Apps bring new possibilities to board games



The X-Com game sounds like it might be cool; but Golem Arcana seems to have missed a trick by including the big wand thing. This really appears too clunky an addition to the game. Surely any utility it might possess could be replaced by putting QR Codes on the models and cards and using the tablet’s camera to read them?

I can see the uses for an app to remind players of on-going conditions and to generate and track damage, but once you start using them to track movement and calculate lines of sight, you might as well play a app game.

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A cool feature for app moderated games would be an automatically generated battle report.

While this is an interesting topic and worth covering, the article is written nearly as breathlessly as a press release. And good for the companies involved, but this is a rare case where the title of an article is more substantive than the article itself. The author clearly buys into the idea that the physical ephemera are outmoded and clunky, but how do players feel about replacing dice-rolling with button presses on an app? Most, if not all, of the functionality described is simply streamlining and replacing what can already be accomplished with physical objects. Is simply accelerating and providing some measure of convenience enough of a sell? Again, this could well be the future, but it would seem to me that when apps really provide an improved gameplay, or an element of gameplay not possible on the board, that you’ll have achieved something. But this article does little to consider these. Whereas the title seems to imply much more (new exciting apps that do these things hint at the future intersection of apps and games). Anyway, still worth the read, but problematic.

Disclaimer: I’m an early Kickstarter backer for Golem Arcana, and I don’t regret a thing. :slight_smile:

The big wand thing is a stylus with a micro-camera in the tip and two input buttons. It works smoothly, and is exactly your idea with QR codes and the tablet’s camera, except they use patterned microcodes, instead of QR codes, on the board, figure bases, and cards. This means no awkward waving of cards, figures, or board pieces in front of the tablet or cellphone camera trying to get it to auto focus on the QR code, and no repositioning the tablet or phone to recognize a code on the battlefield. You just bring the camera in the stylus tip to the too-small-for-the-eye-to-see codes painted across the game pieces, and with just a tap it works really well.

I went in likewise thinking the stylus approach might be gimmicky, then demo’d the game at the 2013 GenCon and was surprised by how well it functioned. It can still look awkward watching other people play in videos, but hands-on it’s simple as a tap with the stylus, and just as fast. It takes playing through the tutorial or a game or two to get used to a preferred method of using the stylus/smart device combo as you can tap on either cards, figures, or the screen to perform some of the same actions. After playing a small handful of times, focus moves towards the board and your opponent, and the selection activities (attack, info, confirm…etc) with the stylus and smart-device becomes second nature. You’re playing with friends, not an app.

Also, your idea sort of progresses towards AR concepts and you might find this early Golem Arcana video interesting: - it’s from the Kickstarter, and explained some of the stretch goal ideas that Harebrained Schemes had for Golem Arcana’s further development, including the use of AR. More interesting is that as the game sells, they’re continuing to work on some of these ideas, with their Living World game fiction, Remote Play, and other features announced on their site as near-future development

So, I’m guessing if they continue, we might see the AR element down the road. At least, I hope so. It does seem gimmicky but with AR goggle development being all the rage these days, it might arrive in time to move from gimmick to functional trend.

Finally, playing an app isn’t the same experience as playing other people across the table. I was worried about this when I first heard about Golem Arcana, but as I mentioned, after a couple of playthroughs, player focus moves from the app to the tabletop and other players, which is the whole point. It’s a fun social and tactile experience this way, more so than just playing an app game, and Golem Arcana successfully brings something of tabletop wargame fun to a logical next step, the way Chainmail or D&D diverged from wargaming in the 70’s, except instead of being divergent, it’s more evolutionary. If it’s revolutionary as well, remains to be seen. I’m just glad it’s fun, that my wife picked up playing it on her own which surprised the hell out of me, and some of our friends went out and bought Golem Arcana after giving it a try.

I know, I sound like an ad. Really, I’m glad I didn’t waste hundreds of $$$ up front during the Kickstarter and the game isn’t sitting on a shelf gathering dust. We play often enough together and with friends that it stays out, set up on a game table in the corner of our living room, and it looks stylish enough to do so. Great games make for good times.

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Interesting feedback. You make some good points, but player reactions were impossible to address at the time of this article’s writing. Two of the three games are not “in the wild” yet. However, everyone I spoke to who played Golem Arcana liked it, and the limited XCOM demo Fantasy Flight brought to Gen Con was solidly impressive. No one I spoke to had any complaints about it.

This is likely a topic worth coming back to once the games have reached store shelves and players have had time to form a real opinion. I’ll be getting a review copy of Alchemists in the near future so that I can personally see how well it works.

Right now, though, it’s interesting and newsworthy that all three games have appeared at the same time.

The physical ephemera is actually a big point of Golem Arcana. No, it’s not a string & measure wargame, but it is a tactile tabletop wargame, not an app, that’s fun for oldschool and accessibly playable for a broader market/audience/player type. That’s far from buying in to an idea that physical ephemera are outmoded or clunky. And, physical dice rolling is part of the game for those who prefer it like I do. The base game even comes with a pair of dice. But, kids today…for some, the option of tapping a button to roll an attack and move on to defensive strategies and tactical planning is just as attractive, and Golem Arcana provides each player their preferred choice, which allows more players to have fun together. As I no longer have time for frequent day long war gaming sessions, I do think “accelerating and providing some measure of convenience” isn’t just enough of a sell, it’s the key to getting to play a style of game I enjoy at all, and more importantly, Golem Arcana’s accessibility allows me to play with other people I never thought would jump in to any sort of tabletop war gaming, including my wife who has an amazing and killer talent for strategy that would have never been realized with the casual boardgames she’d been playing with our friends on game nights.

Thanks for that. I’d looked at the kickstarter and was put off by the wand and the miniatures. I had bad memories of 1980’s and 90’s games featuring “electronic enhancements”. I’m glad to hear you are having a good time with it. I’ll certainly try to get in a demo game if I see one.

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I used to dig in to the old “electronic enhanced” games too, and found most of them wanting as well. Some of the spooky VHS/DVD games were fun for a few playthroughs, but they were limited. Nothing really stood out since then until more recently I had high hopes for Ex Illis, but its manual input created a disconnect between the game and player which just wasn’t fun. Mostly the tech of the time wasn’t up to the task of producing something really awesome. We’re finally getting there now. Though I expect to see a ton of crap as usual, I’m not as pessimistic as I’d been, primarily due to Golem Arcana, and having recently seen many pieces of the digitally enhanced tabletop puzzle in other products. The next few years should be interesting in this game space.

Also, if you’d like to check for demos in your area, the developer posts a frequently updated list of demos and organized play events here

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Thanks for the link.

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