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.
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 about 30 games, but they’re generally excellent (plug: this is THE place to play my game Catchup).
igGameCenter – My other 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. I’ve developed many games there.
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 around 100 games (see here and here), many of which you can’t find online anywhere else.
Super Duper Games – Another popular spot for turn-based games. 117 games. The developer of the site is in the process of creating a new site, called AbstractPlay.com, about which I’m excited. You can follow the development here.
Gamerz – Older turn-based site boasting an active membership, many prominent abstract game designers, and plenty of games.
Brain King – Gets the award for my favorite site name, but it also has a huge, active membership and 129 games. Especially good for chess variants. However, it appears that, as of 2018, it’s no longer actively developed.
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 about 70 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. There are more experts here than in any other forum I know of, and the discussions tend to be more informed.
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. Its membership has been slowly growing and I expect someday it’ll hit critical mass and have a chance to unseat BoardGameGeek as the most popular discussion spot.
Abstract Nation Facebook Group – This one is new as of 2017. The guy who runs it seems skilled at getting people involved, and the group has grown quickly. It’s pretty active and I expect it will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Abstract Games Facebook Group – Another Facebook group, also fairly active.
Discussion Page at Chessvariants.org – This site is just for Chess variants. The forum here is lively as abstract games forums go, which is a nice change of pace.
Google+ Abstract Game Community – this one still gets a post now and then, but it’s gotten quieter since Google+ lost its footing. I may strike it from this list soon. Too bad: Google+ had groovy features.
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.
Mindsports.nl – Website of Christian Freeling, Éminence Grise in the world of abstract games. You can play games there (both his and others), and he hosts a great deal of his own writing there. Not to be missed.
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. However, they seem to have stopped making new posts a couple of years ago.
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 formal 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.
Cameron Browne’s Games (temporarily down) – 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.
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 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 REALLY old school, but the company remains active. 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.
Maranda – Maranda has only been making games for a couple of years but they’ve quickly built a 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 sells “brain” games through its website. It used to have it’s own retail stores, but as you might expect, selling abstract games at retail didn’t go so well. See this list of all the abstract games they sell.
Last updated March, 2018