One of the main draws of playing board games is the interaction with other people in the same room as you. The game itself is as important as where you are playing it (and equally who you are playing it with), but what happens when tablets like the iPad can provide a similar experience to a board game?

In class one day we had some people play on a physical board game and had others play on an iPad (all local) and the results were interesting. The people playing on the iPad found the game to be not nearly as engaging as the people who played on the physical board.

I think there are a couple reasons for this:

Learning a table top game can be a hurdle, let’s be honest, it’s the least fun part of playing a board game. Learning with a board in front of the players may make the process easier as everything is there and presented to them. On the other hand, digital version of board games tell the player how to play they tend to focus on one mechanic at a time and usually not in context of the entire play space.


Waiting for your turn is boring for the average player regardless of the platform. However, when you play on a board you can see the person think and act, and you can think about your strategy as the other players take the turn. On the iPad this is not the case, you have to pass-and-play; meaning you can’t see what the other person is doing until you get to your turn.

The connection to the game when played on a table remain, but in when playing on the iPad the connection is severed.

Pace and shared experiences

Playing on the iPad was notable faster when players got the hang of it, but this in itself is not inherently a good thing. The fact that the board game takes longer means players have a chance to talk about the game itself as it’s unraveling. You can motion to and identify things collectively on the board because you can all see it at the same time.

Because there is the common touch point for all the players it seems that the players then share more information and analysis with one another. Perhaps the physical manifestation of the board itself encourages the players to acknowledge the board and the state of the game. On the iPad when it’s not your turn all you see is sleek aluminium being held in your opponent’s hand.

Tactile interaction

I still think that there is an argument to be made for tactile experiences in themselves and I wonder if the very act of manipulating real world objects brings the players closer to the game in ways a digital version cannot. This may be the weakest and most tangental concern that I have.

The game in question? Ticket to Ride (iPad app link,Amazon link). This is not to pick on Ticket to Ride, indeed, I think that the above issues apply to all digital pass-and-play games on the iPad. I also really like Ticket to Ride and play it on my iPad too 🙂

So how do we translate existing board games to the tablet era? Well there are many options and ways to do this (to be covered in a different post), and as an industry we’re only starting to explore what works and what fails. This issue can only get more interesting!

On a related note, Dominic Crapuchettes provides his insights into the evolving world of board games and technology and a TEDx talk:

Mark your calendars folks Board Game Jam is returning February 2012!