When the iPad launched two years ago there was talk in gaming circles about how its large, multitouch screen would make it an ideal platform to host interactive versions of traditional board games.
That hasn’t really happened.
Scrabble and Monopoly apps have done well, as have iPad versions of European classics like Catan and Carcassone. But most people play these games online or against the computer. The traditional board game experience of friends and family sitting around a table engaged in a dynamic social situation just hasn’t emerged.
There are plenty of reasons why traditional board games don’t work as well on a tablet as we’d imagined. Perhaps chief among them is that the screen, while very big compared to that of a phone, is actually still pretty small. Even a 10-inch tablet is still several times smaller than a typical cardboard game board.
Hasbro clearly understands this, and it’s come up with a clever way to combat the problem. Rather than replace the game board with an iPad, the American company's game designers have integrated a tablet into the board.
This is the idea behind a new series of “Zapped" edition board games. I tried The Game of Life: Zapped Edition with my family.
Inside the box is a standard folding game board, complete with cartoonish art and a path upon which physical game pieces – The Game of Life’s little plastic cars – can move. There's also a stack of paper money and bank loan bills, as well as little pink and blue pegs representing the family members we collect as the game progresses. It’s a lot like the game we all played as kids.
The difference is in the one accessory that doesn’t come with the game: An iPad. There’s a big space in the centre of the board where players can plop down a slate running Hasbro's Game of Life: Zapped Edition app, which is available for free on the App Store.
The app provides a virtual spinner in place of a physical one. It also plays amusing little clips licensed from America’s Funniest Videos in appropriate places, like when your little peg graduates or gets married. It serves up some quick and simple games, provides us good and bad news that will affect our fortunes, and even lets us create our own peg avatar, complete with hair and accessories.
I was impressed. It’s intuitive, simple, polished, and makes playing the game easier than ever.
But that’s also the problem.
The app leads us through everything by the hand. It tells us how much money the bank needs to give us on payday, tracks our car’s location on the board, and even counts our money for us at the end of the game.
In other words, it automates the fun.
Part of the joy of board games comes in figuring out the rules for ourselves and sometimes altering them to suit our tastes. There's also a strange competitive satisfaction that comes with keeping tabs on our fellow players, ensuring that they’re counting properly and doing what they're supposed to be doing.
Now there’s an app for all of that.
But the biggest problem of all is that now we spend our time looking at the screen rather than each other. Laughs are being manufactured through app interactions and watching little videos of things happening to other people, not through personal interactions and conversation with friends and family.
Perhaps I’ve simply crossed some unexpected line into oldness. My young daughter loves this game. She chooses it over old classics like Trouble, MouseTrap, and Sorry.
And I don’t begrudge her. I was the same. I vaguely remember my parents being disappointed the night my sibling and I chose to play Fabulous Fred rather than head down to the kitchen table to join them in a game of Aggravation.
The Game of Life: Zapped Edition isn't a badly made game. It's physical and virtual bits work together with precision. But games have a way of marking boundaries between generations. I think perhaps I just don't get it.
The Game of Life Zapped Edition should arrive in stores in a couple of weeks and will sell for about $25. Zapped editions of Monopoly and Battleship are slated to land in June and September, respectively.