Of all the things that I've read over the past couple of weeks since I last posted (I know, I'll work on it), this has bothered me the most. GregT at The Dust Forms Words is forecasting the death of boardgames. I disagree. And I agree. Ok, I'm just conflicted about it. Here's why:
I love board games. (In this definition I'll also include PnP RPGs, Card Games, Social Games and anything that requires people to be present, or has physical components. That definition is about as broad as Video Game these days.) I love being able to gather my friends together to socialize and play games. I love the setup, explaining the rules, teaching new games, playing old favourites, everything. I crave the physicality and presence.
I also have a killer imagination. For years I have waited for the holographic display, the table top screen, physical interfaces (can you say multi-touch screen?), limitless communication, and a raft of other technologies that would enable me to play across distance without losing the feeling of close social contact. I can imagine a time when I sit in front of my coffee table, call up a friend in (say) Australia, pick a game, and play. Even with them thousands of miles away the technology removes the distance, they might as well be on the other side of the table. High fidelity video-chat, or holo-presence brings them into my living room, and me into theirs. The board displays a virtual matrix of pawns and pieces on a board and interacts to our touch, allowing us to set, move, capture, steal, win, and lose from either side. Seamless interface leading to pure social play, just as good as reality.
But all I've described is a board game rendered by a digital interface, and unhindered by communication restrictions. The gameplay hasn't changed. Perhaps some design restrictions would be lifted: Settlers of Catan could be re-envisioned as a real-time exploration and construction game, ala WarCraft. Or it could be played with traditional turn-based rules and resource collection. Games could be played with animation and sound, realistic or cartoon art-styles, free-form or strict rule adherence. The computer as board, dice, moderator, bank, enemy, stand-in player.
Not that any of that is a stretch. I've been looking at Clubhouse Games for my DS. Over 30 traditional games, playable with the touch interface. Up to 8 players via wireless communication. No setup, no take-down. Is this, perhaps, the next step to re-imagining board games? Can all board games be digitized, removing restrictions on rules, art, sound, communication, and play? Of course they can, that's the easy part. If the game can be played with chips can dice it can be played with virtual ones just as easily.
It doesn't mean that I wouldn't play on a real board if you came over.
Sometimes physical is just plain better than virtual.