View From the Wet Coast – Apple of My Eye (Mobile Board Gaming)

Can playing board games on a mobile device give you that same feeling as having the cardboard and plastic in front of you?

That is the age-old question, or would be if tablets and smartphones weren’t only a few years old. It will probably become an age-old question sometime in the future anyway.

There are many answers to that question, probably as many as there are board gamers out there in general. Some see no comparison, claiming that there’s no way you can get any kind of authentic board gaming experience whatsoever from a mobile device. Others say that it’s the only way they play board games.

Most are somewhere in the middle, saying some variation of “it’s nice when I want a quick pick-up game of something, especially if my gaming buddy lives far away from me.”

I’m a big advocate of mobile board gaming. In fact, it’s where I play a lot of my games simply because I find it difficult sometimes to regularly get out to a game night. I don’t make it every time to my bi-weekly board game night, but I’m in the middle of seven different games of Ascension on my iPad right this minute (ok, not *right* this minute, but after I finish this column).

It's a neck and neck game! That will be over in a day or two.
It’s a neck and neck game! That will be over in a day or two.

Some mobile games have asynchronous multiplayer that allows you to take your turn and then walk away. Your friend(s) can take their turn and you can come back later to take your next turn. Other games don’t have this, either because the developers decided not to include it or because the game mechanics don’t really fit that.

Can you imagine playing Settlers of Catan asynchronously? “What will you give me for two clay?” Four hours later, you get the responses, none of which you like. “Ok, what about for one clay? Who’s got some wood for me? What do you want?” Six hours later, you get the responses, none of which you like…it would be insane!

But whether it’s asynchronous multiplayer or real-time, you still get to play with that friend or group of friends who you moved away from. Your old gaming group that you left in Chicago when you had to move to Seattle for your job. Now you can still play with them!

Or what about those buddies you’ve made in an online forum like the Board Games Community on Google+? Chances are none of them live close enough to you to have a regular (or even occasional) game night. But why not play them online?

That’s what I don’t think those who belittle mobile board gaming really see, or at least they don’t see the value.

Sure, moving electronic blips and representations of ships is not the same as lovingly placing all those wonderful plastic spaceships and population cubes on the Eclipse boards and hexes. It doesn’t give you that tactile feel that a board game has. (Though anybody who has had their cat jump up on the table and swipe all of those things onto the floor might like the idea of electronic blips).

It’s most definitely not the same thing, but it can make a suitable substitute when necessary, and they can be good in their own right as well.

I have actually heard people say “Now that I have Ascension on my iPad, I never take out the actual game anymore.” Now that I own Ascension: Rise of Vigil, I can understand that feeling. There is a lot of shuffling and set-up that can get annoying with that game, and it’s very satisfying when a computer chip does all that for you. I don’t share that feeling, but I can understand it.

Another good thing about mobile games, especially when playing the AI, is that you can learn the game and practice before you go out into the wilds and try to play the game with other people. At game nights, I have had people teach me games, and I’ve played new games after playing the mobile version. The latter was nice because I was already familiar with the concepts.

Going back to Eclipse, I first played the board game after getting some experience with the iOS app. Yes, there were certain aspects of the game that made a lot more sense once I was playing with humans. It was definitely nice already knowing the basics, though. I understood what my options were and what some of the terminology meant.

So to you mobile gaming naysayers, I say to you “back off!” Mobile board games will never replace actual board-gaming. Nobody’s advocating that it should. Yes, I have seen you on Board Game Geek and other forums on threads about a new iOS game coming out. You can’t resist posting “I will never play a mobile version of [this game]. I want to see my opponents suffer when I crush them. I think these are stupid.” (Ok, maybe not an exact quote, but the implication is there)

It’s just another avenue where we can enjoy our favorite hobby, making those times where we are actually able to open the box, sort out the pieces, shuffle the cards, and socialize over the board that much sweeter.

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