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  • Writer's pictureAndy

Apps and Board games…Milk and Cookies or Oil and Water?

We all know that board games have come a long way in the past twenty years. It was inevitable that technology and board games would begin to intermingle. More and more games are turning to apps, some as integral components of games, or others simply as game supplements. Do you like the merging of technology and the traditional tabletop game, or do you tend to be a purist, and would rather keep video games and board games separated? For me, I lean to the side of app integration.

Firstly, not all apps are created equal. There are some that are created by the game publisher and others by third parties. I have found that this distinction is not indicative of the quality of the content of the apps, speaking in general terms. One would think that a third-party app would be less appealing or lower quality. I have discovered that third-party apps are usually created when there are issues with the publisher’s app or there isn’t an existing app from the publisher. These range from simple score-keeping apps, like what is available for Great Western Trail and Phase 10 to narration apps with voice over for games like Gloomhaven, Above and Below, and Middara. The unofficial app for Folklore is one that Logan and Dave like to use. It helps manage your character in the game which can be incredibly helpful in that particular game given the ample amount of information you need to record on a small character sheet whenever you need to save the game. Unfortunately, it, like far too many apps of this kind, is not available for the Apple users out there. I backed Etherfields on Kickstarter and it does have a third-party app (which is greatly needed IMO). However, I am not able to use it because it is not available on iOS; a problem I don’t see going away anytime soon.

I feel a well-designed application can greatly enhance the board game experience. One of my favorite games, Descent: Journeys in the Dark second edition, does not require an app to play, as it can and is meant to be played as one vs. many. The app for this game allows you to play the game fully cooperative. There are several campaigns to play in the app, and even though Descent: Legends of the Dark is released now, I am hoping they make more digital content available for the second edition. I love the app integration for this game and I actually enjoy using the app more than the one vs. many version of the game. Similar to Descent Journeys in the Dark second edition, Imperial Assault has an app version of the game, changing it from a one vs. many to fully cooperative. Some individuals that I know will disagree with me on this, but I think that I also enjoy the app version more for it as well.

We are currently playing Imperial Assault (one vs. many) with one mission to go. I do think that the missions can be a bit more brutal with a player playing the Imperials than the app. The app also allows for different levels of difficulty to attempt to create the same level of brutality. In our game, Nathan is playing the Imperials. Given the nature of the progression in the game, the Imperial player will purchase upgrades for some of his units. I have found that this can create a bit of a “Groundhog Day” effect. You tend to fight the same enemies over and over, just on different maps. This is not a criticism of the individual playing the Imperials (Nathan in this case). The game itself seems to push this kind of specialization. The app doesn’t have the same problem. When a new enemy is placed, it is done randomly, unless a specific unit is part of the current scenario. I know Nathan enjoys playing the Imperials. For players that enjoy being the Overlord, or Imperials, the app will be far less attractive. Having that option to play both cooperative and one vs. many definitely accommodates the preferences of more players. Hasbro has announced that its reprint of Heroquest will have similar options.

What makes an app worth using if it is not required for the game? For me, if it makes the game more immersive, fun, or easier to play, then I am all for using apps. I use an app called Forteller for Gloomhaven, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion and Near and Far. This app provides full narration and sound effects for these games and helps you put yourself into the situation your character is facing at the time. This app is not necessary to play any of these games and incurs a small cost to gain access to each game. Funny enough (wink, wink), the focus of a story driven or narrative game is the story. Taking your immersion into the game to the next level with an app like this greatly increases my enjoyment.

Apps are great. Okay, maybe not all of them, but I have liked most of the games that have official companion apps along with the few third-party apps that I have tried. I think that free apps are worth a second look and paid apps are more likely to be better than free apps. Obviously, paid apps should have a higher level of scrutiny (no sense in wasting money on a garbage app). Do a bit of homework and decide what works best for you and your group. What apps do you enjoy using for your games, or are you completely against using apps at your table?

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Douglas Stewart
Douglas Stewart

I really like most app integration. I will say, apps are usually way better when the game is designed with them in mind. My beef with the Imperial Assault app is that it was developed after the game was released...and in my opinion, you can really feels clunky. My favorite apps tend to be the ones that provide good narration for the game. I really like Forteller. I started playing through Tainted Grail recently, and the app for that is incredible as well. Talented voice actors can work wonders when it comes to game immersion.

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