and play various strategy board games (ie. Axis & Allies). The TripleA engine has full networking support for online play, support for sounds, XML support for game files, and has its own imaging subsystem that allows for customized user editable maps to be used. TripleA is versatile, scalable and robust.

TripleA started out as a World War II simulation, but now includes different conflicts, as well as variations and mods of popular games and maps. TripleA comes with multiple games and over 100 more games can be downloaded from the user community.

Features include:

  • Good interface and attractive graphics
  • Optional scenarios
  • Multiplayer games
  • TripleA comes with the following supported games that uses its game engine (just to name a few):
    • Axis & Allies : Classic edition (2nd, 3rd with options enabled)
    • Axis & Allies : Revised Edition
    • Pact of Steel A&A Variant
    • Big World 1942 A&A Variant
    • Four if by Sea
    • Battle Ship Row
    • Capture The Flag
    • Minimap
  • Hot-seat
  • Play By EMail mode allows persons to play a game via EMail without having to be connected to each other online
    • More time to think out moves
    • Only need to come online to send your turn to the next player
    • Dice rolls are done by a dedicated dice server that is independent of TripleA
    • All dice rolls are PGP Verified and email to every player
    • Every move and every dice roll is logged and saved in TripleA’s History Window
    • An online game can be later continued under PBEM mode
    • Hard for others to cheat
  • Hosted online lobby
  • Utilities for editing maps
  • Website: triplea.sourceforge.net
  • Developer: Sean Bridges (original developer), Mark Christopher Duncan
  • License: GNU GPL v2
  • Version Number:


Domination in action

Domination is an open source game that shares common themes with the hugely popular Risk board game. It has many game options and includes many maps.

In the classic “World Domination” game of military strategy, you are battling to conquer the world. To win, you must launch daring attacks, defend yourself to all fronts, and sweep across vast continents with boldness and cunning. But remember, the dangers, as well as the rewards, are high. Just when the world is within your grasp, your opponent might strike and take it all away!

Features include:

  • Simple to learn
    • Domination – you must occupy all countries on the map, and thereby eliminate all opponents. These can be long, drawn out games
    • Capital – each player has a country they have selected as a Capital. To win the game, you must occupy all Capitals
    • Mission – each player draws a random mission. The first to complete their mission wins. Missions may include the elimination of a certain colour, occupation of a particular continent, or a mix of both
  • Map editor
  • Simple map format
  • Multiplayer network play
  • Single player
  • Hotseat
  • 5 user interfaces
  • Game types:
  • Play online
  • Website: domination.sourceforge.net
  • Developer: Yura Mamyrin, Christian Weiske, Mike Chaten, and many others
  • License: GNU GPL v3
  • Version Number:


Micro-Max in action

PyChess is a Gnome inspired chess client written in Python.

The goal of PyChess, is to provide a fully featured, nice looking, easy to use chess client for the gnome-desktop.

The client should be usable both to those totally new to chess, those who want to play an occasional game, and those who wants to use the computer to further enhance their play.

Features include:

  • Attractive interface
  • Chess Engine Communication Protocol (CECP) and Univeral Chess Interface (UCI) Engine support
  • Free online play on the Free Internet Chess Server (FICS)
  • Read and writes PGN, EPD and FEN chess file formats
  • Built-in Python based engine
  • Undo and pause functions
  • Board and piece animation
  • Drag and drop
  • Tabbed interface
  • Hints and spyarrows
  • Opening book sidepanel using sqlite
  • Score plot sidepanel
  • “Enter game” in pgn dialog
  • Optional sounds
  • Legal move highlighting
  • Internationalised or figure pieces in notation
  • Website: www.pychess.org
  • Developer: Thomas Dybdahl Ahle
  • License: GNU GPL v2
  • Version Number: 0.12 Anderssen rc4

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Scrabble in action

Scrabble3D is a highly customizable Scrabble game that not only supports Classic Scrabble and Superscrabble but also 3D games and own boards. You can play local against the computer or connect to a game server to find other players.

Scrabble is a board game with the goal to place letters crossword like. Up to four players take part and get a limited amount of letters (usually 7 or 8). Consecutively, each player tries to compose his letters to one or more word combining with the placed words on the game array. The value of the move depends on the letters (rare letter get more points) and bonus fields which multiply the value of a letter or the whole word. The player with most points win.

This idea is extended with Scrabble3D to the third dimension. Of course, a classic game with 15×15 fields or Superscrabble with 21×21 fields can be played and you may configure any field setting by yourself. The game can be played by the provided freeware program against Computer, other local players or via internet. Last but not least it’s possible to connect to a game server to find other players and to obtain a rating. Most options are configurable, including the number and valuation of letters, the used dictionary, the language of dialogs and certainly colors, fonts etc.

Features include:

  • Configurable board, letterset and design
  • Board in OpenGL graphics with user-definable wavefront model
  • Game against computer with support of multithreading
  • Post-hoc game analysis with calculation of best move by computer
  • Match with other players connected on a game server
  • NSA rating and highscore at game server
  • Time limit of games
  • Localization; use of non-standard digraphs like CH, RR, LL and right to left reading
  • Multilanguage help / wiki
  • Network games are buffered and asynchronous games are possible
  • Running games can be kibitzed
  • International rules including italian “Cambio Secco”
  • Challenge mode, What-if-variant, CLABBERS, etc


Backgammon in action

GNU Backgammon (gnubg) is a strong backgammon program (world-class with a bearoff database installed) usable either as an engine by other programs or as a standalone backgammon game. It is able to play and analyze both money games and tournament matches, evaluate and roll out positions, and more.

In addition to supporting simple play, it also has extensive analysis features, a tutor mode, adjustable difficulty, and support for exporting annotated games.

It currently plays at about the level of a championship flight tournament player and is gradually improving.

gnubg can be played on numerous on-line backgammon servers, such as the First Internet Backgammon Server (FIBS).

Features include:

  • A command line interface (with full command editing features if GNU readline is available) that lets you play matches and sessions against GNU Backgammon with a rough ASCII representation of the board on text terminals
  • Support for a GTK+ interface with a graphical board window. Both 2D and 3D graphics are available
  • Tournament match and money session cube handling and cubeful play
  • Support for both 1-sided and 2-sided bearoff databases: 1-sided bearoff database for 15 checkers on the first 6 points and optional 2-sided database kept in memory. Optional larger 1-sided and 2-sided databases stored on disk
  • Automated rollouts of positions, with lookahead and race variance reduction where appropriate. Rollouts may be extended
  • Functions to generate legal moves and evaluate positions at varying search depths
  • Neural net functions for giving cubeless evaluations of all other contact and race positions
  • Automatic and manual annotation (analysis and commentary) of games and matches
  • Record keeping of statistics of players in games and matches (both native inside GNU Backgammon and externally using relational databases and Python)
  • Loading and saving analyzed games and matches as .sgf files (Smart Game Format)
  • Exporting positions, games and matches to: (.eps) Encapsulated Postscript, (.gam) Jellyfish Game, (.html) HTML, (.mat) Jellyfish Match, (.pdf) PDF, (.png) Portable Network Graphics, (.pos) Jellyfish Position, (.ps) PostScript, (.sgf) Gnu Backgammon File, (.tex) LaTeX, (.txt) Plain Text, (.txt) Snowie Text
  • Import of matches and positions from a number of file formats: (.bkg) Hans Berliner’s BKG Format, (.gam) GammonEmpire Game, (.gam) PartyGammon Game, (.mat) Jellyfish Match, (.pos) Jellyfish Position, (.sgf) Gnu Backgammon File, (.sgg) GamesGrid Save Game, (.tmg) TrueMoneyGames, (.txt) Snowie Text
  • Python Scripting
  • Native language support; 10 languages complete or in progress
  • Website: www.gnubg.org
  • Developer: Joseph Heled, Oystein Johansen, Jonathan Kinsey, David Montgomery, Jim Segrave, Joern Thyssen, Gary Wong and contributors
  • License: GPL v2
  • Version Number: 1.05.000
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