In the year of VR, augmented reality has seen a slow but sure uptake. Since it was brought to the mainstream via the Nintendo 3DS years ago more and more development companies are delving into augmented design for their products. One particular venture beginning to take form is the AR board game.
There seem to be two approaches to the AR board game within the industry; glasses and mobile devices. CastAR build on the experience of two ex-Valve employees to bring a set of AR glasses to the market in 2017 with nods towards the board game market being hinted. Whereas recent Kickstarter bid HoloGrid: Monster Battle have just surpassed their $100,000 goal to raise $101,311 (at time of writing) for their AR tactical strategy mobile exploit.
These two setups demonstrate strikingly different approaches to the augmented tabletop adventure. While the glasses option will certainly be more expensive, take longer to develop, and will rely on every player owning a pair (and the most recent pair), they hold the ability to be used for other purposes much like we’re seeing in Microsoft’s HoloLens. They also offer a ‘proper’ AR experience – the CastAR model will allow for head tilting and spatial tracking so that players can get up and move around the game board to see certain elements from a different angle. Essentially, the glasses will offer a much more engaging VR experience – you will literally see the game unfold before you on the coffee table. However while the mobile experience is cheaper, more accessible to everyone, and much easier to update, it’s not as immersive and is fairly yesterday in terms of just staring at an iPad screen that happens to show the game unfold in your living room. It feels a lot more impressive to watch your adventures within your actual space rather than through the medium of another screen.
However before we all reach for the nearest coffee table and whip out a futuristic Monopoly set, there are some questions that AR board games need to answer we find a winner in the glasses / mobile device qualifying rounds. Many serious table top players for example enjoy the tactile nature of play, and find great pleasure in keeping their sets in upmost physical condition and gathering a large collection of pieces over the years. The AR board game may, then, demonstrate just how material possessions are decreasing in value in favour of more exciting digital representations. AR will certainly allow for a more detailed, more creative play experience, but is this detracting from the work of the imagination? Table top gaming thrives on the imagination machine, and become an exercise in personal creativity and fantasy. Replacing that with a digitised, uniform construct of each individual adventure can become deadly to one of our most human faculties. In terms of general logic however, play sessions can be long – really long. How long are these glasses going to be comfortable for? How long can an iPad battery hold out for on constant AR usage?
AR board games represent an exciting progression in the integration of virtual worlds with our own physical surroundings. Its uptake is hanging in the balance of mainstream adoption however, and without many big names behind many ventures things are going to be slow. There are certainly some hurdles to overcome, and certain genres to adapt to digital needs, however the tabletop industry could benefit from AR board games on the side, just not as the main event.