The rising popularity of board games in recent years has stood in interesting contrast to video games’ increasing focus on remote multiplayer. With so much of our daily social interaction mediated through screens, more and more people have found the face-to-face play of board games to be a welcome respite from digital isolation. Sometimes, however, circumstances conspire to make it difficult or impossible to get the requisite number of people together in the same place and time.
Although many board games such as Carcassonne and Small World already have excellent digital implementations, short of awkward Skype set-ups there are few general solutions for people that want to bask in board gaming’s design renaissance, but can’t muster the troops.
Enter Tabletopia, a multi-platform, general-purpose digital board gaming environment that has already blown past its Kickstarter goal with nearly a month to go. Unlike dedicated apps for particular games, Tabletopia is a sandbox system for running any game. That means no AI or rules enforcement. Participating players will have to know how to play the game. Functions such as game setup, shuffling and dealing cards, tracking turn phases, or laying tiles can all be automated, while still giving players the freedom to play however they would like, permitting for example use of any favored house rules. It is currently in beta for a browser-based version that works on Windows and Mac, but by mid-2016 its creators aim to have a downloadable client available on Steam, as well as iOS and Android versions, enabling play between different platforms.
More than just a means to play games, however, Tabletopia also serves as a platform for designing, implementing, and monetizing games for both established publishers and aspiring amateurs. The lack of rules implementation means that it is easy to simply upload artwork and set up a virtual copy of your game without any programming knowledge. Such uploads can be shared privately for playtesting, made public for anyone to play, or added to a paid marketplace of games for a 70-percent royalty share of profits from premium subscribers.
This model for monetization is what primarily separates Tabletopia from extant, similar services. The open source Vassal Engine is the most established alternative. But being an open source project, it lacks a certain degree of professional polish that some users might prefer. While it does allow for an impressive degree of automation, creating modules for it requires some programming know-how.
Tabletop Simulator, available now for Mac and Windows on Steam, sits at the other end of implementation complexity, providing a pure physics sandbox in which you can play games (or flip tables). Modules for Vassal and Tabletop Simulator are all fan-made and freely-distributed. Although many publishers currently turn a blind eye on the assumption that the value of in-person play outweighs the risks of piracy, this might not always be the case as the industry evolves.
Tabletopia, on the other hand, has already signed up a roster of established publishers, such as Knizia Games and Arcane Wonders. The current list of over 100 games supported includes standards such as chess and checkers, designer classics like Tigris & Euphrates, and more recent hits such as Terra Mystica and Imperial Settlers. If it catches on, this could be a great option for publishers that would like to officially support a digital implementation of their games without devoting the resources necessary to develop a dedicated client.
At the time of this writing, Tabletopia‘s Kickstarter campaign has raised $30,527, surpassing its $20,000 goal within the first day (helped by being a Kickstarter Staff Pick), with 29 days to go. Reward tiers for both players and designers provide discounted subscriptions to its premium features. It is also currently seeking Greenlight approval on Steam.
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