Five family-fun board games for the iPad

Show your family that your new iPad can bring the family together instead of isolating its new recipient.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops, desktops, all-in-one PCs, streaming devices, streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
5 min read
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Did your spouse or significant other bestow an iPad upon you this Christmas? If so, it won't be long until your spouse or significant other asks you to put down your new toy for a little while and pay attention to the rest of the family. There is, of course, a way to spend time with your family and your new iPad simultaneously: iPad board games!

Four classic games--Monopoly, Scrabble, Life, and Risk--are available for the iPad, and if you catch EA's DailyDeals holiday sale on the right day, you can get them for as low as 99 cents. The fifth game here, Ticket to Ride, is a personal favorite, and its iPad version is beautifully done. With Monopoly and Ticket to Ride, the iPad acts as the board, with players sitting around it and taking turns as they would with the actual board game. With Scrabble, Life, and Risk, the games feature Pass N' Play, where the board is oriented in one direction and the iPad is passed to each player when it is his or her turn.

Granted, playing a board game on the iPad isn't the same as gathering the family around the real thing, but for these five games, the iPad offers a reasonable facsimile. The iPad forces you to downscale, but what you sacrifice in size you make up for in faster gameplay, as the iPad tallies scores, moneys, armies, and so on.

Monopoly HD

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Monopoly on the iPad looks and feels like the real thing, although no player is forced to act as the banker. In Tabletop mode, you can play with up to four players. You can keep the iPad in the middle of the table or rug, with the players seated around it. If there is more than one iPad in your house, you can set up a up a game via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth via the Local Network Play option.

To start a game, you can select from the traditional Monopoly pieces--top hat, dog, thimble, and so on--as well as a Toyota Prius. You can choose from five different environments, and there are a number of house rules you can tweak, from starting players with properties at the start of the game and setting a turn timer to setting a payout for free parking and the Pass Go payment. You can also turn on Sleight of Hand, which lets each player cheat up to three times to roll a specific number.

With each turn, you can pick up and fling the dice, which approximates throwing actual dice. And the game handles all banking, so when you land on someone's property, the payment is handled automatically and the amount is deducted from your total. Trading properties and building houses and hotels is easy, and by tapping on a group of properties on the board, you can see the probabilities of your opponents landing on them on their next turn. Skip the probabilities and tutorials, and a party of four can get through a game of Monopoly in less than an hour on the iPad. And if you don't get through a game in one sitting, you can save your game without worrying about the board getting kicked or jostled or your brother stealing cash from under your side of the board when you're not looking.


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Up to four people can play Scrabble with either the Pass N' Play method or via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. You can also play friends on Facebook, and the Party Play option lets players use their iPhone as a tile rack (with the free and appropriately named Scrabble Tile Rack app). The game moves just like the real thing. You can swap tiles, shuffle your tiles, and recall tiles from the board during your turn you no longer wish to play. You can also consult a dictionary, which features a handy list of two-letter words, and you can obtain a bit of help by tapping the Best Word option, which creates and places the most valuable word on the board from your tiles, such as oothecae. Best yet, Scrabble on the iPad obviates arguments among players about whether a word played is actually a word.


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Like Monopoly, Risk is a game that is started more often than finished. When played on the iPad, however, gameplay is greatly sped up. The three phases of each turn--Draft, Attack, Fortify--take place quickly, and the graphics and sound effects of mortars exploding and bullets flying add excitement to the proceedings.

To draft troops to your territories, you can drag them one by one from the corner troop box or you can pinch them together and drag the group to a territory. Alternatively, you can tap on a territory and use a scroll wheel to select the number of troops to add to it. In the attack phase of your turn, the territories from which you can launch an attack are highlighted. Simply drag your troops to a neighboring territory to launch an attack. You then roll dice against your opponent to wage war, or you can speed up the battle by tapping the yellow button next to the dice. It skips the dice throwing and immediately announces the winner of the skirmish. Lastly, the fortify stage of each turn lets you move troops between territories by using the scroll wheel to select the number of troops to start marching.

With Pass N' Play, you can play with up to six players, and you can play with up to four players via Local Play.

The Game of Life

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Life was one of my favorite board games growing up. In addition to the gameplay itself, I liked the layout of the board, with its molded plastic pieces to lend some topography and the colorful spinner at its center. Life on the iPad gets the spinner just right, but it's hard to see the whole board. You can pan out to see more of the board, but the icons get small and difficult to make out. The default view keeps you too close to the action, and the slow, cartoon-y effects when your car is on the move distract from the game. If the slow gameplay doesn't bother you, you can play with up to six players with Pass N' Play mode.

Ticket to Ride

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Ticket to Ride is a fantastic board game, so much so that I own both the regular U.S. version and the European version of the game. And both get played regularly. (Disclaimer: I am something of a board-game dork.) The iPad version looks and feels like the real game. The entire board is laid out on the iPad's screen, and you can pinch to zoom in on a portion of the map if you need to see a critical junction in more detail. The real game burdens one of the players with shuffling and deal the train cards, but such a chore is not needed with the iPad acting as the brains behind the operation. The optional tutorials will aid new players, as will the fact that your particular destinations are highlighted for you on the map. As with the real game, you can play with up to five players on the iPad.