VirtualBox, VMWare, CrossOver or Parallels? Playing Games on Mac

Unlike a few years ago, there’s not much need to run Windows on a Mac. With tools like Remote Desktop and compatible IDEs for Microsoft SQL, there’s much more compatibility. The main reason comes down to playing games that don’t have a Mac equivalent. For example, Dorfromantik.

What can you do if you want to play Dorfromantik, Banished, Carcassonne, or something similar? Actually, it’s not that hard using either a Virtual Machine or Wine.

Keep in mind, a virtual machine requires a copy of Windows. You also need a fair bit of ram to pull this off. I’ve got the older Mac Pro on Mojave, so I’ve got plenty of ram and processors, but no more OS updates. It’s not the end of the road for this machine, but it’s on the horizon. If I can do my main work and play some casual games that’s a win.

I do have a full Windows machine for games, but if I want to play something for an hour or so, I really don’t want to spin up another machine. This path gives me both. Rebooting to Boot Camp is a waste of time.

To jump right into it, the four best choices for getting games up and running on a Mac are:

VirtualBox
VMWare Fusion Player 11 or 12
CrossOver
Parallels

The first, and cheapest option is VirtualBox. Always my first choice, VirtualBox works exceptionally well. It’s weakness is the graphics. You’ll get a generic graphics driver, which is limiting. For desktop apps it works without issue. For games, it can work, but you won’t be able to tap into the power of the graphics card. VirtualBox is free, so it should be the first choice. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t really lost anything.

Next is VMWare Fusion Player 11 or 12, depending on your Mac OS. I have Mojave, so Fusion 11 is what I’m using. If you just want to play games, you can get a Free Personal License. You need to make an account and request a license. After that, I installed Windows, installed Steam and installed a couple of games. It worked quite nicely. Like VirtualBox, you’ll want to install the “Tools” so you can resize windows and switch between Guest and Host seamlessly.

I haven’t had the best of luck with Wine, but CrossOver seems to have things sorted out. I’ve been playing Dorfromantik under CrossOver without issue. I installed the Steam client and chose Install for Dorfromantik. A couple minutes later, the game was up and running. There was no other configuration. I played several rounds without issue. And since this is Windows Emulation, no copy of Windows is required.

Last on the list is Parallels. While Parallels is a solid piece of software I don’t actually recommend it. The price is too high and it’s subscription based. The Standard/Student version isn’t worth buying due to the low CPU and Ram limits of a VM. During the trial period, I had no problems playing different games, but paying for a copy of Windows and another yearly fee is too much. If you could buy a “Business” copy and be done with it, this would be my choice.

At this point, I would recommend either VMWare Fusion or CrossOver. I’ve had success with both. VMWare is free, but you need a copy of Windows. CrossOver is a small fee, but no need for a copy of Windows.

I have Fusion 11 installed, but I’m also going to invest in CrossOver because I like where the project is going.

If you’re looking to play Triple-A titles like Dirt, Arma, Call of Duty, Battlefield, etc, then you need a dedicated Windows machine with a dedicated graphics card. Virtualization isn’t the right way to go.

However, if you’ve got a stable of Steam games and want to play them on a Mac from time to time, VMWare and CrossOver might just do the trick.

Then again, I could be wrong.
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