Will the iPad Ever Replace Conventional Board Games?

Published on July 30, 2012
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There are a huge number of boardgames now available on the iPad. Covering every genre: from trading card games to abstract strategy; themed games with gargantuan rulebooks to recreations of the classics. And make no minstake, they are one of the most popular types of game on the tablet, appealing to all ages and to gamers of all abilities.

But will implementations on Apple’s device ever truly replace their real-world counterparts? Can the iPad ever take the place of the thrill of sliding open a physical box and taking out the contents? Is a game on the iPad worth two in the hobby store?

Let’s examine a few areas and compare physical boardgaming with its electronic counterpart: and as we’re talking about gaming, let’s award each side a victory in each and see if we can find a champion.

No more pieces lost down the back of the sofa

Some physical boardgames have literally hundreds of pieces. Counters, miniatures, tokens, chits: and often more coins than the local bank. Sure, these can be great to look at – and to handle – but there’s no denying games with loads of bits and pieces can be a bit fiddly.

Smallworld5 500x375 Will the iPad Ever Replace Conventional Board Games? ipad screenshot

The main risk is losing a vital component, or having a family pet decide it looks like the tastiest thing since bacon. Even a misplaced cough or sneeze can result in a confetti storm of game counters fluttering down around your ears.

So, apart from the physical pleasure of being able to touch game components and see them all lined up in neat rows, columns and piles, I’m going to say the iPad definitely wins here.

This is further cemented by the fact some physical games with lots of pieces can often take as long to unpack and set up as it does to actually play. Not so on the iPad. Here, all you generally need to do is click the game icon, choose a few settings and press ‘start’.

No more arguments

Think of a game like Le Havre or Ghost Stories. Brilliantly designed, expertly balanced…but with rules that can seem impenetrable and bewildering, even after you’ve played them a few times.

LeHarve5 500x375 Will the iPad Ever Replace Conventional Board Games? ipad screenshot

With an iPad implementation (or, to be fair, any computer version of a complex game), the rules are automatically enforced. Legal moves are highlighted, actions you can’t take are disallowed, points are automatically calculated: taking the headache – and the potential for rules-based bust-ups with your opponents – out of the gameplay experience.

And most come with tutorials to ease you into the game, letting you discover the nuances and depth of the title without having to spend a massive amount of head-scratching and bewilderment.

Another win for the tablet…

No friends required

Whether you count this one as a victory for the iPad really depends on your personal taste and circumstance. If you’re the kind of gamer who loves sharing the physical experience with real people, then the tablet is a poor substitute for sitting with your friends around a big table with the physical game laid out before you.

Sure, many titles are pass-and-play enabled, but handing the iPad from one player to another doesn’t have the same feeling of shared experience as poring over a board and watching as your fellow gamers make their moves.

And whilst online play allows you to play against real people, you can’t see the whites of their eyes as you deliver a crushing blow; or try to gauge their expression to see if they’re holding all the game-winning cards. And sharing virtual beer and pizza just isn’t the same…

carcasonne3 500x375 Will the iPad Ever Replace Conventional Board Games? ipad screenshot

If however you’re a boardgame fan with a lack of game-playing friends and family members, iPad titles with AI options are a godsend. If you’ve drooled over games like Carcasonne or Settlers of Catan but not had enough real people to play them with, then the iPad comes up trumps – always available, always willing and – on titles with well-programmed AI – always with an uncanny ability to beat you.

No more games cupboard

If you’re an avid collector of physical boardgames, you’ll have encountered one of the hobby’s problems: they’re not called big box games for nothing. Anything more than half a dozen boardgames can end up taking up more room than you have closet space – and unless you have a very understanding partner / parents / roommate, this will end up leading to grief before too long.

Here, the iPad is once again victor. Constrained only by its memory, it can fit an entire library of games into its sleek and slender frame. No more teetering piles of boxes (with the title you want to play invariably at the bottom). No more throwing out clothes so you can fit one more box into your collection. No – the iPad will happily store a collection of titles that you would otherwise need a second home to accomodate.

And the winner is…?

We have to declare the iPad the winner (and not just because of our website’s title).

Apart from the lack of physical pieces and the lack of physical friends, the tablet’s advantages are many. Indeed, it may even be helping to reignite interest in the boardgame genre, with a whole host of new gamers discovering the delights that boardgaming has to offer.

Is it the future? Will it ever replace conventional board games? Ultimately, who knows?

But one thing’s for sure – the iPad is a superb platform for gaming of all genres, and boardgames in particular.

Long may it reign.

Review By: keith

Has played games since games were first invented on every format ever, but now mainly plays them on the iPad (largely due to time constraints). Lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. Freelance digital consultant and photographer.
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23 comments
Chew
Chew

For me, the Ipad has great potential, but the games need to at least have voice chat before it can fully replace board games.  My daughter went to college and we thought the ipad would be a great way to continue our gaming rivalry.  And while we did play a few games, we really missed the bantering and verbal interaction of being in the same room.  To me, half the fun is the social interaction while playing the game.

 

Once games have that then the Ipad offers a lot of convenience to storing the games, setting them up, and putting them away.

Bpiehler
Bpiehler

I have a different perspective. I started somewhat backwards, mostly playing on iPad before getting into the board game hobby. I take my iPad with me on trips, but when I'm at home, it gets used as a music player while we gather around the table. Before, with pass and play on the pad, we would watch TV or a movie while waiting for our turns... Now the focus is the group, and it really is a better experience. The analogy sometimes used is iPad is to board games as films are to books. I'm grateful for the iPad as it got me into the hobby, and it's cool to be able to use both.

Carlos Ascanio
Carlos Ascanio

Maybe it depends on the personality, but in my case, iPad is definitively the winner. I have got a lot of boardgames and I'm always looking for someone to play with. It's hard to find people with the time to play. With the iPad you can always play either against AI or other people online. Games are cheaper in the iPad than in real life so you can have more games in the iPad, you don't need physical space to store games in the iPad, you don't need to arm and disarm the board. I have been introduced to some boardgames through the iPad and I don't even think of buying them in their physical version. I hope other board games I own in physical go to the iPad, as Alhambra, cities & knights (catan expansion), other expansions of carcassonne, etc...

mrhorseshoe
mrhorseshoe

iPad is the definite winner.  I have a collection of physical board games that have been played exactly once over the past 10 years.  With the iPad I get to play daily online and with my friends that have their own iPad (who doesn't have an iPad these days?).

spotblind
spotblind

Will the iPad ever replace sitting down at table to play with friends face to face. Never. It's too small yet.

 

Will something bigger replace physical board games. Yes it could, for some people. Even for those who wish to hold things.

 

Will physical board games ever be able to provide all of the flexible opportunities to game that a digital tablet game can offer? Never. For flexibility and the ability to offer engagement in many different situations (instant, solo, online, quick portability, ergonomic positions, etc,) with the mechanics a given board game, the iPad and whatever its predecessor will be, just wins hands down.

dwlim2
dwlim2

ipad may be great but without physical friends to react and chat, boardgames are still better. It is no fun without them. Playing with AI all the time is no different that playing than playing with console games alone. 

significance
significance like.author.displayName 1 Like

For two players, the instant set-up is what makes iPad beat physical games for me. Being able to supplement a face-to-face opponent with AI players to make more multiplayer games available to a couple or pair of friends is another important factor. For more than two players, screen size is a big issue. For that, we need to wait for either table-sized iPads or universal tablet ownership, with more games designed to be played across multiple tablets. Pass and play doesn't quite do it, because you don't get to see what other players are doing while they are doing it.

DNAmers
DNAmers

Thought-provoking article.  I too am a fan of the physical aspect of a game, I love me a board full of cool wooden pieces, and I love moving them around.  And while setting the game up is rarely a chore -- primarily due to the enthusiasm of looking forward to play -- packing it up usually is, is you're usually mentally exhausted and/or have a second game you want to crack open.  These two are roughly equivalent for me, and the tablet's ease of setup balances it's non-physicality.

 

What tips the scales to the physical game's favour, however, is the basic act of sitting down with a bunch of friends to play.  Ultimately, playing the actual game is only ever about half to two-thirds of the experience; it's the table talk, the unwarranted, strategic advice on another players tactics, the pointing out the error of their most recent move just to rub it in, or that timeless classic, doing everything you can to convince the strongest player that it's in their best interest to attack someone other than you that makes board games more than simple games.  It's the social experience.

Erufailon
Erufailon

 @DNAmers Yeah, I didn't want to mention the social aspect, because screen size was mentioned as a fault so far, and if we would have table sized screens we could sit around that with friends. However portability would be a lot worse than that of a boardgame :)

Erufailon
Erufailon

For me all of these are negated by just one thing: can't touch it. Can't hold the pieces in my hand, cant admire the craftsmanship in many games and how awesome it looks set up on the table, etc. That said i have lots of boardgames on my ipad, just as i have many comics, but i will always prefer the physical version, no matter what. I got up in this with the comics a lot until i realized its not the same and now i have quite a few that i have both digitaly and physicaly. Boardgames are also like this, i have many in both forms, but in that case those were concious decisions, because i get a lot more playtime on my ipad especially since my daughter arrived. Still whenever i get the chance to play i'd prefer the physical.

Guest
Guest

Don't forget cost, all the iPad board games I have cost less than $10!!

Bpiehler
Bpiehler

@Guest And how much was your iPad? ;)

Keith
Keith

That's pretty much a clincher for me - can't believe I missed that one!

Alvin Chao
Alvin Chao

Two more items in favor of digital(iPad) gaming:

 

Setup - Don't forget the ease of setting up a game in a digital or iPad version.  This is one of the elements of games that is overlooked as far as something that makes certain folks hate a game the tedium of setting it up.  

 

Randomization - dice or order of cards can be better randomized in say Dominion when shuffling can be a tedious and annoying task as well as not done to the satisfaction of other players.

NyloTw
NyloTw

no more cars sleeves!!! :)

btw real boardgames with real friends are still better IMHO!

James Bruce
James Bruce moderator

Great article, but I completely disagree. For me, screen size is the major issue here. You just can't sit down with a handful of friends and stick an iPad in the middle - and sitting down with some friends is ultimately what gaming is and should be about. I don't touch multiplayer - I play iPad implementations solely for practice. 

 

Now, huge tabletop displays might change this (the iTable?) but for now, an 11" screen is never going to win out over actual games. 

Keith
Keith

 @James Bruce Yes, size is definitely a major factor, and one I suppose I should have made more of in terms of the iPad's disadvantages. The disadvantage is relatively minor with two players (I've had a few sessions with a real-life friend on games like Small World and Ghost Stories, and after a while we forget the size of the screen). With more than that, it is a limiting factor, yes - and I can't see tabletop displays becoming mainstream (or like you go on to say later, affordable) for a while yet.

JpEncausse
JpEncausse

 @James Bruce 

 

I agree with James, digital board game is the right direction but:

- Screen size is an issue

- More than 2 player is complicated

- It really depends of game type (would love to see a Epic SpaceMarines or Warhammer40K on surface table)

 

@James should have a look at KickStart Project: PlaySurfacehttp://www.kickstarter.com/projects/472263971/playsurface-the-affordable-multi-touch-computing-t 

James Bruce
James Bruce moderator

 @JpEncausse  Thanks Jp, I actually built a similar table myself a few years back - using IR lasers, a modified Sony webcam and a projector. To be honest, they're not great, but maybe thats the software. If only M$ would get their surface (sorry, pixelsense as its now called) down to a reasonable price point. 

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