There's definitely something glorious about a giant boxed board game with miniatures and sets to spare - but what about the alternative? Print-and-play games allow players to spend far less on the best board games, getting their entertainment downloaded straight to their hard drive and printing it out to play themselves! It's a niche aspect of the medium that's getting less and less niche all the time, we've put together this list of the best print-and-play board games for you to try out at home.
- Paper Pinball: Laser Sisters
- Tussie Mussie
- Pocket Imperium
- Avignon: A Clash of Popes
- Roll Estate
- Secret Hitler
- Black Sonata
Best print-and-play board games
Whether you've never used your printer for anything more exciting than work documents or you're already a seasoned PNP pro, we’ve rounded up seven of the best print-and-play board games for you to check out.
A SimCity-style co-op in just 18 cards
City-building is one of gaming’s great recurring themes; there’s a deeply ingrained part of the gamer psyche that’s addicted to laying out street plans and adjusting zoning regulations.
Co-op board game Sprawlopolis doesn’t offer quite this kind of depth, but it crams a powerfully addictive urban management puzzle into just 18 cards. It sees you and your fellow city planners laying down districts as coherently as possible, fitting together industrial, commercial and residential areas. The trick is that you can never discuss the cards in your hand, making it difficult to avoid mistakes that can seriously dent your score.
The really clever aspect is that each card has a different scoring condition on its reverse side, representing demands from city officials. You’ll draw three at random to use for every game, ensuring a fresh challenge each time you play.
Buy Sprawlopolis on PNP Arcade
Build city blocks from Tetris blocks
Don’t be put off by its title: this dice-rolling print-and-play game of rival architects has nothing to do with a certain property trading board game you might have suffered through as a kid. Instead, it sees you and your opponent building skyscrapers on a square-grid city board. On each round you’ll roll and re-roll a handful of dice before placing them onto cards showing Tetris-style block configurations. From there, you’ll transfer them to the city, hunting for open spaces on the rapidly filling gridiron streets.
Look closely and you’ll find familiar elements from other board games. Passing cards to your opponent feels a lot like the abstract martial arts game Onitama. Working out which buildings you can see from your position is reminiscent of the hedge-sculpting puzzle Topiary. Choosing which dice to keep and which to re-roll will feel familiar to fans of beginner board game King of Tokyo. But Minopoly combines its familiar constituent parts to create something tight, elegant and fast-playing.
Download Minopoly free from BoardGameGeek
3. Paper Pinball: Laser Sisters
Flipper-flicking roll-and-write action
Roll-and-write games are perfect candidates for the print-and-play treatment - after all, they revolve around scribbling on pieces of paper. The Paper Pinball series aims to recreate the experience of hammering buttons on a pinball machine, pulling off precise shots and improbable tricks as you rack up a new high score.
On each round you’ll roll a pair of dice and use the result to fill in one of the open slots on the ‘table’ printed on your sheet. Just like the real thing, you’ll ricochet off bumpers, shoot along trickily-placed ramps, open hidden tunnels and unlock multi-ball bonuses. The available slots fill up quickly, though, and if you ever find yourself unable to write a number then you’ll lose one of your three lives.
The result is a rush of euphoria as you take down one target after another, giving way to a blast of panic when you find yourself down to your final ball.
Buy Paper Pinball: Laser Sisters on PNP Arcade
4. Tussie Mussie
Pretty flowers with special powers
Designed by Elizabeth Hargrave, the creator of the breakout birdwatching board game hit Wingspan (one of the best board games available today), this tiny card game is based on the Victorian practice of exchanging small bouquets of flowers, with each bloom carrying its own subtle message of love or friendship.
On your turn you’ll draw two cards from a shuffled deck before offering them to an opponent to add to their bouquet - one face-up for them to inspect, one hidden facedown. Each comes with its own special ability, letting its owner score points in various ways. It means you’ll constantly ask yourself whether the hidden card could turn out to be better for you than the one you can see.
With repeat plays you’ll learn possible strategies and card combinations. It’s a beautifully simple premise, but Tussie Mussie squeezes every available drop of gameplay out of its simple setup.
Buy Tussie Mussie on PNP Arcade
5. Pocket Imperium
Turns out space isn’t that big after all
Sci-fi empire-building board games aren’t typically known for their brevity, but print-and-play game Pocket Imperium aims to cram epic space opera into just 45 minutes of playing time.
It throws players into a battle for dominion over the stars in a surprisingly compact universe, made up of a three-by-three grid of cards dotted with planets for players to squabble over. It hands you just three cards representing the actions you can take on your turn: expand, which lets you deploy new ships to your fleets; explore, which allows you to move your forces across the galaxy; and exterminate, which lets you invade opponents’ systems, usually with plenty of damage dealt on both sides.
While you’ll issue the same three commands on each round, the order in which you use them has a huge effect on their impact. Play a card at a different time from your opponents and it’ll be substantially powered-up. Play it at the same time as everyone else and it becomes far less effective. It means that careful timing, reading your rivals and anticipating their plays are all critical to victory.
Download Pocket Imperium for free on Good Little Games
6. Avignon: A Clash of Popes
There’s only room for one Pope in this town
Avignon is a card game of religion and politics in the 14th century... Hey, wait, where are you going?
Okay, the premise behind Avignon: A Clash of Popes may sound dry, but that’s only until you realise that the Renaissance-era church was a hotbed of scheming and corruption. This two-player board game casts opponents as rivals for the papal throne, using their guile and cunning to manipulate high-ranking figures and persuade them to support their claims.
The action revolves around a grid-style collection of cards. On each turn you’ll try to pull ones representing different characters towards your side of the table, eventually recruiting them to your cause. Each comes with their own ability, usually shifting some cards towards you while pushing others away. Working out the best combinations to use is tricky and, with cards dealt from a randomly-shuffled deck, you’ll need to respond to an ever-changing lineup of nobles, cardinals, merchants and knights.
The result feels like an interconnected web of alliances, rivalries and relationships for you to navigate and ruthlessly exploit.
Buy Avignon: A Clash of Popes on PNP Arcade
7. Roll Estate
Fight to become a property market high-roller
This roll-and-write board game casts players as entrepreneurs vying to snap up properties. While it’s built on a foundation of simple dice-chucking, it demands some careful thought, judicious investment and just a dash of luck.
On your turn you’ll roll a handful of dice, keeping some and re-rolling others, hopefully leaving you with a set of useful results. You can spend different groups of dice to buy property in various parts of the city, with higher-value locations requiring trickier combinations. Along the way you’ll also be able to found businesses, invest in the stock market, establish transport services and even play the lottery.
It creates a frantic, sharp-elbowed dash for the most lucrative investments, and makes for a palpable sense of growth as your property portfolio swells.
Buy Roll Estate on PNP Arcade
8. Secret Hitler
Uncover the secret dictator among you and prevent their rise to power.
Secret Hitler is a party game you can buy from any good games store, but recently the creators created a free print-and-play version on their site - just download and print the PDF, do a bit of scissor-snipping where it tells you to, and you'll have a functioning recreation of the board game.
Speaking of which, Secret Hitler is a strategy and social deduction game for between five and ten people. One of you is secretly Hitler (of course) and a couple more are fascist allies. The rest are all liberals, but of course, everybody is claiming to be the latter, even if they're not. The goal of either side is to get as many of their party's policies pushed through as possible, while the fascists have to hide their true allegiance and pin any darker policies on other players.
The game ends when the country is definitely swung to one side or another, or if the liberals successfully managed to uncover Hitler and put a bullet in him. And surely that's a goal we can all be in favour of?
Download Secret Hitler on the official Secret Hitler Website.
9. Black Sonata
Discover the truth of the Dark Lady from Shakespeare's sonnets.
The Dark Lady is one of the great mysteries of English literature - Shakespeare wrote some of his greatest poems in her honour, but her real identity remains unknown, even four hundred years later, with only guesses, theories and conspiracies as to her real identity.
No more! The Dark Lady is about exploring 1600s London in pursuit of the truth, tracking down the mystery woman via rumour and detective work to find out where she is and who she is. But as you find out more about her, she retreats further and further into shadow, determined to stay elusive. Can you crack the code and uncover one of the great questions surrounding history's greatest writer?
Download Black Sonata on BoardGameGeek.
There are many more great print-and-play board games out there. What are some of your favourites? Let us know in the comments!