Family Night 2.0- Board Games Meet Augmented Reality

family-night-2-0-board-games-mee.jpg

It may not come as a shock that that someone who writes for a tech blog is a board game connoisseur. Monopoly, Risk, and Avalon Hill’s Gettysburg in childhood made way for Afrika Korps, Warhammer, and Axis and Allies in my teen years. And even geekier titles came later still: Squad Leader, SPQR, and Machiavelli. I would nothing more than to turn this blog into a public forum dedicated to the discussion of which are the best board games and why.

But, as anyone who’s ever been snowed-in with their siblings knows, the fun of board games is a sharp, sharp double-edged sword. Anyone familiar with Kramer and Newman’s game of Risk knows, cheating, dice rolls, and the precise interpretation of games rules (rulebooks often seem inspired by IRS tax-code prose) can ruin a game night. How many movement points does it cost to load soldiers onto a troop transport? How many armies can one free-move at the end of their turn, and how far? Is the banker stealing from the bank? A game of Machiavelli I once participated in included an hour-long argument between two players (both lawyers) over the placement of one piece on the board. I’ll never forget them standing in the dining room, all other players cleared, while they carried on over the rulebook like they were in court.

Well, thanks to Augmented Reality all that may be over. In June, Hasbro announced the release of Monopoly Zapped, a game design that not only utilizes digital technology to clear up the rules, but also includes new features that take game-play from the table top into the cloud. The Hasbro website explains that “The iconic game board and properties you know and love are still there, but this game is also packed with fantastic app-enhanced features!” A video posted on YouTube shows a game rep explaining how Monopoly Zapped combines the game board and the smart phone, utilizing such features as a credit card system that keeps track of players’ bankrolls and side games that allow players to, among other things, break out of jail along instead of paying a fine and throwing dice.

Hasbro isn’t the only company jumping on the AR bandwagon. In January, AppGear revealed a mixed reality game for both the young and the young at heart. Foam Fighters is one of a number of games being released by this company and features collectible products that interact with a smart phone. Miniature WWII era fighter planes are purchased in packets with distinct scannable codes and a special bracket is included that allows the user to mount the tiny plane in front of the device’s camera. When the game is started, the smartphone camera uses the real image of the model and its foreground and then combines that image with the enemy fighters and cloudbanks of the game. Naturally, the player tilts the device to pitch and bank and uses the screen to fire the machine guns. It looks pretty cool. In one demonstration video, a game rep said “and now all my childhood dream can come true.”

These are both interesting moves forward for both board-gaming and Augmented Reality app development. And with the AR market growing, especially in smartphone downloads, these trends are most likely permanent. Augmented reality is already being used for a variety of purposes, from education, to shopping, to safety, but this application, combining old-fashioned board games and cutting edge technology, is a little unexpected and surprisingly effective. It causes one to wonder in what other ways AR might be used in coming years. But more importantly, with smart devices keeping track of the score, it’s heartening to think how many friendships might be saved and cheaters kept at bay on those long winter nights.