Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Days of Wonder: Online

Best of Both Worlds
In today's world of iPads and handheld gaming, its been exciting to see the growing trend of board games finding their way to a digital format.

Days of Wonder, in my opinion, has been on the forefront of this movement. By the time that I had gotten into the hobby, they already had a version of Ticket To Ride for PC/Mac/Linux. It provided a great way to get a quick game in when I didn't have another player available or I wanted a small distraction when watching TV. The initial download comes with the original USA map. Many of the expansions (USA 1910, Europe and Switzerland) are also available for and additional purchase.

Back in 2011, they also released a digital version of Memoir '44 for PC/Mac/Linux. This game featured a freemium model of play. The game itself is free to play and an account initially starts with a certain amount of in-game gold. Each game requires a certain amount of gold based on the chosen map and scenario, with additional gold available for a small fee. This game features a wide variety of expansions and maps and can either be played solo against a computer opponent or online against another person. Recently, Memoir '44 has also been made available on the Steam platform.

Since then, Days of Wonder and began to release some of their games on iOS. Ticket to Ride has a version for the iPad and iPhone/iPod and Smallworld is available for the iPad. Both games have pass n play as well as online asynchronous gameplay.

Personally, I think that this transition is great for the hobby. These versions lower the barrier to entry and makes games much more accessible to new players. The game itself takes care of any initial set up, lowering the time it takes to get a game started to just the time it takes for the game to load. Another great thing is that the games themselves can track and enforce rules, freeing the players to focus on their strategy instead of having to reference rules over small details. In Ticket To Ride, for example, no matter how many times I play, I can never remember starting hand size; TTR Online takes care of that for me.

Obviously there are drawbacks to these as well. First of all, there just isn't the same feel and impact of looking at a small screen as opposed to seeing the board, large and real. There's also just the feeling of board games that can't be replicated. There's something satisfying about slapping down the winning card, feeling the dice in your hand or keeping your hand on your piece as you take one last second to analyze your move. In fact Eric Hautemont, CEO of Days of Wonder, talked to Ben Cachura at Penny Arcade about how the success of their apps has actually increased sales of the physical game. As great as it can be for a family to be able to play a quick game at a restaurant, nothing can replace the experience of setting up a game on the dining room table.

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