A period of massive growth and innovation for the board game sector is being consolidated by a new wave of futuristic, app-enhanced games. Peter Jenkinson, a board game expert who blogs at toyology.co.uk, knows all about them – but he's quick to point ...
A period of massive growth and innovation for the board game sector is being consolidated by a new wave of futuristic, app-enhanced games.
Peter Jenkinson, a board game expert who blogs at toyology.co.uk, knows all about them – but he's quick to point out that similar technologies have existed before. "The first digitally enhanced board game, called Atmosphere, was made in the 1990s", he says. "You'd put in the telly and play along. These new games can be played on a level without an app, but the app is there to enhance game play or replace the rule book."
Are they the future? "I think it will remain a niche category, but that still leaves room for at least a hundred and fifty more app inspired or digitally boosted board games."
Here are Jenkinson's picks of the best.
Beasts of Balance
"This is a stacking game in which the pieces are infused with [wireless data transfer technology] NFC. You tap them on a plinth which is connected to an app device, and those pieces then come to life on the screen in three worlds: air, land or sea. As the game progresses you can crossbreed the animals and create some weird and wonderful looking things.
"It’s a collaborative game in which you’re working together to create a stack, but the new version is due to introduce 60 NFC-infused battle cards. The company behind it have a dedicated team of over twenty people working on it, including three UX [user experience] designers, a lead designer, technologists, the whole shebang. The game has definitely broken new ground and elevated the category."
"XCOM was a PC game that they’ve developed into an app-enhanced board game. You play the part of a group of elite soldiers against a bunch of UFOs; a classic mercenaries versus aliens play. It’s not for the faint hearted because it’s pretty much a two hour game for four or five people.
"The app would best be described as a companion app rather than an essential piece of the game. It exists to assist you through the game and guide you through without having to tear your hair out reading a rulebook. It adds a narrative as well. The app adds ambiance, atmosphere and negates the need for a rulebook."
"Dr Panic is utterly bonkers. The artwork in itself is enough to make you want to have a go. It’s a collaborative play. There are loads of different pieces, including a woopie cushion - yes, that’s correct - which acts as a defibrelator.
"You’ve got to keep the patient alive between you. You all have different roles to play, and you draw a card at the beginning. The app essentially lends the excitement to the game because it’s a race against time to save the patient. We’re not talking about normal humans either, you could have a killer whale on your operating table. You can play it slowly at first but the app basically speeds up the game. You could play it without the app but the tension wouldn’t be there unless you had some really good actors in the room."
One Night Ultimate Alien
"You can’t play this without an app - full stop. Press go on the app and it will encourage players to avoid certain actions, for example you can’t talk for a couple of rounds or you can’t reveal your identity. You’re basically trying to uncover who is the alien in a group of players. The app will help you and hinder you as to finding out who it is."
Mansions of Madness
"This is a massive game. The box weighs 3 or 4 kilos. There are so many elements of it, so much stuff, so many rules, so many twists and turns and pieces. You are essentially fighting demons and bad spirits in a mansion which is full of people, and you’re collaboratively trying to get out of there. If you didn’t have the app you would need to have a close relationship to someone highly intelligent - sadly Einstein is no longer with us - but someone of similar intellect, to go through the rulebook. The app makes it a bit more than a board game, a bit of a story, a bit of a night out, and gives a really beautiful narrative to the story. It adds that element of storytelling which is equally as interesting as the game."
Spin to Sing
"A chance to recreate a talent (or lack thereof) show in your own abode, ridicule family members or friends on their vocal ability or perhaps unearth a singing star in your midst, the Spin to sing game plays on the jeopardy model of spinning a bottle but when the microphone lands on you it is time to yell (or yodel. ) Performers sing along to the track displayed on the smartphone app, fellow players or judges rate your performance via the app and the highest average score is tallied and the winner treated to a montage of all their best bits as recorded by the devices camera.
"Included cards add twists to the game play including the chance to allow less graceful vocals to sing in the style of opera, rap or sing like a mouse so even those with voices of questionable quality can try and win their critics over with an outlandish performance instead."