Board games have influenced some of the best video games in 2021

Board games have exploded in popularity, appearing everywhere from South Park at The New York Times. But their most fascinating impact is on a recent wave of great video games.

The charitable coexistence between the table and the digital is not entirely new. Dungeons & Dragons was certainly a primary influence for early video game role-playing games such as Ultimate and Power and magic. Additionally, many electronic strategy games have borrowed the use of the traditional hexagonal grid popularized by wargames such as Advanced squad leader. But these early examples of influence seem distinct and isolated, quite different from the present moment. Something is happening, and it seems historic.

The culmination of a trend

This current board game movement influencing video game design began in the mid-2010s. One of the most significant titles in this wave is Megacrit’s Kill the arrow.

Developed in 2017, Kill the arrowThe influences of are self-explanatory, drawing its design pillars directly from the realm of the table.

Anthony Giovannetti of Megacrit ran a board game store in his youth. “I was very familiar with the deck-builder genre and had actually taught Domination and games like that to countless people. These games really scratched an itch that I had as a card game player, and were certainly a big part of the inspiration behind Kill the arrow. ”

Image: Mega Crit Games

This independent roguelike combines deck building with turn-based combat. The tactical decision space is contemplative and engaging, while using a relatively simple kernel. You start with a character-specific starter deck, but acquire new cards from a random pool as you progress through the spire and defeat enemies. Thanks to multiple attempts, your knowledge grows and you are able to better exploit the potential of your evolving deck. The main loop is addictive, as you use that information to adjust to random items and challenges, and ultimately kill the final boss and do what seems impossible.

Kill the arrow The genius was to capitalize on the success of the roguelikes and marry it with a tactically robust tabletop deck-building mechanism. It forged an entirely new sub-genre comprising titles such as monster train, Griftlands, and later, Polygon’s 2021 Game of the Year, Encryption.

While Kill the arrow managed to embrace the mechanical aspects of board games, it was quite a lonely experience. It lacked the social aspects that can make tabletop sessions magical. Among us, however, did not.

Released in 2018, Among us took the principles of the hidden traitors table games and brought them to the digital space. In real time, players must navigate a confined spaceship, move from room to room, and complete various mini-game tasks. But hidden among the crew are two impostors determined to murder the others and sabotage the trip. The result is a delightful, close-knit thriller bursting with drama.

Among us

Image: InnerSloth

It produced a cultural moment, and added the word “sus” to our vernacular. Part of the strength here was capturing such a wide range of players. My seven year old daughter knows Among us, even if she has never heard of his cardboard influences Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, Resistance, Where Avalon. It even caught the attention of 435,000 viewers who hopped on Twitch to watch US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put on her best poker face.

While it has always been a design marvel, Among us had a difficult transition to stardom under the shadow of a particularly impactful event. With the advent of the pandemic and our new existence of confinement in the midst of confinements, Among us has gained popularity. It has become a way for people to interact socially and find connection. It changed the current climate and crystallized the intermingling of the gaming industries and their players.

New audiences

The isolation of the global pandemic was the catalyst for the next step. The lockdown forced us to either ditch our board game groups altogether or shift to a distant mindset. Online tabletop platforms such as Roll20 and Board game arena has garnered a tidal wave of new users within a very short time.

With this migration came a change of perspective. Players who previously avoided technology in their hobby were forced to adapt. The barriers have been knocked down and the lines have blurred.

Gloomhaven is at the center of this osmosis. It’s one of the most popular board games ever made for hobbyists, and it’s now available as an extremely faithful digital port to the tabletop experience.

“With the digital version of Gloomhaven, we developed the game with both board game fans and new video game fans in mind, ”said Creative Director Mike West. to the rule game and the campaign, but also creating modes and systems to streamline gameplay, but also in some cases reduce complexity if we could.

A cramped hallway in a digital dungeon in Gloomhaven

Image: Flaming Fowl Studios / Asmodee Digital

Gloomhaven presents a substantial contrast between a game simply influenced by board game design – such as Kill the arrow – and another directly translated. West points out that the first thing he did “was to open every secret box and envelope and start breaking down the game for the code department.” Dealing with the massive amount of content, as well as all the complex interactions of such a great board game, comes with no shortage of challenges.

But the payoff was exceptional, and a tidal wave formed. games like Wild myth and Encryption exploit the endless narrative possibilities of the table space to great effect. Likewise, the direct ports of cardboard to digital are booming; successful board games such as Root and Terraform Mars have met with great success.

The thin line

We are now at the meridian of this creative relationship. In the wake of this digital trend, a new type of game appears, that of cardboard and digital hybridization. We transcended the first days of this initiative when the half-miniatures, half-application Arcane of the Golem spectacular failure. Now we are in the era of success stories like Crime Chronicles, Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, and Descent: The Legends of Darkness.

These games use technology next to board game components to manifest a new kind of experience. Whether you are looking for a virtual reality crime scene in Crime Chronicles, by clicking on electronic evidence in Detective, or explore an electronically composed dungeon in Descent, it’s a whole new experience.

“I think table games and video games are probably more overlapping right now than in the past,” says Giovanetti. “You can see it in board games that have digital elements built right into the game.”

Descent: Legends of Darkness in particular has reached a new level of integration. As your table is swarmed with dungeon tiles, miniatures, and maps, the digital app handles the more interesting elements of the design space. It does the heavy lifting of managing weapon modifications and attacks, makes it easy to explore, and delivers the overall story of the game. The smooth transition between the digital and physical environment is simply drastic.

“There is a lot to be gained through a conversation between the two media,” says Gloomhaven designer Isaac Childres.

Video games and board games are more closely linked than ever. Industries have mingled, which has given rise to innovation. And the movement is accelerating. We may be on the cusp of something different, maybe even radical. It’s likely that the fuzzy line will disintegrate in the years to come and we could have a new kind of game that defies platform limits. The potential here is enormous.


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