The Future of Tabletop
October 5, 2022 6:51 AM   Subscribe

I can't believe the second link is showing "Candyland".
posted by Slothrup at 8:26 AM on October 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

The future of tabletop games is digital

God, please, no.

I have a hard enough time as it is with games that seem to have an interesting and entertaining premise at their core, but then proceed to shovel-on layer after layer of intricacies, dependencies, resets, etc. etc. etc. to where any fun there might have been is buried six-feet under a pile of frustration. Adding digital to the mess will only compound it all.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:28 AM on October 5, 2022 [22 favorites]

I love the option to play digitally when you can't get together with friends, for sure. When our son was a baby and we were housebound, we played a ton of Ticket to Ride with friends via Xbox Live.

But there's no substitute for the tactile experience of playing a tabletop game in person. IT's the little wooden roads and buildings in Catan, the clacking marbles in Potion Explosion, the thick cardstock of Carcassonne. There's a good reason game developers put so much effort into creating tangible tokens. I'd hate to see all of that replaced by the same screen swiping that dominates our lives everywhere else.

We're also seeing a wave of successful tabletop games crowdfunding special editions with even fancier tokens. I pledged $100 for a Castle Panic with wooden monster tokens and fully-detailed miniatures, and can't wait to see more companies pick up the trend.
posted by skullhead at 8:47 AM on October 5, 2022 [14 favorites]

I don't know - I think people like handling physical objects. It has a sense of immersion and play that doesn't necessarily happen with a group of people in front of one of more screens.

Personally - I think that physical gaming is only increasing - when I started playing D&D RPG (and then many others), it was all just paper, books and dice. (Late 80's) Then... miniatures and set-peices started showing-up - then wargaming (*cough* Games Workshop) took off in a big way.

And now? Physical gaming has never been bigger - a myriad of game shops with play areas - people printing their own terrain and miniatures with 3d printers (Resin and/or FDM) - a vast cosmos of available rules, systems and scenarios (many of which are open-source).

I have a high-school friend who has designed and is selling one educational/fun card game (math skills!) - and is working on prototyping a few more - all of them have some combination of cards, peices and/or boards.
posted by rozcakj at 8:48 AM on October 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

I dunno, man, my brain just cannot handle all the micro-transactions of moving little pieces here and there and where to put the cards and how many dice to roll and all that shit about a physical game. Ilove digital versions of board games because all of that mechanical shit is just handled, and plus the game engine doesn't let you make illegal moves which is great because I'll be fucked if I can actually remember the rules to anything more complex than, I dunno, Carcassonne? Oh fuck, and counting up the points at the end, god damn that's tedious, annoying, and fraught with errors.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:52 AM on October 5, 2022 [8 favorites]

The ideal thing, IMO, is digitally assisted board games. I remember when the Microsoft Surface was first coming out, the original incarnation was a big table where one of the use cases they pitched was board games. They had little pieces with NFC or RFID tags that you could use to manipulate the digital board. I can't find the original video but it looked something like this commercial from 2007

And my thought was wow: can you imagine playing Battletech on this thing? You could do stuff like have it automatically calculate line of sight rules and modifiers for how fast you ran this turn. You could have the computer do all the tedious bits and focus on the fun part. Hidden movement games could be handled with way less paperwork and frustration when one person makes a mistake and messes up the whole game.

But yeah, the tactile nature of board games needs to be preserved. The game Splendor loses a lot of its charm when you can't pick up the heavy poker chip sized gem counters and clack them around while you decide which card to take.
posted by JDHarper at 9:07 AM on October 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

I've been a boardgame fan for a while. Same with video games.

Currently I flipflop about the digital convergence for the physical games. I was super excited about mansions of madness 2nd edition, but in reality, the app was just fiddly. It didn't add much. Space Alert (sorta pre-app era) was almost good, but it was again, just a hassle.


My Father's Work seems like a pretty happy medium between the digital and non. It sits there quietly, and every now and then when some key event happens, it tells you what changed for the game. It probably helps that the components are absolutely gorgeous. (Caveat - We've only played through 1/3rd of a game so far)

It seems like a fine line between the charm and appeal of physical fiddly bits, and the perceived elegance of the app driven or digital experience.

Potion Explosion in app form functions far better than the physical game. But it isn't the same game experience.

Something akin to CastAR (I can't recall their new incarnation) seems like a happy medium because it does a far better job of blending the 2. Keeping my focus on the board, pieces and people I am playing with goes a long way.

Either way, boardgames in general have gotten SO MUCH BETTER than they used to be. We replayed Acquire a few weeks back. Still love it, but it's just clumpy compared to more modern fare.
posted by Lord_Pall at 9:08 AM on October 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

I have to say, there's a lot to be said for digital versions of games that have so many components that setup takes nearly as long as gameplay itself. Sometimes the setup process adds to the enjoyment of time spent with friends, and sometimes you just want to play a heckin' game already. (Gloomhaven, I'm looking at you.)
posted by alynnk at 9:09 AM on October 5, 2022 [9 favorites]

Yeah I'm an impatient person and the end of the game, the tedium of point adding, especially since the percentage of arithmetic errors I make has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. alynnk's point about set up too.

At the same time, I really appreciate the tactile, physical aspects of board games as well, as mentioned by several folks above.

It feels a bit like teaching/learning virtually, in that there's absolutely aspects of in-person classes that I think are invaluable and impossible to replicate virtually, but that Zoom classes also have decided benefits in terms of accessibility and certain types of efficiency. The ease with which students can do presentations via Zoom versus the long minutes it takes for students to get their presentation set up on the classroom computer (they have to open Box, or Google Drive, can't remember the password, so someone has to find a usb stick to transfer the file, but then the classroom computer is misbehaving, it's a different operating system so the formatting is all weird, the co-presenters all shuffle around at the front of the classroom awkwardly, etc etc etc).
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:41 AM on October 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

I like having some board games digital - especially those with lots of components that are hard to take over to a friends place, or just take forever to set up and take down. But...there's also a joy in the physical, tactile pieces of a board game - the setup, the takedown, all of it is also social time. After playing Dominion with some family last week, sorting the cards back out was a great time for chatting about a lot of different things. Handling the heavy poker chips of Splendor while you try to figure out your next buy; or looking at the few remaining cubes of a particular color in Pandemic and fearing what happens on the next card flip . And honestly, did anyone play Mousetrap as a kid, or did we all just set up the Rube Goldberg machine and set it off again and again?

I do love the quick way that digital versions can handle scoring, especially for things like Carcassone; and I do love the fact that with digital versions I can find people to play with if there's no one physically available. In all honestly, I don't see why we can't be talking about having both/and? Theres some games I would never buy physically, because I know no one in my household/gaming groups would play them, but I would love to try - and other games where I want to have both versions available because transport or setup is sometimes just too much for the physical version.
posted by nubs at 9:50 AM on October 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Software makes it really hard for us to use arbitrary House Rules, though. Like, I have said "no Robber" when we played Cataan with a little kid, or we just walked away from a game to all make ice cream sundaes and ignored the timer -- stuff like that.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:52 AM on October 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

I recall when Snakes and Lattes, the first games café in Toronto, opened circa 2010. I thought, "A café where people can just play board games as well as have a coffee and a sandwich? That's a fantastic idea, and I will be very sad when they close in eight months." As it turned out, by that point, they had more than doubled their opening hours in any given week, and within a couple of years, they had acquired the adjoining storefront and knocked out the connecting wall. These days, they have eight locations (including four in the US). The last time we had a mefi meetup there at the original one, there was a waiting list of ~ two hours for walk-ins. If the future of gamage is digital, this a secret being cunningly concealed from a lot of people in the business, as well as many, many customers.

I have talked to a lot of games café owners from sea to shining sea in this country. What they all seem to agree on is that in an era where many people work in front of a screen and then consume media through a screen (often the same screen), there is a distinct hunger to sit across a table from people and break bread with them and chat with them and also bring down the Roman Republic with them (e.g.).

Online games are fine. I run a weekly RPG that began life on a tabletop in the Before Times. We shifted to playing from our various houses simply for expedience's sake and the game now includes players in five cities across three time zones. Maybe half the players have never met one another face to face*.

The idea that online games will utterly supplant face-to-face games is another hilarious iteration of the same techno-futurist fantasy impulse that leads some otherwise smart people to declare that no one buys actual physical media for anything any more, or that no legitimate business accepts cash. We have had escalators for more than a century, but people still build stairs.

*We are actually assembling most of the group for a face-to-face board game in a relatively central city next week. All but the one who is on the west coast, who will join us by Zoom or something. We are of course, meeting at a games café.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:54 AM on October 5, 2022 [10 favorites]

I dunno, man, my brain just cannot handle all the micro-transactions of moving little pieces here and there and where to put the cards and how many dice to roll and all that shit about a physical game. I love digital versions of board games because all of that mechanical shit is just handled, and plus the game engine doesn't let you make illegal moves which is great because I'll be fucked if I can actually remember the rules to anything more complex than, I dunno, Carcassonne?

I've been hoping for a digital version of the outstanding Dungeon Degenerates: Hand of Doom for these reasons.

Much as its most logical - and beautiful, deeply + wildly nostalgia-inducing - form is as a physical game, its mechanics + set up time are often more than I can handle as an old man at the end of the day.

Also, it might provide an additional income stream for creator Sean Äaberg, who suffered a stroke in '18 and seems potentially permanently sidelined as a visual artist.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:08 AM on October 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Aww man, now you have gone and given me an idea... Speech recognition is getting better and better - I wonder if some sort of capture/recognition system could help with the "mundane"... Score keeping/tracking, etc. Might have to specifically announce things out loud; "Player X rolled a 'n', moved, did 'y'"...

Too bad RFID readers and things are still so expensive - slap some of those into the game board, and others onto pieces - then have the whole thing communicate with a smart device (phone, tablet, computer) - as speech recognition is still problematic.
posted by rozcakj at 10:40 AM on October 5, 2022

The area that I'm really excited about board games moving in the future is full digital, especially for solo experiences. One of my favorites recently has been Dice Tribes: Ambitions, which feels very distinctly like someone had a great idea for a solitaire dice game but the components would be too much to justify making physically. I enjoy playing more traditional board games both in-person and digitally, but it's games like these that I can see pushing the solo board game genre forward.
posted by isauteikisa at 10:51 AM on October 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

DnD 5e with every member of the party seated at the same physical table, pushing miniatures across a hand-drawn battle map and rolling physical dice but with a free app to help keep track of player character stats? Good.

That same DnD campaign over discord or zoom? Terrible.
posted by subdee at 11:14 AM on October 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

I like board games. I like digital games. I even like digital versions of board games, because they let me play solo or learn the rules without having to memorize a book before just jumping in.

But I rarely like when the two try to intersect. The tech bit often becomes the game instead of enhancing the game.

As an aside, Gloomhaven bugged me because it was trying to do all the things PC RPGs already do well, but in meat space. I imagine the intent was to make playing a shared "over the tabletop" experience, but it didn't click for me. That's what D&D is for in my opinion.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 11:16 AM on October 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

That same DnD campaign over discord or zoom? Terrible.

Okay, how are you going to get players in California, Texas, Missouri, and North Carolina around the same table?

(I've been running a game with friends over Zoom since the beginning of the pandemic and it's been working just fine for us.)
posted by Tknophobia at 11:45 AM on October 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

Gloomhaven, I'm looking at you.)

Speaking of, there is a really excellent digital companion app for Gloomhaven that keeps track of things like the monster decks and people's status effects. We would have abandoned our Gloomhaven campaign many sessions earlier without it.

Agh: well there WAS a helper app but the board game creator killed it. Stupid.
posted by JDHarper at 11:52 AM on October 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

From the second link:
First and foremost, gone is the annoyance of having to pack everything back up at the end of the day, and on the flip side setup can be far easier and quicker as well. Booting up a program or loading a mod is nicer than dealing with shuffling, board setup, and organization, and removes a lot of the hassle that can be a complete deal-breaker when wanting to play games in person.
The vibe here is like the voiceover in the first seconds of an infomercial, where we see the black-and-white closeup of someone’s hands clenched in frustration at how absurdly difficult it is to, er, open up a cereal box or pour a glass of water or something. Here is a trivial problem which we will now pretend is an onerous burden, and for only $49.95 per year (plus in-app purchases), you can free up several minutes every time you play this game, once every few months.

2032: “Sit down kids, while I tell you of my deprived childhood, when we had to... shuffle cards.”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:12 PM on October 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

That same DnD campaign over discord or zoom? Terrible.

...for you, perhaps. In addition to the challenges of getting people together around a table as Tknophobia mentions, some people prefer communicating with that remove, for a variety of reasons.

(Also, it makes secret-traitor roles a lot easier when everyone can't see the GM passing someone a note.)
posted by Etrigan at 12:14 PM on October 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Gloomhaven has a TTS setup and with a few external tools it's not too bad. But there's also an official desktop game version. It's been like 6mo since I played it and it had a few bugs (or, possibly, our understanding of some rules differ from the devs). It's so much more fun to play a session on the game than TTS and I can't even imagine in person.
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:32 PM on October 5, 2022

I play D&D using roll20, and it has improved my experience as a DM. Not only do my friends and family meet weekly to play, we do so from multiple States and cities. It's so good, that even if we were to sit around the table, I'd still use roll20.

I also play Catan online. When we can get everyone in the same place, in person, we can always bust out the game, but that's not often.

I still have my tabletop games, but life, Covid and geography have really impacted my ability to actually play.
posted by Chuffy at 12:33 PM on October 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

once every few months

With the online gloomhaven game we were happily playing 2+ sessions a week, for months on end. Plus since it's so low effort you could just sign on and do a scenario or two, or play longer, no problem.
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:33 PM on October 5, 2022

Also I admit that I have played Catan with my family all of us in the same room on tablets. So it may just be me.
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:34 PM on October 5, 2022

Software makes it really hard for us to use arbitrary House Rules, though. Like, I have said "no Robber" when we played Cataan with a little kid, or we just walked away from a game to all make ice cream sundaes and ignored the timer -- stuff like that.

I think this captures something that digital versions lose. in board games the rules are an agreement between the players, a social contract of sorts which can be adjusted with everyone’s agreement. when computers get involved the rules become like those of video games, more like the laws of physics.

i’ve always liked the french name for table top games ‘jeux de société’ because it captures what makes them unique and what digital additions threaten. That said, i play and enjoy a bunch of digital board games it’s just that it’s a different thing for me.
posted by tomp at 12:40 PM on October 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

I love digital versions of board games because all of that mechanical shit is just handled, and plus the game engine doesn't let you make illegal moves

Agreed! My friends and I got into playing digital board games over the pandemic and observed that tabletop 4X games (like Root and Scythe and Terraforming Mars), or games with lots of bits and playing "banker" (like Wingspan) are so much easier to deal with in digital form when you have the computer keeping track of everything and cleaning it all up at the end.

We also just started playing digital Gloomhaven after the Epic Game Store gave it away for FREE (as in beer) last week. I'd heard a LOT about this game as a must-play tactical dungeon crawler, but balked at the price and ginormous box as a tabletop game, and the amount of chits and stuff to keep track of felt very prohibitive in terms of table space and time. But the digital version is a complete breeze compared to that, once we figured out the play mechanics with the action cards it was very easy to get into and enjoy.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:47 PM on October 5, 2022

On the one hand, I will never play Wingspan or anything else with a bajillion itty bitty pieces that I have to keep track of mentally if I don't have the computer doing it for me. On the other hand, you can't play Splendor with our house rules. Games are a land of contrast.

(Splendor house rules if you want to make it interesting: chess timer allowing 12 minutes with a 5 second delay per turn; cannot use gold to reserve a card with no point value; all cards shuffled randomly; reserved and unused cards are deducted from your ending total; winner has the highest total when the timer runs out.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:12 PM on October 5, 2022

I'm not convinced that "computer can keep track of the fiddly bits" is inherently a feature. Isn't it part of the design constraints of board games that the game doesn't work if there's too many fiddly bits? Is it a good thing to remove that constraint? I don't know.

If you remove too many of the constraints, at some point you're not a board game anymore. Digital is fine, but I think the question of which design constraints are inherent to the genre and which can be disposed of given new technology is a very interesting one.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:25 PM on October 5, 2022 [8 favorites]

for me the killer app of boardgames-on-digital is having access to a much vaster set of players for your niche game that maybe no one wants to play locally.

and also if you have a crafty side the assets are a ton of fun to make -- I spent days building out an amazing TFT arena table in Tabletop Simulator.

but as a 100% work-from-home person I am so so so so sick of videoconferencing that I can't deal with online gaming anymore.
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:40 PM on October 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

It'll be interesting to see what happens with D&D's ideas about Virtual Tabletop.

Moving from 'you meet in a tavern, in the village of Foobaz'; where Foobaz was once pencilled on the back of a paper grocery bag, then a physical miniature model {Aw look, you made the well have a little bucket! Thanks, it took hours.) and now moving into a virtual Foobaz created in UnReal Engine, with digital minis that look like minis and a little circle that shows the potential area of effect for a Fireball spell.

That might be a welcome advancement for 'we have a weekly game with five players from four different time zones', vs. just looking at each other's faces over Zoom.
posted by bartleby at 1:45 PM on October 5, 2022

Isn't it part of the design constraints of board games that the game doesn't work if there's too many fiddly bits?

The kind of board games people are talking about here are like 90% fiddly bits. So it is a bit ironic that these then have better experiences online without them.

As far as RPGs... more power to the people who enjoy playing online but man I hated DMing a D&D game over pandemic and it felt like NONE of the magic that happens at a real table. Felt like a job where I was a tech support, data entry, software developer, zoom coach, and bartender and the end result was basically just having a really long zoom call over a bad video game. Talking over top of video games is not a genre of activity I'm really into (ie twitch/streamer games etc).

So IRL or nothing for me. If I'm going to futz with getting a game going online I'll just play an actual online video game.
posted by bradbane at 1:46 PM on October 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'm not convinced that "computer can keep track of the fiddly bits" is inherently a feature.

i've sunk many hours into the digital version of through the ages and I don't know if I would ever want to play the physical version, because of all the fiddly bits / bookkeeping that is necessary for the game. I would rather play the digital version in person than get out cardboard for this game. Mental arithmetic might be fun for some people, but definitely not for me. And losing a game because my math was off by 1... that's a bad time. I much prefer losing a game because of bad strategy, which is what the digital version delivers (over and over again... *sigh*)
posted by serif at 1:47 PM on October 5, 2022

I can think of a lot of tabletop games I have played in the past 30-some years, that I can simply retrieve from a shelf or box and fire up within moments. This is a major downside to digital versions: if the version is not maintained, updated, etc. you may have an unplayable digital artefact on your hands. That's not even touching the sheer villainy of any number of commercial interests who take good, simple, things and destroy it all just to make a buck.
posted by elkevelvet at 1:47 PM on October 5, 2022 [5 favorites]

both the last game board and tilt five are taking cracks at bridging the physical/digital divide. LGB has less friction (it's a 2'x2' screen you lay on your table), but less content. tilt five requires glasses for it's display, but has more stuff to play (mostly via tabletopia). i have the betas for both, and neither has forced its way into my life yet.
posted by bruceo at 2:23 PM on October 5, 2022

i've sunk many hours into the digital version of through the ages and I don't know if I would ever want to play the physical version

To be clear, I think it makes lots of sense to prefer the digital version of things like that! I think my question is more like: if it's only fun when the computer can track that stuff for you, at what point does it stop being recognizably a board game? The boundary between "digital board game" and "computer game (not a board game)" is a vague one.

A spectrum something like:

- physical board game
- digital version of a physical board game
- digital board game that *could* have a physical version, but doesn't for some reason
- digital board game that *can't* actually have a physical version, for some reason

"has a physical version, the physical version isn't any fun" is somewhere along there. While obviously it's not a genre requirement to be "fun" (there's plenty of board games that are subjectively or objectively bad that are indisputably board games), I feel like digital board games enable new extremes in that direction.

When is a board game no longer a board game? I don't know, but I'd love to read someone's essay on it.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 7:30 PM on October 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Compare the different experiences of people playing poker for money on the internet, of people who go to Vegas and play cards, and of a group of friends gathered around someone's living room table playing cards and bantering.

Exactly the same game, same deck of cards, same rules. But they're completely different human activities.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:11 PM on October 5, 2022 [7 favorites]

re: online D&D, I'd say it really depends on several factors? Our group's been playing over Zoom for all of its existence -- the friend who used to come over all the time for a pickup session with me & taquito boyfriend (the DM) moved out of town, & after she moved we asked her & three of our other interested pals from the local improv troupe to start playing on Zoom.

We've been playing ~5 different campaigns with various levels of commitment (5E, modified 2E, Troika, Gamma World) & it's been great; as far as I can tell everyone is highly invested & having a genuinely good time. If I had to guess, though, I'd say we've got several things working in our favor:

- taquito boyfriend tends to run theater-of-the-mind style; we've had some mapped-out Roll20 setpiece combats & early on he tried an experimental hex map swamp crawl thing, but largely we play with just a map of the general area for reference.

This playstyle is really good for getting you to forget the physicality of your surroundings & half-exist in a collaborative imaginary space; also we're not losing out on minis 'cause there were never gonna be any minis anyway.

- Everyone we're playing with has an improv comedy skillset which most crucially includes knowing how to share conversational/performance space, which is extra hard over Zoom or Discord, because you're not getting ambient energy cues & any verbal/gestural cues have a delay attached. That's just gonna keep being a downside until technology improves, but you can mitigate the issue some by being patient & attentive to it.

In our case, the other players have extra practice with that from trying to do improv comedy shows over Zoom during the pandemic, which apparently sucked a lot. (I did a couple of their live sketch comedy shows over Zoom & even that was... not my favorite.)

- We're all pretty used to Zoom from our day jobs & pandemic-remote social activities, & the technology hasn't been a hassle (other than a couple peculiarities of Roll20 specifically being mildly annoying).

I'd even go so far as to say there are some things I like about playing online, or at least having a laptop available:

- I don't have to drive anywhere, or clean the house to have guests, or wear non-optimally-comfortable pants
- I can't handwrite fast to save my life, but I can type fast, so my notes are detailed af (and include funny things people say so we can laugh at them again later)
- Don't have to squint at a map in the middle of the table
- Roll20 does all the math for me re: proficiency bonuses or whatever
- We can all easily look up any edge cases or weird rules we don't remember
- The DM can also quickly find & share an image of whatever bizarre thing we've just run into in case description alone ain't doing the job
- If someone goes out of town they can still play from their hotel or whatever if they're not otherwise busy
- Similarly, if they move out of town that's not an issue at all

That being said, we do prefer playing in person, & our out-of-town friend will sometimes come back into town & crash at our place specifically so we can play a live session. We've done four of those now, and all four were a blast. (Data point: all of us brought our laptops.)

But for us, playing online once a week is way more fun than simply not playing once a week. YMMV.
posted by taquito sunrise at 9:26 PM on October 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

I’ve been playing games via Tabletop Simulator with my partner who lives literally half a planet away. You’ve got to look for the programmed games that at least help with setup.

We’ve played Carcassonne (we place the tiles and move the meeples), Legendary Encounters (both Marvel and Alien), and Aeon’s End, among others. We’re also currently ten scenarios into Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion with a friend in a third country using a version that essentially looks like a digital tabletop (there’s automated features like monster spawning, which is nice).

It’s absolutely doable. And for us, who can’t currently travel to see each other due to COVID and rising plane tickets, the only option we have if we want to play together and actually have a tabletop experience.
posted by lesser weasel at 9:59 PM on October 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

As bruceo mentioned, TiltFive is a system that combines a unique take on augmented reality with board games. The physical board becomes a window into the 3 dimensional computer world, and more than a window as things can appear above the board. You can have physical pieces and physical cards in hand and on the board. Developers are working on ways to track them so they can interact with the graphics and gameplay. Of course you can play remotely, so when you lay down a physical card, you opponent could see a virtual card on their board.
posted by Sophont at 10:27 PM on October 5, 2022

DnD 5e with every member of the party seated at the same physical table, pushing miniatures across a hand-drawn battle map and rolling physical dice but with a free app to help keep track of player character stats? Good.

DnDBeyond is great at this for anyone who isn't already aware. Been using it for my 5e characters since the before times.

Roll20 and Foundry are good options for digital DnD, I very much prefer the latter as a player and DM. That said, my preference is strongly in favor of in person playing. As has been noted above so much of the interpersonal interaction is lost in the virtual experience. It's like the difference between seeing a live concert vs listening to a recording for me. Watching the faces of my players and feeling the emotional intensity as they stare down the barrel of a TPK at the table just doesn't seem like it could be matched by an online experience.
posted by calamari kid at 7:23 AM on October 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Aeon’s End

Oh man, having a computer help with this game (which my spouse calls "the deck-builder that feels I'm supervising a crew building a goddamn deck") helps immeasurably.
posted by Etrigan at 7:35 AM on October 6, 2022

The ideal thing, IMO, is digitally assisted board games.

We really enjoyed Mansions of Madness 2nd ed. The app could be improved (like, more ambient music!!!), but considering how much setup is already involved, it was a total boon for us.
posted by praemunire at 8:12 AM on October 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Until the apps are no longer supported...

Give me cards, cardboard, and meeples over "app-assisted" games. If the games need an app to be usable, maybe the game is too fiddly?
posted by Windopaene at 6:21 PM on October 7, 2022

But for us, playing online once a week is way more fun than simply not playing once a week.
Your experiences with Zoom D&D line up well with mine. I ran one of my best campaigns ever for two years during the pandemic. I use descriptive combat, so we don't even use Roll20. We played once a week, and it never got old.
Then again, I first started playing RPGs online using Neverwinter Nights, early 2000s. The DM Client in NWN lets you fully control any NPCs in the game and people have scripted so many tools to let DMs create encounters on the fly.
I created the Firefly NWN system back then to run my own weekly Traveller game. Best sci fi campaign I ever ran; visuals and game rolls were provided by NWN, and role-playing was by text chats in game.
Creating all the scenes became too much for me, but I miss those online weekly games, from D&D to Firefly to even superheroes. Having co-DMs run NPCs and split up the group was wonderful too.
I do miss miniatures and bad pizza and all that, but online RPGs are the way forward for me.
And as for tabletop games, if you have VR gear, check out Demeo
posted by Flight Hardware, do not touch at 6:33 AM on October 8, 2022

I immediately regret turning in The Game of Life to the Goodwill today.

Etrigan, they have a Steam Version, although from the looks of it I think your spouse's assessment is accurate.
posted by daHIFI at 7:32 PM on October 10, 2022

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