Board game/Computer game hybrids

Posted by Jeff McArthur

There have been some games released recently that are a hybrid between a computer game or app and a physical board game. This could be looked at as either a creative and ingenious idea or as a passing fad. I think it’s a little bit of both, but without the “passing” part.

What’s nice about this concept is that the program can do the math for you and keep track of the rules while you concentrate on playing. No more paging through rulebooks, wondering if your roll meant you hit, or performing all sorts of record keeping; now you just move your pieces as dictated and take the results as stated.

This will work well in games that require a lot of record keeping that is annoying in the game. It’ll make games like Starfleet Command more enjoyable, as the multitude of complex issues on each ship will be recorded automatically. And the use of a tablet fits perfectly with the concept and feel of Star Trek. (Plus they could put in sound effects, etc.)

This app/board game hybrid concept is also currently being used in a miniatures game and in X-Com: The Board Game. These seem to be more or less effective, especially on X-Com, where there is quite a bit of record keeping and math one would need to do in these games that will no longer have to be handled manually. This concept is also extremely well used in Ultimate Werewolf, where the app serves as the narrator, giving instructions to the players so there doesn't need to be a game master. (Now everyone plays.)

This will, no doubt, inspire many designers to utilize this technology for games that don’t need it, and which are, in fact, hurt by it. Adding an app to a game that’s already easy and works well will only complicate matters and make players have to bother with something they don’t really need or possibly even want. Designers must also take into account the enjoyment people have with the tactile nature of board games. Players want dice and they want to physically roll them. They want to move the pieces and they want to feel the cards and the board. If they just wanted to keep looking at a screen, they’d play a computer game.

So game designers need to bear this in mind before they spend a fortune including apps with their games. Like so many other advances in technology, this is a tool, not a replacement.