Technology in Board Games, are They Still Board Games?

Technology in Board Games, are They Still Board Games?

So, recently there’s been a trend in board games where apps or other pieces or technology are starting to get integrated into gaming. Then CMON announced Teburu a digital board set-up that allows the system to track where your characters are, have your player sheet digitally in front of you, and to know what you rolled on special dice.

So, is there a point where a board game isn’t a board game? And do you qualify something like Onirim, Onitama, Ascension, and other games that can be played fully digitally to be board games in that form?

This is a question that a lot of board gamers have been grappling with. There are those who really enjoy breadth of what can be added to gaming. There are those who like there fact that it helps with book keeping. There are those who don’t like it, because they don’t want technology around when they game. There are those who don’t like it because they want their board games to be only board, cards, and dice.

Image Source: Board Game Geek

I think that I can see both sides of the argument with this. Now, I will say, personally I enjoy when games have apps integrated into them. But I can also understand not having technology at the table. It’s nice, when playing Gloomhaven, to be able to sit down and just play without checking a phone much or at all for a couple of hours. Just because some games have an app doesn’t mean that all of them do, so there’s always going to be the option to play games without an app.

Now, I can understand that with a game like Journeys in Middle Earth, where the app helps out a lot with the game play and making things run smoother. In some ways, you don’t really need to set it up on the table because of how much of the heavy lifting the app does. So, that leans into the app a lot, and it doesn’t offer a way to play without the app. Games like Descent 2nd Edition and Star Wars: Imperial Assault both can be played with an app, almost to the level that you could Journeys in Middle Earth, but they also allow for options where there doesn’t need to be an app. So is that pushing it too far away form a board game, or is, because Lord of the Rings is a theme that a lot of people enjoy, something that bugs the people who want board games without apps, because they can’t get that game with that theme like they’d want?

In some ways, I think because you can’t get a handful of games, with whatever themes they might have on them, per year, that’s not that much of a reason to be up on arms about it. There are thousands of games that come out each year, and the vast majority of them don’t have an app with them. Now, a number of the ones that are talked about a ton, do end up having an app with them or something along those lines, because they are something new and different. But being new and different doesn’t make them the only games that are worth it out there, as we’ve seen with some of the hottest games this year being Wingspan and Tapestry, in terms of hype, which don’t have an app with them.

Image Source: Z-Man

So, I personally think, whether you fall on the side of app or no technology, you are going to have plenty of games to play. For that reason, I don’t think there’s much of a reason to complain when game does come out with an app.

That brings me to the second part, though, does playing game like Onitama or Onirim on your phone count as playing a board game? Or a larger game like Small World or Scythe, are those board games still or when you are playing them on your tablet or phone, does that change it up so that it’s not a true board game experience.

Here, I actually am going to go with saying that they aren’t playing the board game. Though, it is close. Onirim is the one that makes this tricky. The reason it’s tricky is that Onirim is a solo game experience, when I think about the others, you lose the face to face, sitting around the same table aspect of the board game experience. With Onirim, you never have that experience. So, I’m going to say, my reason for saying they aren’t truly a board game experience is because you aren’t getting the tactile experience that you do with a board game. You aren’t flipping the cards and shuffling in Onirim, which for a lot is really nice, but you lose that tactile experience.

This really then does take us into Teburu. I got to barely see it through a window at GenCon, but it was interesting to see live as well as see the video for it. It’s an interesting thing, because while most games with apps still have you do most things, Teburu is going to allow the games to track even more things. In Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition, you track where the monsters and you are on the board, the same with fire, the game only cares that there are still monsters, investigators, and fire on the board. So you’re still involved with that, and you still track when hit a monster or number of successes for a given roll. In Teburu, whatever game you are playing on the system, you’ll be able to roll the dice and it’ll automatically calculate your successes or possibly prompt you to see if you want to reroll something or use an item or something along those lines to improve your roll.

So, does that take it away from being a board game? If we’re going by my tactile board gaming experience, it seems like it wouldn’t because you are still rolling dice and moving pieces on the board. But it does feel a whole lot closer to being a video game when it’s doing all the house keeping. Journeys in Middle Earth definitely falls into the same issue, while you still have to enter successes, there are definitely things that feel like you don’t need to set-up the board, you can just play the game in the system, or if not fully doing that, be able to almost do that. In think that Teburu is going to be an interesting enhancement to board gaming. It makes we wonder what they’ll be able to use it for, and if I were to ever get it, if it would still feel like a board game experience.

Overall, I think that technology in board games is interesting. I don’t think that it’s needed for a great gaming experience, though. And there are so many games out there, that I’m always going to have the option to play a board game without the use of an app. I’m excited and curious to see how technology will be used in the future, with story driven games like Time of Legends: Destinies or Chronicles or Crime where they are offering content creation tools since the story is contained in an app, to Star Wars: Imperial Assault that allows you to do a cooperative dungeon crawl without as much busy work. There are a lot of fun things out there, and even playing games like Onirim and Onitama as an app can be fun, because it gives you a chance to try it before you buy it.

What do you think about board games having apps or needing apps to play them? Do you want them to only be cardboard, dice, and cards? What is your favorite game that integrates an app?

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