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Using Technology and Apps in Table Top / Board games / RPG. Good or Bad ?

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This topic contains 12 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  sundancer 1 month, 3 weeks ago.

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    In recent years we have seen a lot of cross over in table top gaming from the video game world with board games themed around video games. Increasingly we see a games featuring apps to support the hobby or directly impact the game. We have apps to help with army lists building, Apps to save the state of complex board games, maps and locations to assist with fleshing out the D&D adventure.

    In more recent years we have seen technology working towards being used in a more direct way. I have seen tools used to over lay the battlefield, or drive the board game itself rather than just being a passive tool. This seems to generate a lot of discussion about the use of apps in table top gaming is it good or bad ? Nothing it every quite as simple as being that black and white it is varies with aspects like age range I suspect.

    I emcompass both a strong technology background and a long love for physical aspects of the hobby such as massive manuals I can sit down and read. I am in two minds about the use of technology in table top gaming. I am all for moving forward and exploring new ideas we cannot just keep the hobby in the past. However we dont want to lose that human random aspect of gaming that is a vital.

    It is like VAR system in football at the moment. It can be wonderful when it works well but it creates its own unqiue set of problems that takes away from the flow of the game is it really worth it ?

    I think a part of me is still suck in a very old school mindset but seeing some of the applications working I have been very impressed. Watching the screen narrate and allow everyone to play. The app acts as a GM I am warming too and is great for single player. However this mix of card and tokens on the table and constant looking at the screen and putting in dice rolls it seems more like admin work. This risk your addressing the machine as the focal point rather than other players. What happends to the game if the app stops working or the company closes and the site is taken down.  Does it matter are table table games really suppose to last for ever ? It would be nice to think so but how many of us on a regular basis play older versions of the games we have. Maybe once in the blue moon but we tend to play the current games the most.

    Curious as to what other people think on the topic of apps in tabletop gaming ?



    Cult of Games Member

    Tech in our hobby can be beneficial. List building, a quick search through a PDF for a certain part of the rules or even doing lighting and smoke on miniatures and terrain. Teaching how to play and enable and enjoyable solo play mode. Keeping track of a campaign and it’s progress or even leagues for games like Blood Bowl. All those are good.

    Getting rules updated on the fly, having errors corrected and rules clarified. Also good even though I still like the physical aspect of a book or binder more.

    Software/Tech being mandatory to play a game is bad IMHO. And I’ve been over my reasons a couple of time and I know I’m far onto the old Grognard spectrum with this. But simple games like “Atmosphere” with a VHS tape. Nobody thought you wouldn’t be able to play that any time “soon” and yet here we are where almost nobody has a VCR any more. And you need to rely on people having ripped the VHS to a digital format you can still use today. And that’s the easy part of tech. Once there is a dedicated app it’s a ticking countdown. At some point the owner of the app will stop updating it, it might be removed from the software stores and (sooner or later) it will stop running on you fancy new device.

    And yes, there*might* be a community or an individual who will try to keep it running but that is not guaranteed to any degree. Any game (tabletop, miniature wargaming, RPG or what have you) that doesn’t rely on any sort of tech could be pulled from the shelf in 100 years and still be played. (Unless the pages have fused due to some vomit or glue incident).

    Tech in gaming should only be supportive, not mandatory. My two cents.

    I really need more coffee.

    Attempt 6 to post.


    Cult of Games Member

    It can work, the question isn’t really whether it’s a good idea, it’s more about whether you like it or don’t like it.  For the most part, I am not a fan as it runs contrary to one of the main reasons I enjoy games.  There’s so much technology in pretty much every walk of life but I enjoy the opportunity to disconnect from it whenever I can.


    Cult of Games Member

    I sit in the camp of it should be an aid, not a requirement.

    To echo @sundancer‘s comments, if the app let’s me do something I could always do with the game (be it managing a board game, spinning up lists or quickly finding rules) then it’s aiding me and making my life easy: that I appreciate. However, as soon as the game requires an app to run, the game could well become defunct at some point which is a poor proposition in the first place.

    Now, I like technology, I make software for living after all (as do quite a few of us here if memory serves) so I love how much power it can bring to the hobby, but the line between the two is key because if I can’t go back to paper at the end of the day my ability to engage with that game is beholden to someone else. Someone who’s interest may only hold so long as it’s financially possible, or even only financial incentivised to be so.

    So make all the apps you want! Just give me a book or a pdf I can take and keep that will protect against whatever the future may bring.


    Cult of Games Member

    I’ve built a game with technology and tablet/smartphone as integral parts and was surprised at just how well it played. There are all kinds of reasons for adding tech to tabletop games – and not just the obvious AI opponent. Sound effects, ambient background audio, character stats tracking, really fast combat/results resolution to name a few.

    My own game even got as far as pre-production prototypes (I sent out a few hand-made mdf boards and then went down a multi-piece stuff-it-in-a-12″-box route for retail distribution) and just as I was in talks with PCB manufacturers in China, covid hit. Lockdown wasn’t the blessing I’d hoped it would be for development and now, post-covid, we (in the UK) are faced with the double-whammy of a tanking £ and all kinds of issues surrounding CE compliance/non-compliance thanks to Brexit, the gift that keeps on giving.

    So I’ve no plans on making a retail game any more. But slowly working on an open source build-it-and-they-might-come kind of kit (since I took on a new job at the start of this year, time to spend on side-line ideas is pretty limited). But I think where the problem with tech and gaming lies is that nobody seems to trust companies with the future of their own products.

    GW has a history of dropping titles, only to pick them up again after the community has supported it through the “barren years”. But if tech is integral to your game, there’s no way of allow the community to keep it running long after you’ve given up on it yourself. Maybe if companies laid out a clear “exit strategy” to any tech-based game, they might get a bit more traction? Even if it’s just making the apps configurable, to work with alternative servers, should the need arise.

    My own game relies heavily on tech for piece tracking, movement recording, playing turns over the internet etc. but also enables gameplay that would otherwise be impossible to create without it – such as true hidden movement and organic, unpredictable map generation.

    Too many people get so hung up on having their idea/tech “stolen” they forget that it’s as much work for someone else to “steal” the idea and implement it, as it is for them to get the idea off the ground in the first place! It’s a good few years ago I posted my own demo prototype on this very site, explaining exactly how I did it. Yet nobody (sadly) stole my idea and made it a reality (basically, so I wouldn’t have to!) So handing stuff over to the community to support would actually be a boost, not a threat to any kind of business model.

    I love tech in games and strongly believe in it. I don’t actually care if it’s necessary or just “with knobs on”.

    Who doesn’t love a bit of background ambience? Or a few killer sound effects just at the right moment? Or triggering some LEDs embedded in your terrain – preferably all in response to actions played out in the game? Given how few times we actually play the games we spend hundreds of pounds/euros/dollars on, why is it only ones with “tech” embedded we get hung up over turning into a waste of money – we’ve all got games made of cardboard and plastic we’ve blown too much time/money on that are now defunct.

    All I know is that my brother-in-law in Sicily and my nephew and I play “battle royale” type games over a 2ft square area (16×16 grid) sneaking into and around buildings on a map, sending turns to each other over the ‘net, jumping out and genuinely surprising each other with ambush tactics, and have great fun doing it. Every now and again we’ll interact with an NPC and get some nice character-acted cut scenes and a new objective.

    When done correctly, tech in tabletop games is awesome.

    One day I might get around to releasing something, and you can all have a go!


    Cult of Games Member

    Maybe if companies laid out a clear “exit strategy” to any tech-based game, they might get a bit more traction?

    @blinky465 That’s an interesting thought. If a company would make a game (Like warcrow currently) that depends on a piece of software but would release the software as Open Source project I would be less annoyed by it. As you say

    Too many people get so hung up on having their idea/tech “stolen” they forget that it’s as much work for someone else to “steal” the idea and implement it, as it is for them to get the idea off the ground in the first place!

    But release it to the OS community and they will build upon it in ways you (the dev) might not have even imagined. With all the OS software around I’m baffled that this approach hasn’t been taken yet especially since “making your own rules” is an integral part of the hobby.


    Cult of Games Member

    But release it to the OS community and they will build upon it in ways you (the dev) might not have even imagined

    I’m working on it 😉



    Only if I don’t have to be the GM! 😀

    Or find a group. Finding a group, GM’ing, and revealing hidden information (maps, items) are the two most common barriers to RPG’ing and playing dungeoncrawl boardgames. Warhorn lets players find each other, and KS’ed apps commonly include a room reveal function. I find all the additional steps I need to learn make the “app as GM” not as worthwhile, especially if all it’s doing is replicating what I can do with tokens, or hides too many mechanics from me (eg. what weapon to use against a monster). Also, assuming the descriptions aren’t long-winded, an app that reads out RPG text boxes or story stuff in a narrative boardgame is far better than That Guy who doesn’t like reading out text boxes.


    Cult of Games Member

    Really interesting discussion, I’d love to one day see what you’ve been up to @blinky465 and generally agree that technology in games is awesome!

    Also share the concerns of @sundancer being in the same business, software and its longevity for me is very questionable, its hard to manage with a full time team at a tech company. Having Open Source projects that people can contribute would certainly make me feel better but it would need a seriously committed community and given that people often struggle to play the same game for a few years, never mind agree on things I suspect it could struggle. Having a defined exit strategy published would also be beneficial, particularly if that resulted in it being open source.

    I think there’s an important difference between technology as a whole, and specifics like software/app’s. A “blinky box” (with flashing lights and all) for want of a better example, that you take out and turn on whenever you play a game should continue to work effectively forever. An App, you’d be lucky to have last 5 years before Apple/Google updates and general progress in devices render it useless, unless it has regular updates.

    All round though I’m in favour of technology on the tabletop, it just needs to be supported, done right and give me confidence in its longevity.

    • This reply was modified 3 months, 1 week ago by  jamescutts.

    Cult of Games Member

    As someone who finds tech a bit of a chore, and only uses it out of necessity rather than choice, my answer will be obvious.
    Warmachine MKIV is an instant turn-off for me as it is app-only.  Mantic on the other hand, their new Companion app gets a thumbs-up, as it is an optional thing and largely free, so it only has an upside.
    List-building is something that apps/websites can do well, and can enhance a game for me – it helps to be able to pull my list together on the fly at work before a game in the evening.  But faffing on with apps DURING a game is something I detest. Maybe its because my eyesight makes phone screens feel small and fiddly.  Maybe its the tediousness of flicking through pages of stuff on a phone trying to find the info you need, or maybe its having fat fingers trying to tap teeny tiny icons.  Who knows, but if it is a necessity for a game, then count me out!


    Cult of Games Member

    On top of obsolescence, another risk of “technology” being used as part of games is the current global trends towards software as a service.  That is, you don’t really own anything, you pay a subscription.  It’s a phenomenon that’s creeping into every walk of life, even the automotive industry.  You could end up with an app that you have to subscribe to.

    I am actually concerned that is the path D&D is going with D&D One and I would be entirely unsurprised if GW don’t end up going that way with rules and codices as well


    Cult of Games Member

    Oh and of course everyone’s favourite… microtransactions!


    Cult of Games Member

    Spam bot alert!


    please review that users posting history!

    @tgu3 @nakchak

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