Despite some fears that digital board games are replacing the real thing, everything I can see points in the other direction. In fact, I’d go say so far as to say that physical board games in general are experiencing a profound resurgence and rise to fame, and that this in no small part due to the influence of technology.
Here are four reasons why I think technology is in fact, enhancing the board gaming community.
Digital conversion of classic games
While a session of Catan on your iPad is a lot of fun and there are quite a few valid reasons why it’s in many ways better than a real board game, it is ultimately limited in terms of both playing space and lack of emotional response to tactile pieces. Playing with just two players on an iPad is quite an intimate experience in and of itself, any more is just uncomfortable and impractical. The obvious answer then is that until we have table sized iPads (Microsoft Pixelsense né Surface, anyone?), true group gaming will be restricted to the physical versions.
Then there’s the issue of an emotional connection many players have with the physical pieces – the tactile experience: laying a card on the board is not the same as dragging and dropping a 2D representation of it; just as building a virtual Lego is not nearly as fun as the real thing (though, perhaps Minecraft has come disturbingly close).
No, I don’t think the mere existence of digital versions threatens the originals. Rather, it serves exactly the opposite purpose; promoting them.
Introducing new users to the hobby
Board games like Monopoly are world reknowned, but most gamers I know would consider them firmly at the lower end of the quality scale. In fact, BoardGameGeek currently ranks Monopoly at 8149th position – meaning there are 8148 better games out there.
For the average family though, eurogame classics like Catan, Agricola or Ticket to Ride are mostly unknown territory; that’s why bringing these games to the vast audience of digital world platforms is crucial. I would wager a large proportion of people who play these digital versions actually have no idea a physical game is also out there; but when they purchase their first physical Catan boxset, a whole world is opened up to them. Not only that, but their friends and family are often drawn in too.
Creating media oportunities and raising the profile of physical board games
With WordPress, you can express your writing desires to the world, and eBook self-publishing is easy with Amazon Kindle Direct. Anyone with a microphone or video camera can even produce their own multimedia ‘podcast’ (such as myself, along with Dave LeClair and Justin Pot in our weekly Technophilia tech news round up and discussions – warning, adult language).
I’m delighted therefore to see such high production podcast projects like TableTop, championed by none other than teen actor (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Stand By Me) turned geek heart-throb Will Wheaton. It’s a fantastically well made show that introduces games and typical play sessions; it’s glamorising the hobby and that can only be a good thing. Consider; if he had pitched the idea to a cable network, it would have been laughed at; yet here it is, hugely successful with a dedicated fan base, driving sales of board games and highly entertaining.
Providing funding for new board games
Finally, in a niche such as board gaming, getting a new game out there is incredibly difficult; the physical nature of board games means you can’t simply cobble something together and release it on YouTube, you actually need to make the bits and pieces. In the past, this would mean making a paper version, then perhaps doing a small run of a card stock version, then maybe if you’re really lucky being picked up by a large publisher.
Now, Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are there to provide crowd funding, giving you a global reach to potential customers and completely bypassing traditional publishing channels. I’ve funded a few board games on Kickstarter in fact, from the frenetic food and farming game Farmageddon, to Zombies miniatures game Zombicide, and more recently Freshbiz – a game designed to teach entrepeneurial skills, which is really in need of funding right now to reach their target so please go help them out!
So, I hope you can see why traditional board games aren’t really threatened at all by digital versions. Can you think of any other ways physical board gaming is benefiting from technology? Are you a big board gamer? Let us know in the comments!
Image credit: Settlers of Catan by gadl