Sunday, April 26, 2020

Free Cross-Platform Multiplayer Games for Old Computers

As many are forced to stay at home due to this coronavirus pandemic leading to mass social isolation, I thought I would share here some useful resources for network multiplayer gaming as a way to socialize and connect with others. While it is certainly not healthy to become isolated or addicted to gaming, on the other hand multiplayer gaming provides a means to connect with others.

I did quite a bit of research, using the following criteria:
  1. The game must be free
  2. The game must allow for a multiplayer game play over the network or internet. Local multiplayer games are excluded
  3. The game must work on slow computers
  4. The game must not require the OpenGL 3.x standard (or higher) in order to support older graphics cards
  5. The game must allow for cross platform game play across Windows & Linux
  6. The game must not be excessively violent or contain inappropriate content
Some of these games have built in chat, others do not, but that can easily be rectified by downloading a chat program such as Discord, Zoom or Skype. Old computers will operate faster on Linux. For an old computer with an old graphics card that did not support OpenGL 3.x or higher, I installed Lubuntu 19.10 so that I could dual boot between both Windows and Linux.

Regrettably I had to exclude some good games because of lack of OpenGL 3.x support on the old graphics card. But in the end I found a rather large selection of games that will provide hours of game play.  I have divided the games into the following categories:
  1. Online Board Games
  2. Turn Based Strategy Games
  3. Realtime Strategy Games
  4. MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online RPG)
  5. Arcade Games
  6. First Person Shooter Games
Some games can be installed directly through the Linux distribution, others have their own site, and others can be installed directly using the Steam distribution client.


If you are into old school board games, board games have been revived by several online services that allow you to play them over the internet.  And these work in a browser without any special installation. ChessKid is a site that is perfect for introducing children to the game of chess. There are websites that include all sorts of games, and from a cursory search found the following websites:
  1. Board Game Arena 
  2. Yucata 
  3. Boiteajeux 
  4. TableTopia
There are others, for a full review see 6 Best Sites to Play Board Games Online for Free!

Most games can be simply played for free, either among friends and family or complete strangers.  Some games however can only be played behind a pay firewall, but there are plenty of choices here. I prefer strategy games, a simple popular one I would probably try first is Carcassonne. More complicated ones of interest are Puerto RicoEl Grande and Scythe.

If you have that one favorite unique board or card game, you may need to look elsewhere. For example if you are into the Dominion card game, you can play it here: Dominion Online (for a review see The online board game Dominion is the only thing keeping me sane during coronavirus). Another popular game is Settlers of Catan, and you can play that online here: CATAN Universe. For an example of game play using Zoom to connect with friends, see I played a long-distance version of Settlers of Catan, the wildly popular and complex board game, with 3 of my friends. Here's how you can do it from your own home.


Similar to the category of online board games are turn based strategy (TBS) games, which either require more investment in time or play out over a period of days. You are going to need to find dedicated gamers for this type of game. Many of these games have extra mods providing even more replayability value. Here are the free games that have clients that run on both Windows and Linux:
UFO: Alien Invasion is a bit different from the rest and is based on a popular game series, and is more a tactical turn based shooter. Demise of Nations and Age of Conquest IV are made by the same company and are mostly free, but according to Some thoughts on Demise of Nations, a 4X strategy game you may need to pay more to access their servers if you play frequently. 0 A.D. may offer more diverse game play since it is still under active development (see Waiting for Age of Empires 4? 0 A.D. is the next best thing).


If you are the impatient kind and can't stand waiting for someone to take their turn, then consider real time strategy (RTS) type of games. Everything happens in realtime, and you have limited time to make the correct decisions and have to react to rapidly changing events. If that is your style here are the free games that can be played on both Windows and Linux
  • Galcon 2: Galactic Conquest on Steam - the most simple RTS game here, very basic 2D map involving numbers. Just do the math. Really quick.
  • Istrolid on Steam - design your own spaceship and have them fight in real time. All in 2D.
  • King Arthur's Gold - this is a medieval build and kill game, with destrutible environments, that went free to play. It can be installed via the Steam client: see King Arthur's Gold on Steam
  • MegaGlest - an open source project that forked from the earlier game Glest, it is available for download in many Linux distros.
  • Netpanzer - a tank RTS game, available for download in Linux distros.
  • OpenRA  - an open source project based on Westwood Studios' 2D Command and Conquer games. They have implementations of Dune 2000, Red Alert and Tiberian Dawn.
  • Warzone 2100 - a commercial game that has been converted into an open source project, available for download in Linux distros or from Steam
Out of all these, the one that is most interesting here is King Arthur's Gold, which looks insanely fun to play. Its 2D and has different mods, and someone made a mod to make it look like Minecraft. This one was perhaps one of my most interesting finds, it is not a well known game.  Here is a review:


MMORPG are Massively Multiplayer online RPG games, which can be fun if you dive in with a group of friends. The caveat here is that the online player community will make the experience good or bad - they can be friendly or they can be toxic. Also after the first few introductory levels you may tend to go through repetitive grinds to level up, unless you pay for it to speed up the progress. But initially it can provide hours of fun. MMORPG games that have Linux support without requiring OpenGL 3.x include Warspear Online and Wild Terra Online. There are many others for Linux, see 8 Free MMORPGs That Run Natively on Linux and Linux Compatible MMOs & MMORPGs.  See the "honorable mentions" section below for two MMORPG that I would recommend since they include tactical turn based combat which is good for team play.


For faster and more simple play, the following games have clients for both Windows and Linux, and either operate off of servers on the internet or servers that can be setup locally on your own computer:
  • Altitude on Steam - a multiplayer 2D plane fighter game, a well polished game. Requires the Steam client.
  • Armagetron Advanced :: a Tron clone in 3D - remember the movie Tron and its reboot? You can now experience it in 3D.
  • Awesomenauts - the 2D moba on Steam - another well polished game, a massive multiplayer platform game.
  • BitFighter - a 2D space shooter, where you can design your own levels. It is similar to another game called Subspace Continuum, but unfortunately the latter only operates on Windows.
  • Blobby Volley 2 - you get to play volleyball as blobs of jello. Simple and fun. It can also be installed via the Linux distribution.
  • BZFlag - a tank battle in 3D, this can be installed via the Linux distribution.
  • Frozen Bubble - a simple arcade game.
  • HYPERFIGHT on Steam - a free version of Street Fighter. OK graphics but apparently fun to play.
  • ManiaDrive - a free clone of TrackMania, a 3D car race game
  • Rustbucket Rumble on Steam - a 2D fighter game between robots, where you try to capture the other robot and put him in the recycling machine to make yourself a stronger robot
  • StarBreak on Steam - this one has been described as a "Free Sidescrolling Permadeath MMO." You cannot setup your own server for this one.
  • Teeworlds - a free multiplayer platform game for up to 16 players, it can also be installed via Steam. A variant of this game has been created called Ninslash which is still under development but can be freely played right now.

And now we come to first person shooters, and from this I excluded some choices due to their violent content. Team Fortress 2 is perhaps the most popular but it unfortunately did not make the cut, it is a CPU and graphics hog and my laptop could not handle it. There are many other options to choose from, but I found most of these could run on my Linux setup:
  • Doom, a port of the old DOS classic that started it all (technically Wolfenstein 3D did).  You can install this through the Linux distribution using Chocolate Doom. There are other engines available that provide higher resolutions but may depend on OpenGL. There are also engines for old DOS games such as Hexen and Heretic.
  • Double Action Boogaloo - in this the main objective is to die like a stuntman, with style, and in slow motion. 
  • Dystopia on Steam - a cyberpunk version between hackers and agents. A mod of the Half life engine, this one has received a lot of positive reviews.
  • Hexen World - another modern port of the Hexen and Heretic classics
  • Nexuiz, Rexuiz, and Xonotic - these three share the same code base and are basic FPS games.
  • Tremulous - an asymmetric FPS between aliens and humans. This one I could not fully test due to lack of online servers.
  • True Combat Elite  - team based FPS emphasizing tactical coordination, currently has an active community

Everyone will have their own preference here, and in a group there will always be a compromise on choice but there is something for everybody here. In my brief research I found three honorable mentions that allow for co-op play:
  • Never Split the Party, which requires OpenGL 3.x
  • Streets of Rogue which is not free but seems to be worthwhile. 
  • Wakfu, is an MMORPG which has nice cartoonish characters with a friendly community, it is most fun when with a group of friends while coordinating together in the turn based tactical combat. It seems to require OpenGL 3.x
  • Stash, an MMORPG that has tactical turn based combat, which seems to be based on Minecraft as it allows you to create your own buildings, but it requires OpenGL 3.x
If we drop the requirement for Linux or old graphics cards, the field of options opens up even wider. Other options would then include Airmech Strike, Brawhalla, Expendabros and Unturned. This is by no means complete, if you have a favorite game to share please drop a note in the comments.

In terms of guidance, video games can become an addiction, so some balance is required here. However if the proper choice is made games can offer a way to get together with friends and bring people together. Strategic games such as Chess and Go improve cognitive abilities. But if you are introducing someone new, start first with something simple.

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