How To Get Free Board Games

Paperback, by Tim Fowers

We all like board games. But board games can be expensive, and some of us can no longer afford smashed avo brunches, let alone shiny new board games. But there is a cheaper alternative. Welcome to the wonders of Print and Play (PnP) board games.

What is Print and Play?

Cutting and pasting, IRL

Many designers design many games. For many reasons, many excellent games never make it through the game publishing gauntlet. But a well-designed, playtested game is useless rotting away in my garage.

So many game designers offer their games online, in PDF format. All you need to do is go down to your local stationery store, buy some printer-friendly cardboard, and secretly borrow your friend's/dad's/work's schmancy colour printer. Do some literal cutting and pasting, invest in a few packs of card sleeves, and steal dice and tokens from your least favourite game. Enjoy!

Is it legal?

Evolution, by Dominic Crapuchettes, Dmitry Knorre and Sergey Machin

Mostly, yes. People put games online for a variety of reasons, and it's worth figuring out why. Some games never make it to the long journey of being produced, and some game designers just want their game to be played. Sometimes, being a popular PnP game is an alternate route to being published, if they get a large following. Many Kickstarter games release PnP versions, so you can try before you buy.

Others are rougher and rawer, and individual designers will release their games into the wild to get feedback and free playtesting. Some publishers such as CheapAss Games, have put professionally-produced but out-of-print games up for PnP and a donation. Most of these people are simply happy that someone is playing their games, and released them under a Creative Commons license, or something similar.

Also, people will quite often publish fan versions, or re-skins of games. Some games like Love Letter or Resistance have a great number of fan-made re-themes, which they share on sites such as BoardGameGeek. With these, use your discretion. Many of my gamer friends have no qualms about modding a game they already own; but using these to get a free copy of a game is bad form, and doesn't support the tabletop gaming industry in the slightest.

Where should I start?

I can't promise these are the GOAT, simply because there are so many games and so little time (currently, 488 games are listed in BGG's Print & Play category), but these are one I've had lots of fun with, and hopefully you will too.

Coin Age

This has the bonus of being the smallest board game I've played, ever. It won the 2013 Golden Geek Print and Play, and can legitimately be carried in your pocket. It's designed to fit on a credit-card-sized piece of cardboard. Cut it out, stick it in a Magic:The Gathering sleeve and grab some pocket change, and you're ready to play.

Kill Doctor Lucky

I've reviewed this before, and it's totally worth the price of admission. It was the Origins game of the year in 1997. This is the 2002 "Director's Cut" of Kill Doctor Lucky, and it's free for you. All you need is some dice and some tokens.

Why You Should Play Kill Doctor Lucky

One day, I discovered a secret. Next to the counter in an expensive board game store was a little nondescript display with small white envelopes, with price tags I could afford. Within, simple, black-and-white printed cardboard. Simple, cheap, genius. And that's how I met That's how I first met Kill Doctor Lucky.

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Spree

This is a quick, fun, manic game of chaos and theft. You run around a shopping centre, shoot each other up, and steal stuff. It features fantastic art by no less than Phil Foglio—legendary illustrator, co-author of Girl Genius, artist behind many Magic: The Gathering cards, and much else besides—and the most ridiculous rule ever which is: if you successfully shoot another player, you get another turn. It is ridiculous, it is fun, and has more strategy than you would expect.

Decathalon

Reiner Knizia is another former mathematician turned board game design genius. He's designed more than 600 published board games, and many of his many games (Tigris and Euphrates, Lord of the Rings, High Society, Lost Cities, Ingenious) are modern classics. Here is a game he produced for free: Decathlon.

It's a quick, but elegant dice game, with a push-your-luck aspect. The game rules are found on Knizia's own website but the link above will point you to a neat scorecard put together by a BoardGameGeek user which will make play a great deal easier.

... and then we held hands

Photo by Daniel Thurot.

This is a sweet and beautiful 2-player cooperative game, where you attempt to "find balance." It is a unique gaming experience that captures the experience of being in a relationship, and navigating life together, and forces you to use all the non-verbal communication at your disposal. A game you should play with your partner.

If you love it, you should buy the Kickstarted version, by Ludicreations, which features art by Marie Cardouat, of Dixit fame.

Flower of the Lotus (aka China Moon)

Bruno Faidutti is an Italian game designer, best known for Citadels and Mission: Red Planet. This is a neat little race game that is great for children. If you want to personalise it, give it to your children to cut and colour, and they'll have a game of their very own.

Heroes of the Aturi Cluster

Image: Board Game Geek

This is a print-and-play campaign that sits around and on top of the already amazing Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game, and adds all sorts of depth and complexity to the game. It's a phenomenal work of love that revolutionises an already amazing game.

Is it worth buying into X-Wing just to play this? Yes.


If you're after even more games, the Golden Geek print and play board game award of the year is a good place to start.

Do you have a favourite? Did you love or hate any of the games we suggested? Are there any good ones we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

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