Monday, October 03, 2005


Prompted to some degree by this article, I was thinking about what will happen to boardgaming in the future. What will technology do to our hobby? Let's start by looking at what technology has done for games in the past.

My first recollections of games that were more than just a board, pawns, cards, and dice are Operation and Bermuda Triangle. Both of these games used unique mechanisms to manage a physical/dexterity aspect of the game, but nothing more. Players were responsible for playing the game.

Then came the electronic versions of existing games: Electronic Battleship, Electronic Stratego. The game was the same, but the electronics in the board added some extra fluff to the game--in these cases, sounds.

Around this same time, a number of unique games appeared where the "computer" did a bit more. In Code Name: Sector, the computer tracked the locations of hidden but moving submarines as you pinged them from surface ships. In Simon, the computer generated a random sequence of colors flashes (and matching sounds) that players had to be able to replay. In Electronic Detective, the computer created a case for the player to solve using deduction. In Stop Thief, the computer controlled a hidden thief as he ran secretly around the game board, opening doors, smashing windows, etc.

In Dark Tower, the computer controlled the whole game: buying goods, combat, treasure, inventory, etc. Other players could see you moving on the board and hear the sounds invoked by various actions, but you could not tell your exact situation.

In all these cases except for the games that simply play sounds for you, technology allows the game to exist. Without it, you would need an extra person to "run the game" for you.

So how far do we go?

As Groggy mentions, we could have a flat panel display on a table top with software that implements and displays all our games. It would make sure we followed the rules, and manage all the information for us. This is the same thing as playing games online, except that we are all sitting across the table from each other. I think this is too far.

When we play games online, we sacrifice that face-to-face social aspect of gaming for the benefit of being able to play games we don't own, can't find, or can't find local friends to play with. But it's more than that. We love to interact with the game. This means moving our pieces around, rolling dice, drawing and playing cards, and watching others do the same. There's no substitute. In fact, I am finding that when I play games online, I often forget many rules because the server does all the work for me.

There's a new game by Reiner Knizia called King Arthur. I can find little information about it, but what I do know is that there's some kind of conductive ink on the board. When you move pieces around, "the game" detects this and reacts appropriately. I don't know how much of the game is controlled by the computer. The first review states that one player had a hard time getting to board to detect his moves, and that the sound quality was hardly a step up from Dark Tower. My instincts are that the techie aspects of this game are fluff.

I guess for me, technology needs to be incorporated insofar as it makes the game possible, but not so much that it interferes or causes more work for the players. I hate the thought that technology, and particularly computers, will make game systems that are too complex to describe to the user.

For example, what if Wallenstein came with a tiny computer gizmo instead of the cube tower? It would certainly allow the box to be smaller, and you could even have additional "modes of operation" that would allow for variations. But how do you model the cube tower as an algorithm? Being a programmer, I can think of many ways to do it. But I would not want to be a game player letting a gizmo decide my fate without knowing how it worked. When you can look down the insides of the thing, you can develop some intuition about how it works and what to expect. All the mechanics of a game need to be accessible to the players.

In the future we may see games implemented on flat-panel table-top displays, but have the feeling these types of devices would be primarily made for computer games (maybe akin to the old arcade football games with the large track balls). Board game implementations on them will be more like games on cell phones--an afterthought.

I love my computer, and I do many things with it, including playing board games. But I don't think I'll be letting go of my cardboard, plastic, and wood for a long time.


At 8:01 PM, Blogger Steve Janecek said...

Let it go Jim, I know you can.. Sometimes we just have to move on to bigger and better things :(.

Wouldn't it be neat if a game used the physics of actual pieces to affect the game board. For example, players standing on certain points made it harder for other pieces to move..a floating board so to speak.

Or maybe a game where influence was decided through relationships of pieces so the actual positional placement of a piece had infinite choices and the slighrst difference could affect the game.

Personally, I look forward to the days where FOLEDs will be used for gaming..but maybe I just don;t appreciate what we have now...


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