Game enthusiasts have nothing but good news in terms of technological development this year. We already have the immersive Oculus Rift, which brought us closer to virtual reality. Microsoft Hololens also ramped the augmented reality platform and allowed us to play Minefield on a totally different level. Now, can you imagine controlling your favorite board game with your smartphone?
Everyone knows the shrill thrill of adventure-type tabletop games. That is also what augmented board games aim to reach, while incorporating modern technology. This differs from digital renditions of popular board games, where you have to use your smartphone (or a digital tabletop) for everything. Well, this strips the essence of these games, which is the physical board itself. Rare are those games which use smartphone applications as only a mean to conduct them.
The Rise of Augmented Board Games
One of the first high-end digital hybrid cardboard game was XCOM – The Board Game, which was released in 2015. It is a multiplayer game that repackages an established video game series, where players have to repel aliens from dominating the Earth. The virtual reality aspect comes in via a smartphone application that entails both the alien’s plan to dominate the world and the game’s major plot points. The creator, Eric Lang, has been dreaming for a digital integration in a cardboard game for years, but couldn’t do it because of the limits in technology back then. Now that smartphones are powerful enough to be customized, he felt he could make his dream come true.
This board game uses its accompanying application to instill a sense of terror and urgency to the players. Think of this application as the one which provides the rules of the game, where players have to allocate their resources in a short period of time. Adding to the tension are the obstacles the application throws at the players along the way. UFOs attack players out of nowhere and hits them with their weapons. In a normal board game, all it takes is an unlucky draw of a card that says so, yet an augmented reality version will give this surprise attack at random moments. The unpredictability of these attacks cause players to think quick and commit errors in the course of this game.
Lang explained that confusion and stress while playing a game hooked him to this hobby in the first place. Digitizing a certain portion of the game creates an enemy who is just as calculating as the player himself. It also provides the techno soundtrack of the game, a science fiction styled interface and some props that add to gaming atmosphere.
Even so, the digital representation still adheres to the charms of traditional board games, in the end. A player still has to determine his fate by rolling a dice, ability cards are still in use to change the tables and chips which indicate their health statistics remain as before. This type of blend of digital and physical gameplay was loved by board game fans and the game sold reasonably well.
The Burden of Making Augmented Board Games Mainstream
So far not all is well with mixed cardboard games. Due to their very niche nature and the confusion as to how they will be marketed, other similar games faced difficulty in finding their own success. Not even the sheer excellence of their premise can pull enough prospective users to be interested with their product.
Golem Arcana is a magic filled board game where human-like weapons are controlled by elite sorcerers. Players build armies and attack enemies, as they take turns. If the short description does not win you, the game’s nice mix of physical and digital components should. The most innovative aspect of this game is a stylus which transmits data to the accompanying application by having its laser point to the board game. The cardboard itself contains codes which aren’t normally visible, but can be read by the stylus.
From there, the application recognizes figures you work with, as well as the attack you want to use, thanks to these codes. Precision in locating these automatons is also a must, since this application interprets and implements bonuses and penalties over a match. Viewed this way, Golem Arcana was revolutionary, in the sense that decision making was left to an application. Its gameplay was deemed to be so innovative that it was awarded as one of the most interesting concept games last year. Everyone should be thinking, “This product must be out now!”
Except that it never went past the development stage. Perhaps the complex game structure of Golem Arcana became its own pitfall. It is tough to learn its basics, since the virtual reality part of this game takes a good chunk of time to explain. Marketing issues, as to where this game will be located, also became a major hurdle for commercial production. As much as the industry wants change, this advanced cardboard game was deemed to be much ahead of its time.
Does every hybrid cardboard game need accompanying software application to be considered as technologically advanced? The answer is technically yes, but there is a game which looks like nondescript at first, but the contents are pretty much aligned with topics normally discussed in university.
Robot Turtles is a cardboard game designed for children, but also teaches them the basics of programming. It became the most backed tabletop game in the history of Kickstarter, that pooled over $631,000, which was well above its $25,000 goal. It also sold 25,000 copies since its launch on the same site.
People might think cardboard games are now old-fashioned and that video games are the only ruling authority, as far as gaming is concerned. What they fail to notice is the consistently growing sales of the former, as reported by Amazon. It is also an interesting fact that most cardboard game lovers are also video gamers and they are known for being dedicated consumers. Some people also need to see the other gamer in flesh, which can never be achieved in social media. Lastly, cardboard games have also become more modern, and this will surely open a new path for consumers who want something new, aside from their video games.
Have you played augmented board games? Share your experiences with us.