Encroaching Technology in Board Games: the Present

Hey! What’s that in your pocket? There’s a good chance that it’s an iPhone or an Android (whatever flavor you choose) phone. Well, it is also possible that you are reading this blog post on that device so it’s in your hand. Technology storage logistics aside, we live in a world where almost everyone has some sort of connected device and most people have them on their person more than wear socks. (This is a statistic I’ve made up as I rarely wear socks).
This is part two of of three in our Encroaching Technology in Board Games series. I’m here to talk about the present. Ghost of Board Games Past, Chris, did a bang up job talking about what the world has seen by way of springs, records, and microchips leading us right up to today. I started my journey trying to understanding the present of technology in board games like I have started so many journeys, in a spreadsheet. I decided that to really understand where our community is in technology based board gaming I need to start classifying things. I looked at:
  • What games had apps
  • What games required apps
  • What games had apps that game straight from the developer
  • What games had apps that the fanbase had to create out of necessity (or because they wanted to.
Behind the shield in Letters from Whitechapel
Behind the shield in Letters from Whitechapel

I did all these things and then the other night I was playing one of the Annex’s favorites, Letters from Whitechapel, and I noticed that we had used our last sheet of Jack paper on the last play through. No big deal, right? I can just grab a sheet of paper and make notes for myself with little to no trouble. About half way through night one I was patiently waiting for the constables to deliberate on where I had wandered off to and got a bit annoyed at the idea that I had to make my own player sheet.

The Last Friday from Ares Games
The Last Friday from Ares Games

I thought about the new game I played at Gen Con, The Last Friday. If you are unfamiliar with the title, it is sort of a spiritual successor to Letters and comes from the original publisher of Letters, Ares. In The Last Friday, the Jack player has to do a little creative origami to make a blank piece of paper fit into the player shield before play begins. This solves the Letters from Whitechapel custom page problem but creates its own. As I waited for my turn, I picked up my phone and started looking for some fan-made apps to deal with Jack’s movement. I quickly found one but found it lackluster. It laid out the whole map for me and made me pick spaces by tapping their actual locations. Maybe on an iPad or other tablet this might be fine, but in a pinch an iPhone will not cut it. An app that stops me needing a finite resource is what was needed.

Twilight Imperium is Muskegon's favorite game. The whole damn town loves it.
Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition

Another favorite of the Annex is a game called Twilight Imperium. We play it quite regularly for the depth and duration of the game. Not only do we play it, we have some interesting rules for set up because of the deep reporting statistics that Chris likes to keep. Before our last 8 player game, I decided it would be nice to have an automated system that would randomize our races for us. It would end up being a complicated program to some extent if it had all the bells and whistles we wanted. I made a clunky version that worked if a very adept user was at the helm of all the inputs. It was during the struggles I had in making that monstrosity that I decided to reach out a few places for help. One of the people I reached out to was a guy who makes the Imperium app for iOS. It is a handy little app for showing starting techs and racial powers and keeps tabs on what your ships should be hitting for and what they cost all the while only taking up as much space on the table as your phone. It seemed a perfect fit to reach out to him on this project as having a randomizer in general would make the start up of games much faster and having our method be there would make pickup games just this side of possible. I have not gotten any word back from him since our initial chat, but his app still stands as a beacon of why apps should be included in games. Currently when I play Twilight Imperium, I keep two sets of books on my technologies. [Editor’s note: Mr. Sima won his first game of TI3 last Sunday!] The only reason I do this is for other players at the table. It is actually a common problem in our games that someone gets a tech and even declares that they have purchased it for that tech to be the deciding factor in a victory or defeat where the other player involved had no real idea that the tech was purchased. In a perfect world, all that information would be collected into one place and be available to all players readily.

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