Tabletop Simulator ($20 for one copy; $60 for four copies) is one of the weirdest games I’ve played recently, in part because it’s not really a game. On the contrary, Tabletop Simulator is , exactly as the name suggests, a way to create a number table and populate it with the games of your choice.
You can fall back on classics like chess and poker, or you can download elaborate recreations of games like Scythe and Superfight. You can even adapt your favorite board game yourself using Tabletop Simulator’s comprehensive toolkit – if you’re willing to navigate potentially turbulent legal waters.
Now that people are staying home more often, board games and other tabletop entertainment, like card games and RPGs, are more vital than ever. Tabletop Simulator makes it possible to play with friends and family all over the world, which is usually almost impossible with support based on close physical proximity.
Since Tabletop Simulator is more of a toolkit than a standalone game, it would be nearly impossible to explain everything you can do with it. But if all you want to do is get together with friends and play one of your favorite board games, that’s pretty easy to do. All you need is a Steam account and a headset with a microphone.
How to get started with Tabletop Simulator
The first thing you will need for Tabletop Simulator is a fairly powerful PC. You don’t need a full game rig, but the program involves a lot of 3D elements that fly in real time. You can find the exact details on the Steam page under Required configuration, but the bottom line is that any gaming rig should work fine; many productivity PCs and Macs are also suitable. The Linux requirements are also quite modest, for the handful of you who use dedicated Steam machines.
Once the game is up and running, you can watch a brief tutorial that teaches you how to view the game area and how to move the pieces. As its title suggests, Tabletop Simulator does not have a game engine per se; there are no scripts for deciding legal moves or forcing people to play by the rules. Instead, you simply choose the type of table you want, then lay a game board on it and play as you would in real life.
By default, Tabletop Simulator offers resources for simple public domain games like chess, checkers, backgammon, pachisi, dominoes, and mahjong. You can also complete puzzles or play any game you like with a standard deck of cards. Tabletop Simulator also offers many built-in dice and miniatures for players who want to run their own tabletop RPGs.
If you just want to play some simple games to pass the time while you catch up with friends and family, Tabletop Simulator already has everything you need right out of the box. But chances are you want something more elaborate. There are three ways to get new games: a completely seamless way, a somewhat sleazy way, and an incredibly laborious way.
How to Download Games in Tabletop Simulator
The easiest way to import new games into Tabletop Simulator is to purchase official DLC packages. Board game developers have adapted over 40 titles for Tabletop Simulator, and they cost between $5 and $15 each. These are mostly cult hits, such as The Red Dragon Inn and Zombicide, but they’re exactly the kind of games board game enthusiasts love to play. Some of the games are quite elaborate, with lots of custom artwork and even scripts that automate a lot of the busy work.
However, the most common board games – I won’t name names, because things get legally murky here, but use your imagination – aren’t available as official DLC packs. You can still play it, though, thanks to the Steam Workshop page for Tabletop Simulator.
Basically, even though few companies have made official adaptations of their Tabletop Simulator games, the fans have picked up the slack. Tons of fans have recreated their favorite board, card, and role-playing games, complete with elaborate custom tokens and scripts. Since fans cannot legally sell someone else’s copyrighted material, you can download these games for free. They are not hard to find; you can just search on the Steam Workshop page.
Whether you actually want to download these games is a little harder to tell. Some fans argue – somewhat speciously, in my opinion – that getting more fans to play the game, regardless of format, is free publicity. Others say that recreating someone else’s work without permission is inherently wrong, and that players should leave games adapted without the creators’ sole permission.
(Admittedly, the game developers think that, according to a interesting thread on the Steam forum. They said they don’t condone unauthorized game adaptations, but also believe it’s up to Steam to sort out the bad actors.)
Many gamers fall somewhere in a “middle way,” where they believe that if at least one gamer owns a copy of the game, playing it online with free assets is no different than inviting friends to their home. Others say it’s morally acceptable, as long as every player owns a copy of the physical game. As far as I know, none of this has any legal basis – except that if you recreate someone else’s work without permission, you could very well end up with a cease and desist letter. to abstain.
I leave that question to a reader’s individual conscience, although I personally fall into the “player should own a copy” mentality. Whatever you do, use your discretion.
The last way to acquire new games would be to create your own assets from scratch. If you want to do it, the power is yours, but it requires a lot of 3D modeling and programming know-how. It also requires some knowledge of board game design. These skills are all learnable, but they are beyond the scope of this article.
How to play Tabletop Simulator games online with friends
Playing games with friends in Tabletop Simulator isn’t difficult, although it can get tricky, depending on what you want to do. Basically, a player will need to create a game and then invite other players to join. Like most features in Tabletop Simulator, it’s simple to get started and can get extremely complicated, depending on what you want to do.
Basically, if you’re a game host, you’ll start by clicking Create on the main menu, then Multiplayer. Unfortunately, you can’t invite players directly to a game, but there is a somewhat cumbersome workaround. Make sure your players are all in your Steam friends list. Create your server and give it a unique name and password. Next, tell your players to search for multiplayer games and check the box to show only your friends’ games. It’s a pain, yes, but it works and it will definitely prevent unwanted third parties from entering your game.
(If you’re a player, all you have to do is join an existing game using the method described above.)
The only thing you really need to keep in mind, as a host, is the Permissions tab. You can find it in the Options menu. It lets you control what your players can see and, more importantly, what they can manipulate. This is extremely important in games where secrecy is important, like poker, or where information is revealed gradually, like an RPG. Even though your players are all behaving exquisitely, Tabletop Simulator can be janky at times, and it’s very easy to manipulate someone else’s cards or tokens unintentionally, if you don’t lock them first. permissions.
Also, be sure to give players time to experiment with Tabletop Simulator’s options. They can do a lot of things, from generating new parts to creating their own vector designs. Even simple table navigation takes some practice, as it’s a continuous balancing act of shifting focus, zooming in and out, and rotating the camera.
Beyond that, the best way to learn more about Tabletop Simulator is to just fire it up and start experimenting. Its “everything is fine” approach is both liberating and intimidating, but it’s one of the best ways to share games with friends when you can’t meet in person.