Web-Based Board Games: Boîte à Jeux

Boite a Jeux logoThe first board gaming site I tried was Boîte à Jeux. It’s a bare-bones site by many standards. The different games have inconsistent looks and feels, the control buttons on each page – though useful – require some trial and error, and the translations to English are not always good. (The EULA looks like it was run back and forth between French and English a few times on Google Translate.) But the important thing is the game quality. And there, fortunately, Boîte à Jeux shines. All the games I’d played before in real life felt immediately familiar, and it was easy to start playing. The site offers about forty games, and adds a new one every few months. This includes some of my recent favorites (Trajan and The Castles of Burgundy), some old classics (Agricola), and even the Gipf series – a set of two-player abstract games that I’d always wanted to play more, but never had much opportunity before now.

The site's newest game, Ginkgopolis.

The site’s newest game, Ginkgopolis.

From a technical standpoint, the pages are pretty simple PHP. Every move is a post-back to the server, which takes care of all the calculations and returns a new page. If you are playing a game like Trajan on a slow connection, it will be very annoying to wait for the page to reload every time you place another one of your stones at the start of a turn. Usually, though, this is clean, simple, and fast.

Boîte à Jeux works very well from my iPhone, in fact. Though I sometimes have to zoom in to see detail, most of each gameboard fits on my screen in landscape mode, and it doesn’t take much moving around to see everything. The simple system of clicks and post-backs means that the iPhone browser can handle almost everything. Some games do rely on mouse-over events to give helper text. This usually works on the iPhone, with one tap counting as a mouse-over and a second click counting as the click, but there are a couple cases where I just can’t access the help text. The only real limitation I’ve run into, though, is on game set-up. The list of games being formed, which is very quick and convenient to use, relies on some icons to explain what options are on for a given game, and I can never remember what all of those mean without the tool-tip text that iPhones don’t seem to see. Also, when forming my own game, I can’t use the slider control to choose the speed setting. That’s the only time I’ve seen a click-and-drag control the iPhone can’t handle.

Ah, but that speed setting is still the killer feature of Boîte à Jeux! I mentioned in my last article that it can be annoying to wait for days between moves on a turn-based site like this. Boîte keeps a “speed rating” from 1 to 100 for each player, and lets you specify a minimum speed when creating a new game. This feature is only available to Premium players – the site is free, but they do encourage donations, and paying a few dollars per month turns on some extra features and gives you early access to new games. For the most part, I’d say that Boîte is very polite and doesn’t make anyone feel obligated to pay. But I do have to emphasize that the ability to start games for fast players only is what made online gaming fun for me. I want to play just a few games at once, and know that they’ll end within days, and this is the way to do it. (Note that you only need to be Premium to create a game with a speed setting. Once the invitation is out there, any players can join.

The site has one serious problem, though, and that’s the limited support for undoing moves. It’s easy to click the wrong thing, or change your mind halfway into a multi-part action. Most games offer no way at all to undo your actions, and the ones that do all have their own pattern. Castles of Burgundy gives you the chance to undo at the end of an action (if one action triggers another, you may do three or four before the confirmation comes up), while Agricola gives you one chance at the end of the move to accept or reset it. Trajan, on the other hand, lets you change your mind in the middle of placing stones or laying down cards, but gives no way to abort other actions. It’s very frustrating to lose a game because of this.

DVONN, part of the 2-player GIPF series. The column on the right shows recent moves.

DVONN, part of the 2-player GIPF series. The column on the right shows recent moves.

Otherwise, the site has good features. Meta-game ratings are based on ELO, a simple system that awards or reduces points based on the difference between players’ current rankings. It feels fair and mathematical, and makes me try to do as well as I can even if I’m fighting for second or third place. Every game also has a detailed history that lets you follow what the other players were doing in between turns. It also explains scoring calculations which might otherwise be confusing when you come back to a game after hours or days away. (Admittedly, the history is in an undocumented control button that I didn’t understand right away. But once you learn it, every game uses the same icons on the left-hand side. There are useful features in there, such as seeing a summary of each player’s rating or moving to the next game that is waiting for your action.)

Castles of Burgundy. Most of the board fits on my iPhone screen, and I can navigate quickly.

Castles of Burgundy. Most of the board fits on my iPhone screen, and I can navigate quickly.

Boîte à Jeux is a great, free site for a lot of serious board games. The lack of an Undo feature is a serious problem, but if you play like me, its speed ratings more than make up for that. In the past year, I’ve gone from thinking that computerized board games were missing the point to thinking that every hobbyist should be familiar with this site.

Grade: B+

    • Anne-Cat
    • June 3rd, 2015

    Thank you for your article ! I would like ton know if you’re still playing on Boite à Jeux ?

    • Yes I am! I should post an update here, because the site has made several improvements since I first wrote about it. I haven’t had much time for blogging, though.

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