Gaming iPhone and iPad

5 iPad Family Board Games for Christmas Afternoon

James Bruce 20-12-2013

Move over TV – board games are starting to see a great revival as a family pastime, and they’re perfect for Christmas. But they remain expensive, and intensive to set up, so why not whet your appetite with one of these great iOS versions of classic board games? If games aren’t your thing check out our holiday gift guide for those on the bleeding edge of tech Holiday Shopping List: For Those Who Live At The Bleeding Edge Of Tech What do you get the person who has everything before everyone else? Read More ; and don’t miss our list of Best iPad Apps.


The iPad certainly has it’s advantages when it comes to board games – there’s the price for start. Physical board games typically costs 5 – 10 times as much as the software version, and then there’s ease of setup and clarity of mechanics – no fiddly pieces and no need to write down scores, meaning a faster setup and play time.

The experience doesn’t quite compare to rolling physical dice or holding a hand of cards, and when you need to keep cards secret, playing multiplayer on a single iPad can be particularly problematic. If the game doesn’t have any element of secrecy, consider playing in the living room with AirPlay mirroring enabled on a big screen TV How to Screen Mirror Your iPhone or iPad to a TV How does screen mirroring work on iPhone? Here's how to mirror your iPhone to a TV using several simple methods. Read More – everyone will still be able to see what’s going on, but only the current player needs to handle the iPad.

The games listed here should be accessible to anyone above the age of about 7, perhaps a little older for the more complex games like Agricola. Just so you know, I’ve deliberately left out Monopoly from this list: I think it’s a terrible game anyway and the iOS implementation is even worse. Take a chance on some of these less mainstream games and you’ll be sure to like what you find, I promise.

Ticket To Ride ($6.99)

Ticket To Ride is a family favourite suitable for all ages, in which players compete to build railroads across the vast expanse of the USA. Gameplay is simple: pick up cards, collect enough to claim a section of railroad, and connect two destinations for points. Take a risk by claiming more destinations, but be prepared to lose points if you haven’t finished them by the end of the game. The physical version of Ticket To Ride has a lot of loose pieces and scoring can be difficult for younger players, but the iOS version handles all that for you.

ticket to ride


Even better – if you have a spare laptop, the Steam and Mac App Store versions of Ticket To Ride work seamlessly for cross platform play, so you don’t necessarily need to all huddle round one device. There are plenty of in-app purchases (IAPs) for additional boards and variations once you tire of America. You do need to keep your destination cards secret though, so it’s strictly pass’n’play-style multiplayer.

TimeLine ($2.99)

Which came first – the corkscrew or the vaccination?

Educational and fun, TimeLine is a game about historical events. Players are dealt a handful of random cards – discoveries, inventions, memorable events; and then take it in turns to lay these somewhere onto the evolving time line. The game starts out easy since the first player only has to decide if their card came before or after the starting event; but difficulty quickly ramps up as the time line fleshes-out.



Up to 4 players around a single iPad, with in-app upgrades for even more events once they’ve memorised the dates of the included cards.

Carcassonne ($6.99)

Carcassonne is a tile-laying and worker placement game. Players take it in turn to pick a random tile and lay it strategically on the ever expanding game board, attempting to score points in the process by building castles and laying roads. You have a limited number of workers, so choose wisely and don’t invest too many in long term strategies that may never pay off.


The basic rules are fairly simple, but for younger players be sure to turn off farm scoring so they can concentrate on the fun of building epic castles. Since there’s no secrecy involved, this game would be ideal for AirPlay mirroring. Carcassonne is considered by many gamers to be the best example of a board game conversion to iOS yet.


Forbidden Island ($4.99)

In Forbidden Island, the island is slowly sinking and adventurers must seek out all four treasures before returning to the helicopter. It’s the only cooperative game to have made it onto this list; players compete against the environment, rather than against each other.


A maximum of four players chooses a unique role (from a choice of six) which brings a special skill to the table, such as the pilot who can move anywhere, or the navigator who can move cards to anyone. It’s a similar play mechanic to Pandemic, though with a theme more suited to family play.

Agricola ($6.99)

Agricola is quaint resource management and worker placement game, with the aim of building the most varied and productive farm by the end of the game.



The iOS version includes family rules so you can play without occupations and minor upgrades, but I’d still recommend all players have some experience with the physical game before trying this.

You may notice the absence of Catan ($4.99) on this list – not because it’s a bad game, because it isn’t, but because I think it definitely losing an element of the trading excitement when users have to constantly pass around a device. It’s a great way to practice Catan or play remotely, but I’d still choose the physical version any day in a family setting – which is why it featured already on my list of geek gifts for under $50 The Geek's Holiday Gift Guide (Under $50) Holidays are coming and there's never been a more exciting time to be a geek. So here's my selection of fantastic geeky gifts for under $50 - gadgets needn't be expensive. Read More .

Do you have any family favourites for Christmas that are also available on iPad?

Image credit: Cheater (Ramon Llorensi)

Related topics: Board Game, Christmas.

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  1. CtownBOS
    December 21, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    Monopoly is a terrible game ? Not too many people will agree with u on that one. I didn't even read the ones you like if that's your taste.

    • James B
      December 22, 2013 at 8:27 am

      Have you played any of the others? If you had, you'd realise how terrible Monopoly is in comparison. Here some reasons:
      1. It's almost entirely chance; roll dice, buy the property if you can. (sure you could *choose* not to buy a property, but then you'd lose)
      2. The game drags on well after a clear winner has been identified - we're talking an hour or more of simply "playing it out". (most people just give up and declare a winner, not really satisfying as a game experience)
      3. Players can be eliminated - as a group experience, this is obviously terrible.

    • MB
      January 24, 2014 at 1:21 am

      Monopoly S U C K S! I have never seen a game completed, unless you count somebody screaming and storming off a "completion." You are just wrong. There is no middle ground in this argument. Monopoly is absolutely terrible.

  2. codeelfDOTcom
    December 21, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    I would also recommend The Grid as a great multi player game for the family or individuals - it's a web board game much like Risk you can simply play on your Ipad, Desktop, or Android.