Asynchronous Board Games and RPGs: Pros and Cons


Catan board game components

COVID changed the world’s landscape. I’m not smart enough to encapsulate even a fraction of its impact in my words, but I do know how to talk about tabletop games. So let’s do that.

Platforms like Board Game Arena, Roll20, Yucata, Fantasy Grounds, Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia and others took off during the pandemic, because they provided a way for tabletop gamers to continue their hobby with friends and strangers from around the world, with the safety of online distance.

Many of these featured real-time gaming. When paired with a voice chat feature, they almost recreated the experience of gaming around a table (almost).

Another popular method of play was (and is) asynchronous play. In asynch play, you don’t have to be online at the same time, and simply take your turns as you’re able. Some have restrictions like “{X} turns per day” but many don’t.

It’s a much slower pace. Most games take days. The longest take weeks or even months. But it’s still gaming.

I want to talk about what I learned about both asynchronous gaming and about myself in playing a number of asynch games during the last couple years. It may help those looking to try similar avenues of gaming.

Asynchronous Board Games: The Downsides

Why do you play games? Take a moment if you’d like; I think it’s a question worth answering. And it informs some of the pros and cons, and what they’ll be for you.

Reason #1: It’s Not Very Social
My answer to the question above is this: I play board games for the social interactions between awesome people that games facilitate and enhance.

The games themselves are fine. Clever, beautiful, interesting and exciting. But on their own, I have a hard time getting excited unless it’s accompanied by, well, other people. Asynchronous gaming can be a solitary experience. And that’s not why I game. Conversely, it might not be such a negative for others. But it’s a consideration either way.

Reason #2: It Takes Time
You’re in a 4P game and someone goes on a weekend trip. Between trip prep, the trip itself, and settling back in, you might go 5 days without a change in game state. Are you prepared for that wait?

Reason #3: Remembering to Keep Up With It
Some people like the relaxed tempo. But until I got more used to asynch play, it was actually something that gave me a low level of anxiety, because it felt like I needed to be checking up on it.

I’ve spoken with gamers who, for example, dislike the pressure of real-time games that have a literal timer. I love these; I revel in the tension and pressure. By comparison, I actually felt more stressed once or twice when I was in asynchronous games, and found myself checking in on the game too often to make sure it wasn’t my turn.

Asynchronous Board Games: The Good Stuff

Despite the cons above, I’ve come around on the idea of asynchronous gaming. At least in some circumstances. They’re listed below.

Reason #1: It’s a Great Way to Learn a Game
One minor pet peeve I have in games is when I’m learning a game for the first time (or relearning), and something terrible happens not because it was a natural outcome of my (failed) plans, but simply because I didn’t know a rule. Nothing drains my interest quite like knowing that my last 45 minutes were for nothing, because it was building up to an illegal strategy.

The slow pace of asynch games allows you to reference the rules frequently, and to ask questions between your turns as you contemplate different ideas.

Reason #2: It’s a Great Way to Learn Strategy
El Grande is a great game regardless of setting, but something happened when I played asynchronously. I started to see other potential tactics and strategies that I had missed in irl sessions.

And it makes sense, right? I might be able to see a board state during an asynchronous game, then think about it for 10 minutes before making my next move. Your mind will naturally wander into new and different strategic territory than when you have a minute or less to make a decision.

As a result, the hidden depths of some games will become apparent more quickly during asynch play. The reverse can be true, of course: if a game is shallow, that will be more readily apparent as well. But I see this as a good thing either way.

Reason #3: Some of the Social Experience Can Be Recreated
I play various games asynchronously with friends from around the world, who I otherwise would never play with. We play highly interactive games that feature a lot of back and forth between each other’s strategies. And we’ll chat back and forth during it as well, and then unpack our sessions following the games.

Is it the same as in-person gaming, or as good? No, of course not. But it’s still a heckuva lot of fun, and overcomes some of the issues I see with asynch gaming as a whole. I wouldn’t trade this gaming for anything, and despite wishing I could play with such friends in-person, I’m happier playing asynchronously than if we never played at all.

Reason #4: You Can Experience Tough-to-Play Games
There are some games that are frankly just harder to introduce to a game group. Maybe it’s because of the length or complexity. Maybe it’s because you play with a group that has specific tastes, and some games simply will never cater to those tastes. Online and asynchronous play can provide an outlet for you to explore those different interests.

I play a lot of Pax Porfiriana on Yucata, for example. Pax Por is a dense game with a somewhat obscure setting/theme and a lot of interconnected subsystems. It’s also very cutthroat. I adore it, but it’s NOT a game for a broad audience. So it’s an opportunity to play one of my favorite games that I will rarely, if ever, have the chance to play in-person.

Asynchronous Roleplaying Games

This gets into play-by-forum or play-by-email territory, which are both fun and viable ways to experience games. I’ve been a co-gamemaster for a play-by-email RPG (which I’ll likely do a writeup for at some point), and was in a Star Wars play-by-forum RPG back in the 2000s.

Both have their downsides, and it’s here that you also need to be prepared to commit to a game for a period of months, or potentially even years depending on the format and scope.

The reward, however, is a more thoughtful pace that allows for nuanced roleplaying and character development, without the pressures that come from live sessions that demand a level of improvisational skill.

And again, don’t get me wrong, I’ll always play live and in-person over these methods. But I’ve had fun with all of them.


So do I play a lot of asynchronous games? No, frankly. To go back to the original point, I’m here for social interaction. That’s 98% of the reason I play tabletop games. And too much of that is lost in online play for it ever to be my preferred method, or even something I want to engage in regularly.

But with a few titles I truly love, that I don’t get to play often (or ever) in-person? It can still be a lot of fun, and can be a worthwhile outlet for my gaming passions. And if I get to experience that with friends and acquaintances with whom I share gaming preferences and have gamed with before, even better!

For more content, or just to chat, find me on Twitter @BTDungeons, or check out my other reviews and game musings!