The effect that the iPad has had on the board gaming community is amazing. The potential of the device as a board game platform was immediately apparent and since release designers and developers have been choosing a wide variety of titles to port across based on various criteria such ease of conversion, suitability for AI play and popularity. Some, such as Ascension have been spectacular successes, others like Bohnanza have been very questionable choices but the stream has been constant and steady and most of the products well worth checking for their extremely reasonable app store prices.
But it seems to me that suddenly, we’ve reached a tipping point. That stream has very suddenly become a veritable flood, at least if you include all the titles for which conversions are promised as being in the pipeline. Amongst the excellent games that I’ve read will be sent to the iPad in the near future are Commands & Colors: Ancients, Survive: Escape from Atlantis, Nightfall, Summoner Wars, Eclipse and Twilight Struggle. Others, such as Imperial and Cyclades are poised to receive important updates. There are more I can’t mention because I’ve forgotten them, or because the bases games aren’t interesting enough to be on my radar.
I don’t doubt that this sudden rush to market has something to do with the fact that Days of Wonder publicly observed that sales of their Ticket to Ride and Ticket to Ride: Pocket apps were driving sales of the physical game and vice-versa. And as a hobby gamer it’s a pretty exciting time – that link between physical and digital sales that Days of Wonder CEO Eric Hautemont observed holds up the possibility that this may be the watershed moment we’ve all been longing for when certain more accessible hobby games penetrate the wider conciousness meaning that we have more people to play against and further dispelling of the pejorative perception that games are just things for kids. It’s a good time to be a gamer.
But there’s a part of me that’s worried. It’s probably the same part that would niggle me with doubts about future happiness if I were to win a multi-million lottery prize in this case certainly driven by annoyance over how I’m going to afford all these things and find time to play them. What worries me is that in the rush to put everything on a tablet, some people, especially nascent board gamers attracted by the new titles but without wide experience of the hobby, will forget why board games have attractions over video games in the first place, to whit human interaction. I mean, the fact that someone thought Bohnanza would make a great experience without a cut-throat table full of people to bargain and haggle with doesn’t bode well in this regard, nor does the absence of messaging facilities in more appropriate games and nor does the downward march of the European game design paradigm that seems determined to squeeze every last ounce of direct player interaction out of the game experience. Casual gamers may come to modern board games through mobile devices, but if they continue to find them as dry and soulless as many of them are now, they certainly won’t stay.