WNG – Board Games on Digital Platforms

Sorry, sorry! My reviews/first impressions continue to get a bit held up for various reasons. So, in the meanwhile, how about we editorialize a bit?

Board games on digital platforms. This is a thing. I know it seems a bit weird when you say it, but it really is happening. And it is starting to get a lot more popular. Not to say it hasn’t been around a while. I mean, we’ve had all sorts of community made stuff for ages. Magic the Gathering Online has been trucking for a while. But the whole app craze thing has really seen an explosion of official releases of (popular!) board games onto phones and computers.

For example, if you were to take a look at my phone right now, I’ve got BattleCon, Elder Sign, Le Havre, Summoner War, Ascension (which has also just acquired funding for PC and Android platform releases thanks to Kickstarter), Tigris and Euphrates, Ticket to Ride, Neuroshima Hex, and Brawl all available at my fingertips. And there’s a bunch more available to purchase whenever I feel like it. Oh, and a bunch I can’t buy because they’re iPad only.

And this is pretty cool. Not only are the digital versions of these games significantly cheaper then their physical counterparts (allowing for a bit of actual try before you shell out serious money). They generally fit a lot better in your pocket (do you how hard it is to stuff a copy of Le Havre down my pants?), allowing you to play wherever and whenever you want. Computerized opponents don’t get so irritated if you insist on playing in the bathroom. If you only have a few minutes to play here and there, the game doesn’t have to devour your kitchen table for days on end.

Beyond the practical conveniences, some games do play quite a bit easier in a digital format. Between set-up, breakdown, and endless shuffling, Deckbuilders are a ton easier to play in computerized form. Oh, and I certainly can’t imagine keeping track of all the crap necessary to actually conduct a battle in Neuroshima Hex correctly.

There are a lot of nifty things about board games on digital platforms.

At the same time, though, I tend to only fall back on them for convenience purposes; the games I play on the phone I play there because I’m not in a position where I could play with other people. When the opportunity to get together with friends and pull out a box comes out, though? The box comes out!

The cool toys are a real part of boardgaming. Rolling dice, flipping tiles, pushing cubes, shuffling decks… there is just something delightfully tactile about board games. While these tactile elements can be annoying sometimes (see the above comment about deckbuilding games and shuffling), for the most part, they add something to game. Sometimes it is something about the game’s elegance (like the incredibly clever resource track used in Eclipse), sometimes it is just plain fun (stacking pancak- er, spaceships, in Cosmic Encounter), sometimes it is just an ephemeral sense of joy that comes from seeing it on the table (Ghost Story’s incredible beautiful production), but there is just something -special- in having physical components available to play with. Passing around an iPad or a phone doesn’t quite capture the same feel.

Another important element of board gaming is the human element. This isn’t to say digital games lack a human element. Back when I was a kid, I had all sorts of fun chilling on the couch with friends, chopping each down in Goldeneye. But nowadays, that sort of experience has sort of faded out, being replaced by the convenience of online play. Besides, video games have harder group limitations in general. There is still plenty of room for socialization in video games (even fully online ones, like MMOs or League of Legends), but it is different than having everyone sitting around the table and shooting the shit.

What is there to take from all of this? Well, a couple things.

1. Digital versions of board games aren’t bad, period. You shouldn’t be afraid of them. They have a lot of advantages over physical versions for a lot of people. Accessibility, cost, ease of use… I can’t go to my FLGS everyday to see if someone is up for a game of Android: Netrunner most days. I certainly can’t do it at 1am on Saturday. I can, however, hop on OCTGN and get a game in then.

2. Digital versions of board games aren’t replacements for physical copies. The experience is different. Plain and simple. Sometimes that difference is a bit ephemeral and won’t be obvious to everyone, but it is there.

So, don’t fear new tech. Embrace it. It has its uses and its places. I still prefer real books to eBooks and audiobooks, but that doesn’t mean those don’t have their place. Embracing new tech doesn’t mean letting go of the past, it just means that you have new ways to enjoy your favorite games!


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  1. #1 by IWANTYOUINSIDEME on March 2, 2013 - 6:14 pm

    I have been meaning to ask for some recommendations on this very topic actually.

    Not really having anyone to boardgame with outside of the rare times I get to visit you guys is a bummer, for all that it does make visiting super fucking awesome.

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