As I’ve said before (I’m going to sound like a stuck record I know, but it’s something I’m proud of) I’m a gamer. Board, party, card or video games, if I can, compete or play I’m interested. But I haven’t honestly ever pitted video games and the others together, other than a few game apps on my phone purely for convenience I haven’t really considered any cross over before. But looking through forums, talking to people and actually looking at available apps/games it’s clear that, not too long ago, someone saw the lack of digital transfers of boardgames as an opportunity and cashed in. Whether their hope was to remove the need for physical copies or whether it was purely for convenience, they’re more readily available, cheaper and helping remove boundaries gamers regularly encounter. Now this isn’t my immediate resignation as a board-gamer; I adore the physicality of owning a game, setting it up and being sociable too much! But it does concern me that there may be people out there who were gamers but have resigned themselves to their phones. A bit daft in my opinion, but still possible!
Do I believe that apps will replace physical copies? Well, my first experience of buying a boardgame app with the intention of playing it regularly was Carcassonne on iOS. It was simply a means to an end; I wanted to play but didn’t own the game myself (in my defence, I was still in college and had no substantial means of income, it was an easy fix). Once I did own the game the app was more or less redundant other than to fix the unsatisfiable itch of craving games! Though I must admit, playing over a longer period was quite helpful; were me and whoever unable to finish the game we could basically ‘pause’ the game… by that I mean not have their turn until it was convenient. Also being able to play against an AI with ridiculously higher skill levels than myself is always quite humbling, and frustrating. Pros and cons I guess. On top of that I enjoyed the fact that the rules were immediately known and the game began without messing around. Although my group as a unit all got the Galaxy Trucker app and played that for an evening, and after that we never touched it again. It was a novelty! It was fun while we played it, but I would always choose the physical game over the app when given the choice for any game. Always.
The apps fix the craving temporarily, but the addiction requires that social interaction and competitive element to it. Even the set up is something I enjoy when I know it’s going to be a good game! Everyone participates in the set up and works towards getting ready. I won’t lie, the app has a purpose, but has nothing on the physical copy! On top of that, I have tried the Ticket To Ride app, and again, great quick fix but the physical game is way more fun. Even when playing on the app with others in the same room, the social element of the game is missing something. Maybe it’s because everyone’s say on a device – the main pet peeve of all boardgame enthusiasts. It’s definitely a pace killer when playing physical games, especially when you’re then having to explain all the events they’ve missed and let them replan their moves (definitely speaking from experience!)
So no, I don’t believe apps will ever replace physical games. Not for me nor my group.
On the flip side, there are some unarguable benefits to playing a boardgame on an app, it’s portable, it’s accessible and often a grand sight cheaper than the physical copy. Also, I can definitely see scope for introducing certain games to non-gamers through apps. The rules are concretely there and there’s little confusion, and the game’s prompts will allow for the understanding to come easily. My only concern there is that non-gamers may resort back to the preference of being on a device to play. And this isn’t me painting all non-gamers by the same brush, I’m speaking from experience. Why would you want to do something that requires movement, time and set up when you can crack the app open? Breaking the barrier or getting someone to try a game is easier once they’ve tried the app version, but I’ve never found the app to be a sure fire guarantee of playing the real deal! It’s possible that apps may replace boardgames for non-gamers, but those who’ve had a proper taste of gaming and enjoyed it are likely to enjoy the process of play too much to prefer the app (that’s just what I think anyway..) I don’t mean to sound in anyway, shape or form elitist, but the power and influence devices have on our lives is something you can’t ignore.
The other element to this is the party game aspect. Party games are supposed to be fun, immediate and interactive. I am yet to play any party game that has no downtime whatsoever. And I’m not saying all party games are bad for this reason (check my podcast if you don’t believe me, I’ve played some incredible party games!). The clear advantage for video games that are actually party games don’t have downtime (generally speaking), are taught through the digital platform, and are accessible to all. Now I’m not talking about the old school DVDs you put in and someone appears on the TV to berate you and ask quiz style questions, nor am I referencing Mario Party or the likes. I’m talking about games like JackBox and the likes. Games that have taken full advantage of the technology available to them to ensure everyone can play, or those that have brought in a really innovative concept that you couldn’t do in a better manner through a tabletop. The games I’ve played on these are some of the most social, funny and interactive games available. I’m usually put off any interactive or social game when it involves a screen, but it’s the direction of most things nowadays anyway. If you own a console and need a game for more than 4 people, I’d really recommend JackBox!
Back to the original point; I honestly can’t see apps/video game ports of boardgames ever exceeding or removing the need for the physical versions. I can see purpose behind the use of digital versions for various reasons, but can’t see them becoming the forefront of gaming; tabletop is too good to be replaced! Don’t get me wrong though; people said 3D printers wouldn’t take off and now every other bloke seems to be printing unique scenery to terraforming mars or making custom inserts..