Why, Why, Why?! #8: iOS Board Gaming is Lame


Ticket Why

Why, Why, Why?! is a series of highly subjective, perhaps personally charged, and often provocative statements about the board gaming hobby.  At least they’re always worth debating.  Maybe you agree.  Maybe you don’t – but that doesn’t mean they’re not true!  And because I’m fair and balanced, I also draw upon the diversity of experience that we offer you here at iSlaytheDragon to present the “other side.”

Today we address…

Why iOS Board Gaming is Lame – or “Would you like to play Global Thermonuclear War?”

These are amazing, crazy times we live in today.  Yeah, I know, every generation says that as it gets older.  But since I was born before the advent of the Age of Instant Information and Computerized Everything, experiencing it birthed and maturing right before my very eyes has been nothing short of mind-boggling.  Its impact on daily life is incalculable.  Just take my phone.  It’s not just a phone.  It’s a camera, video recorder, music player, GPS, phone book, calendar, daily planner, watch, alarm, calculator, weather forecaster, note-taker, and grocery list maker.  That doesn’t even account for the infinite number of things possible via its connection to the World Wide Web!  And now, in the last few years, I can even play board games on it.  That’s right…all of those boards, cubes, cards, chits, tokens, pawns, and dice are now ported right to an iOS or Android device.  The question is do I need my iPhone to do this one more thing in my life?  Absolutely not!  Because iOS gaming is lame and here’s Why, Why, Why?!

1. iOS disconnects me.  I play board games to connect with my kids or other real people.  Not to have yet another chain anchoring me further to technology.  Board games should be social occasions.  They’re almost always designed for more than one player, so the porting to iOS or Android is often awkward, anyway.  And “pass and play” features are cheesy – just get the real thing.  Therefore, in those rare times when I want something more solitary and computer oriented, I’ll play a video game which is specifically designed for a console, computer, or iPhone/iPad.  Use board games to interact in the real world, not meet some technological fix.

2. iOS does not a new board gamer make.  Hobby gaming has unquestionably been on the rise recently.  I’ve heard talk attributing much of this to the increase of iOS or Android titles.  The argument goes that when non-gamers see how great board games are on their hand-held devices, they’ll rush out to buy the real thing.  It’s supposedly a tool for converting the non-gamer!  The problem with that is that the hobby was already growing – and board game sales had been increasing – since before electronic porting.  Until I see figures directly correlating universally increased board game sales with their electronic counterparts, I remain unconvinced.  Most non-gamers will remain perfectly happy with their $3-$10 electronic version, as opposed to shelling out $20-$60 for all the cardboard and wood and hassle of setting it up and putting it away.  As for gamers, if the novelty hasn’t worn off, do they really use iOS or Android to try a game before buying?  Or do they simply purchase an app to a game they already enjoy?

3. iOS is for the bugs.  The technology involved here is not always that impressive.  First, so many titles are too complex, large, intricate (whatever) for the iPhone or Android phone, which means you need an iPad or Tablet for access to the best selection of apps.  For those of us who don’t own one, there is no justification for making the plunge for the expensive device just to live our board games through electronic format.  Also, so far my experience with iOS and Android gaming has been replete with annoying bugs and deplorable artificial intelligence.  Freezes, incorrect scoring, illegal moves, and outright crashes minimize the experience – especially if you’ve invested some time only to have it wasted by technological glitch.  And weak AI making illogical decisions provide no challenge or stimulation.  Not that I’m comfortable with the other extreme and programming them too realistically.  I mean, have you seen Terminator?!

Honestly, I’ve purchased and played half a dozen apps for iOS board games – just enough to dip my toes in the Kool-Aid.  But I’m not drinking it.  I mean, it’s really popular.  Playing some of your favorite board games on your personal electronic device at your own convenience?  Sounds like a great idea!  I thought I would like that.  I wanted to like that.  Alas, it deflated like my hopes for Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III.

iOS and Android board gaming apps sure look nice and pretty, but so do the Kardashians.  Once you get to know them a little more, you realize they’re just not all what they’re cracked up to be.  The technology defeats the social purposes of board gaming.  They’re not going to turn the masses into hardcore hobbyists. And the techie-gizmo appeal is too problematic in practical application.  When you really objectively consider it from all angles, iOS board gaming is disappointingly, “Meh.”



And now for another (more correct) view…

Digital Board games are key to hobby growth, or “All that has happened will happen again”

The written word is a terrible thing. News, stories, history; these things are meant to be told word for word.  How much of the experience is lost when you don’t see body language, or hear the emotional tone of voice, to really grasp the context of a message? Writing is just incomplete and shallow, a fad of the young people. On that note, movie are a bane to society – how much of the experience is lost when compared to reading a good book, curling up on the couch with a blanket, with peace and quiet surrounding you.  Let your imagination fly, people! Is Star Wars really worth it?

Did you know Chess is a menace that disconnects people socially? It hogs the mind of its players, causing them to sit in silence, solitary even from their opponent?

What? Nonsense? You’re right. Despite the long-time habit of people to declare something new as inferior, as stealing from the ‘true’ experience, we shouldn’t be afraid of technology. Digital versions of board games are here to stay, and that ain’t a bad thing.  Here’s why why why.

  1. Apps supplement, not replace: On the “social medias” out there, which is where most of my board-gaming discussion happens, I hear a lot of people talking about mobile board games. Ascension, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride. I have never once heard of anyone choosing to play the digital version of a game when the printed version is an option.  Yes, the tactile experience is superior to a flat digital screen.  Yes, it’s better to have people in the room playing.  I don’t know about you, but despite these facts I just don’t have a big group of friends over to my house every night.  I have errands to run, kids to take care of, chores around the house. I can’t always set aside several hours to get people to come over, spend the time socializing, setting up a game, playing, and taking down.  I can often, however, sit down for 30 minutes to play a computer-assisted game.  If I can play a “fake” board game online with friends, how is that worse than playing a video game?  That’s not even taking into account scenarios where you can’t exactly pull out a big box of board games and set up.  Pass-and-play modes are great when only one person has a device and you’re, I dunno, waiting in line, in a waiting room, riding in a car. These are all situations where a real cardboard-and-plastic game just isn’t realistic, but you still might want to play Ticket to Ride.
  2. Apps help board game sales. Jason says he hasn’t seen any hard data on this.  Well, I can close my eyes and claim that I can’t see the sun, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and it’s really not hard to find if you want to know about it. Here’s a link to an article I found after 30 seconds of google searching, from a leader in boardgame app development, Days of Wonder. The article is titled, and I quote, “Days of Wonder CEO explains how iPad Ticket to Ride boosted sales of the real thing.”If you didn’t hit that link, let me summarize the important parts of it: when Days of Wonder released the Small World iPad app, they saw a 40% increase in sales of the ACTUAL GAME within a few weeks. Ticket to Ride, the physical board game, saw a 30% increase with the iPad app release of Ticket to Ride, and a 70% increase when the pocket version came out several months later.  That’s hard data, people. And I’m sure there’s more detailed information out there. So yes, app sales help board game sales. And the help doesn’t stop there. After the initial cost of development, apps don’t have production overhead to keep selling more copies. App sales can help a publisher get more funding, which in turn can help them produce more games, higher quality games, cheaper games, and all of this without having to resort to Kickstarter. I don’t think I need to go on, but I will, because another thing apps can do is help test new games and expansions. Donald X. has stated that he used digital apps to get more testing of new Dominion cards, and Ticket to Ride got an extra printed expansion (Switzerland) after the digital-only version worked well and proved immensely popular.  Certainly sounds like digital apps are pulling their weight.
  3. Apps are a tool: Jason stated above that apps don’t really work to bring people into new games, because they just buy what they’re familiar with. No one learns a game from an app and then gets the board game to play and teach their friends. Sales figures proving him wrong aside, apps are just one tool among many.  Someone who wants to learn carpentry doesn’t just buy a hammer and hope it falls on some nails, they find a carpenter and learn – but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a hammer. Gamers make new gamers, and gamers can use apps as a tool to help teach a new game or give players a chance to practice outside the game room. The biggest hurdle to getting new players and non-gamers to try out new games is the unknown; monopoly sells because people think they know the rules, even if they apparently don’t.  If a gamer says “hey, try this game” a nongamer might say no, but if a non-gamer plays cool new Ticket to Ride app on their phone and the gamer says “hey guess what, there’s a real boardgame version of that, wanna play?” they already have a launching pad.  Also, Jason claims that apps are buggy, get rules wrong, cheat, and play poorly. In my experience, it’s a lot easier for PEOPLE to get rules wrong (and not realize it til months later), people cheat, people play poorly, people score incorrectly, people ruin games.  I’ve had experiences just as bad as a digital “crash” when players at the table became disengaged, upset about the situation, or just exhausted and ready to head home.A well-made app (and there are plenty, I don’t know what apps Jason is playing) teaches you the rules and enforces them correctly, keeps score, and lets you share the experience with friends, so you can focus on playing and enjoying the game – and more importantly, so NEW players can focus on that while getting exposed to a newer kind of gaming that might actually bring them to the table, with a little push from their gaming friends.

Jason’s arguments seem predicated on the fact that he does not particularly prefer to play digital versions of board games. No one is saying he has to. But if we only created and used things that Jason liked, or that only I liked, or that only Andrew liked, the board game world would be a lot smaller. Game apps have a lot of uses, and overall they offer a significant benefit to the hobby. There’s no reason here to cry “witch!” and burn the digital world to the ground.  In fact, digital version of board games will make the hobby seem more relevant to the rest of the world that is already digital, and accelerate the growth that is happening.

So go on out there, friends.  Enjoy your table time, your cardboard, your freedom from the digital screen, your direct contact with human beings.  I love those things about board gaming too, but if those things truly have merit, digital apps will not replace them.  They will only supplement the experience.


I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

Discussion7 Comments

  1. Jason Meyers

    Burn it to the the ground?! Haha! No, sir. If people want to blow their time and money on lameness, I will not begrudge them. 🙂

    And I have Googled! I’m not THAT old. And all I’ve found are what you have here – people throwing out random numbers without HARD evidence. There are several problems with that Days of Wonder article that would take a blog post to respond to, not a brief comment like this. The main one, though, is that the head guy is blatantly committing the cum hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy. Just because the app’s existence and increased sales of the board game are correlated, he immediately assumes the former caused the latter, without any direct proof of that causality. Does the app help increase sales of the analog game? Sure, I’m not dumb enough to argue that it’s not A factor. But does it account for the total 70% increase in sales? No way. I think it’s appeal as a gateway game and Spiel des Jahres win are bigger factors.

    Also, this is not a universal example. This is just ONE title – again, of an extremely popular gateway game for new/casual gamers and a stinking SdJ winner, for goodness sakes! That article, sir, is just plainly NOT evidence that iOS or Android gaming is making droves of new gamers and expanding the hobby like many claim – which is my primary point. Sales and gaming were already on the rise before iOS; and so I’d argue the exact opposite – the apps came along at the right time to exploit the gaming boom! 😉

    • you work in taxes not marketing, so I’ll try and dumb this down as much as possible: when a product’s sales jump suddenly, there is almost certainly a cause. Somehow the product got increased exposure in a way that encouraged people to get their hands on it.

      Sales will jump with the launch of a major marketing campaign, placement in a popular movie/tv show/webseries, or mentioned/recommended by a celebrity on a well-watched TV show. Since none of those things happened, and something DID happen – the release of an app – it’s pretty darn safe to say that this was the cause in the jump in sales.

      It also adds to the weight of the argument that it happened several times in a row – every time they released an app, they saw a sales jump in the physical game.

      You could argue in science that this is just luck, or there was some other cause. But in Marketing and product sales, correlation is almost always causation, and it is foolish to ignore numbers like that.

      I feel pretty confident even without seeing numbers that the makers of Ascension saw increased game sales with the release of their app, as did the game Lords of Waterdeep.

      There is a legitimate caveat: the game itself, and the app, must be good. But this is simply a sidebar; of COURSE a game must be good to get sales. That’s implied in anything we discuss, because of COURSE a crappy app or a dumb board game aren’t going to help sales in ANY outlet. Ticket to Ride is a good example because it was already a good game, already popular, already selling well – and yet the release of an app increased its sales by a signfiicant percentage.

      • Jason Meyers

        Your last paragraph says it all. It’s the game, not the app. And my work in taxes requires me to deal with hard facts. Marketers blow sunshine up people’s rears. That’s their job in order to sell stuff. They can make numbers say anything… 😉

  2. Learned Summoner Wars via iOS because I couldn’t find opponents. Sweetheart played and enjoyed, so we picked up Master Set. iOS didn’t have the Benders, so we in-app purchased. Master Set didn’t include Tundra Orcs, so…

    Circle of life. #icmf

    • Jason Meyers

      Haha, nice!

      Summoner Wars is one of the half-dozen I bought. I think it’s an absolute PAIN and nuisance to play on iPhone. Maybe if I had an iPad with bigger screen? But, I’m not getting an iPad anytime soon. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Today in Board Games Issue #192 - DiceTowerCon - Today in Board Games

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