For many people, two of the toughest aspects of board gaming are the cost of/access to the latest and greatest titles and finding people to play with.
There are a number of websites (Board Game Arena, Yucata, etc) which allow you to play board games online against other players from around the world and essentially try out games before buying their physical counterparts, but unfortunately nearly none of them allow you to access them via an iPad (or really any mobile device).
So for tablet board gaming, iPad owners are pretty much stuck hoping for native iOS apps of their favorite board games to be released. I myself am a huge fan of these apps and many of these are really good ports offering cool extras like AI opponents, rich tutorials and more. However oftentimes the sheer cost (often tens of thousands of dollars) and time involved in developing digital releases can be an insurmountable barrier for publishers and we never see digital releases of most board games.
A new sandbox platform called Tabletopia, which is currently funding on Kickstarter, is hoping to change all of that, speeding up the time to market of rich digital versions of your favorite games on a new platform which can be easily accessed from PC, Mac, iOS and Android devices.
It does this by offering a rather realistic virtual tabletop experience which very closely mimics the analog real-world counterpart (just check out the videos…it’s impressive!). Using Tabletopia’s Workshop editor tool, publishers and game designers can quickly and easily add their games to Tabletopia’s growing library of games (over 100 at launch) without any sort of programming knowledge or experience. Utilizing the same digital assets that they would otherwise use for printing the physical version, along with the system’s free, built-in accessories like dice, meeples, markers, cubes etc. publishers and designers can quickly have a digital version of their game available for playtesting, demonstrations or standard public play.
What makes the system so interesting and easier to develop for, is that it treats the player just as it would in the physical version. There are no rules checks that need to be programmed, there are no AI players, the only assumption is that the players know and/or will refer to the rules and enforce them. Just as if they were sitting around the table together on game night, the players will do the policing of what is a valid or invalid play. This gives the gamers the freedom to play their way, with any house rules or variants of their choosing. By removing the need for complex rule and AI decision trees, Tabletopia dramatically speeds up time to market and makes it an accessible and viable option for ALL designers.
However that doesn’t mean gaming on Tabletopia has to be a completely analog style experience and digital shortcuts can be used to improve the experience, speeding up setup, cleanup and gameplay. Things like card dealing, drafting, player’s turn control, timers, game phases indication, interactive zones on the table with predefined automatic actions, intelligent counters for tracking victory points and many other in-game parameters can be implemented for streamlined play. There are even options for changing the camera angle, table surface and more for the best possible and most realistic virtual gaming experience.
Many big publishers have already signed on to use this new system including Eagle Games, Stonemaier Games, Mayday Games, Portal Games, Cheapass Games and loads more. Hits like Spyfall, Imperial Settlers, Viceroy, Zooloretto, Alien Frontiers, Village, Tigris & Euphrates and Terra Mystica will all be available on the service.
If successfully funded, Tabletopia will be monthly subscription-based service with a free Bronze level that gives players access to only certain games, a $4.99 per month Silver level adds access to premium games and a $9.99 Gold level which allows you to create a private gaming room and invite guests into the premium games as well as some additional added features. More details are available here.
For many games it is possible to split them into two parts – a limited version for public access and a full version or a version with expansions for paying members. However, it is the publisher who decides where his games are going. There are no additional fees per game – a silver (4,99) or gold (9,99) membership will give you access to the entire game catalogue (similar to how this is handled for music on Spotify)
This subscription model also means that there is added incentive for new designers and publishers to get their games into Tabletopia as they can earn 70% of the revenue generated by users based on a calculation of the number of premium games played and how many hours Tabletopia users have spent playing premium games.
Tabletopia has been in development since last year and is currently in closed beta. There is a basic browser-based version available for PC/Mac. A downloadable client is expected to launch on Steam in Q1 of 2016 and mobile platforms expected to launch in Q2 of 2016.
While I don’t suspect that this platform will kill the need or desire for native apps (in no small part due to tutorials, AI and offline play), Tabletopia certainly looks to offer a rich, virtual board gaming environment for board gamers to play in with all of their friends no matter what device they own or where in the world that they live.
At the time of this writing the project had already reached over 50% of its funding goal in less than 24 hours. If you’d like to know more about Tabletopia, visit its Kickstarter campaign page at http://kck.st/1fAGQfL or watch the campaign video below.