Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cardboard Games vs iPad Games: 7 Reasons Why Each Are Better

7 reasons why cardboard games are better than games on a tablet computer

Design Limitations

Any framework, no matter how robust, enforces design limitations. Companies will produce APIs for game design, piece handling, board creation, and so on, but no matter how grandiose, a designer will always be stuck in the thinking that the framework provides.

No one would have designed Mousetrap if games had to be on a flat board with pieces and cards.

To be fair, a limited framework can actually be beneficial to game designers, up to a certain point. By narrowing those things that are possible, you eliminate the overwhelmingly empty space that paralyzes decision-making. Otherwise, like Powerpoint for presentations, every game begins to look the same.

Changing the Game

The magical thing about games and play is that you can change rules, or give handicaps, whenever you want. Start the game without a pawn, add an extra row of spaces, or combine two games with jumping jack interludes. The point is the fun, and you control what you want.

A programmed game ensures that everyone, everywhere, plays by the same rules, which is great for worldwide competitions, but not great for creativity and spontaneity. Or for undoing a move.

Who Owns It?

As we all should already know, when it comes to digital products, it's no longer clear who owns the product. It's easy to trade or sell games. You own them; no one can revoke their license or erase them from your machine, and they won't disappear if you upgrade the computer.

Furthermore, you know that no one is tracking how many times you play, who wins, or what you do.

Speaking of Upgrades

With cardboard, the power, operating system, and so on can't crap out on you. They don't use electricity; in fact, every time I read a story about hurricanes or power outages, invariably it mentions families huddled together over candle light playing games. Battery life only lasts so long, and the same goes for compatible operating systems.

You Spent How Much?

You will probably save money in the long run if you buy many inexpensive games for your tablet, but the initial cost of owning a tablet is nothing to sneeze at. Cardboard and plastic are cheap. You can get a lot of games for $500, or even $100. And that doesn't include the cost of the games and hardware and software maintenance.

Resistance is Useful

Dexterity and skill games are not the same on a table, iPhone, or whatever, however prettily they simulate the effects. You can't gain marble-shooting skills without marbles.

Ooh, Shiny

While gadgets are cool, so are tactile pieces that stand up on a board. If you're going to spend $500, there are some awesome Chess sets that cost that much and are beautiful. And in two years, they'll still be worth $500 or more, whereas your virtual games won't be worth anything at all.

7 reasons why games on a tablet computer are better than cardboard games

Portable Game Library

One cardboard game is portable, but 1000 cardboard games are not. It's pretty cool to think of having the right game for any occasion in your game pocket.

No More Missing Pieces

A great number of games stop being played because the pieces go missing, or the board warps, or the rules get lost, ...

Infinite downloadability can be handy.

Computer Processing

Some of the best games take 6 hours to play simply because of the need to check charts, roll dice, calculate values, and so on. Figuring out all the paths on a board can take a lot of time; it would sure help if you could get the value of a route by hovering your mouse over your route.

Furthermore, you don't have to worry about messing up the rules or forgetting all of your options. Complex games often play in about a quarter of the time on a computer.

Of course, playing on a computer allows you to play with enhancements and features that you simply can't do offline. Terrain that changes, pieces with random abilities, timed effects, hidden properties, and so on.

Essentially, board and computer game hybrids. That's the cool stuff we've all seen in the promo videos.

Low Barrier to Publish

Getting a cardboard game to market is painstaking, time-consuming, and costly. You can spend upwards of $50,000 on print runs, and then still have to negotiate with distributors, retailers, artists, marketers, and so on.

Not all of these costs will disappear, but the Internet is famously a low barrier to game creation and distribution, which should equal a whole lot more designs making it to the public (and a whole lot of crap to sift through to find the good ones). Better yet, a game with a flaw can easily be patched.

Remote Players

As already proven, while nothing beats face-to-face gaming, it's nice to have the option of including remote players in a game session. A tablet game, reproducing the board in multiple locations, should make this possible.

Saved Game States

When you have 15 minutes to play, you're generally stuck with 15 minute games in the cardboard world. A tablet makes it easy to fold a game up to save for later.

Record Keeping

Detailed personal record keeping is automated on computer assisted games. Keeping records is not only an affectation, but an important element in thinking about how you "play against yourself" over time, rather than win or lose each game independently.

And, on the flip side of what I listed as a drawback for tablet games, when everyone plays by the same rules, worldwide record keeping, comparisons, and tournaments are possible, and you don't all have to travel to the same place to have them.


Dug said...

Nicely done. I've been longing for a easily storable "sheet" that could handle historical board wargames for years. Clearly the iPad won't meet that need (the board has to be much larger, as you see with programs like VASSAL that limit the space you can see at one time), but it's a start in the right direction.

Two comments: First is that a faster processor makes for a better game. As someone who tried to get into computer versions of wargames for many years and failed, I have to say that a faster processor creates a more opaque system, and for at least some of that that will be a bug, not a feature. We *like* the system that underlies the game, it's one of the main reasons I got into wargaming in the first place. Hiding that complexity is actually a detriment. Note that I'm not talking AI, which can become tedious to admin, but rather how the game models what it does.

Second is that one of the delightful parts of wargaming is the sensory experience. Having your fingertips engaged with cardboard, even the *smell* of a new game (or even an old one - when I found a bunch of wargames from the 80's on at a Honolulu store recently, I could tell the vintage and publisher by the *smell* of the components!), those are things that we shouldn't take lightly.

I should also mention that at least 50% of the cost you pay for a game is in the components and distribution chain. Here's hoping that the industry doesn't follow the online-video market model and charge exactly the same (or more) for on online movie as they do for a DVD. iTunes cut the price of an album in half, DLC should be the same. As video games begin to go DLC (downloadable content) as well, we see publishers trying to justify preserving the present pricing structure, but in the end it's just greed.

And, of course, digital games will allow anyone to publish, much as anyone can publish iPhone apps easily. While that may mean more dreck, I believe it will result in a thriving wargame market.

Once the DRM issues are figured out, it will be an exciting time.

David said...

Certainly this doesn't apply to everyone, but don't forget that for some of us, iPad games can't be played on Shabbat.