My desires are unconventional; Board Game Arena and Tabletop Simulator are not going to be enough. BGA is great to introduce other people to slightly more complicated games. French church builder Troyes looks impenetrable to many people and would be more tedious in real life to teach compared to playing it online, as it skips upkeep and certain rules for new players. I want to reinvent the wheel and not have to wait on REAL friends’ schedules, and I personally do not like playing randos because the only people I am going to find to play Dice Forge at three in the afternoon are good enough at said game to easily stomp me to dust. BGVGs would at least let me test an AI. The catch-22 is that the only games big enough to have these online versions are games that are so basic, I could probably find someone to play with in real life. Let’s see if Ticket To Ride has a story mode.
Ticket To Ride is exhibit A for how all these board game to video game adaptations work. Right out of the download, Ticket To Ride is just the first United States train map, where each player is supposed to connect different train stations. It’s effectively a paid commercial for the physical game and Ticket to Ride locks most of the extra boards as DLC. I can either play with the overall Steam community or I gift a friend their own digital copy and we…basically just do Board Game Arena but it costs more money.
Dominion originated the concept of a deck builder, a sub-genre of game where each player starts with the same deck of cards and buys new ones from a market. One of my favorite tabletop sub-genres, deck builders are often reimplemented to fit into the world of different anime or video games, with some success. My favorite deck-builder is the Dale of Merchants series, because the theme of animal shopkeepers is charming to people who don’t normally play hobby games, and a single game does not take long. Dominion, on the other hand, is a generic hobby game pastoral medieval number four and has not aged well. Card game video games do not require much in the way of visuals, if my time with Magic: The Gathering Arena meant anything. At least in Core Connection, I’m deck building my way towards grafting my mecha with a pulse rifle. Dominion can keep its unexciting gardens and cellars.
The shortest game on the list is the stone-glass tile game, Sagrada. Sagrada is a warm-up game, where in the context of a board game evening, it’s the pre-dinner drink that gets the brain going. I don’t want to play a session of Sagrada more than once a day, and the video game version is just PVP or a daily challenge mode. If I pull out my laptop to play a game, I want to play something that lasts longer than fifteen minutes. The book Characteristics of Games by Elias, Garfield, and Gutschera defines the smallest amount of satisfactory play time as an “atom”, their example being two rounds of Donkey Kong in an arcade. The next-sized chunk is a “game”, which is a full game from start to finish, with a combination of these games called a “session” of play. An example they give is that a hand of poker is not as fulfilling as a full game, where two full games of poker might be too much. The diminishing returns of filling up on bread rolls.
This experiment was failing fast until ROOT shook the table. Extra care was put into the video game adaptation of ROOT. The most noticeable efforts are the fully modeled player armies, in contrast to other video game versions having virtual replicas of the original wooden game pieces. Not every board game videogame necessitates visualizing each element, yet getting to see the cats of Marquise de Cat build their workshops while the nest towers of the Eyrie Dynasties shoot to the sky adds immersion. It’s like how Yu-Gi-Oh Capsule Monster Coliseum is a game about moving pieces of plastic on a board, but now you get to see your skull demon shoot lightning bolts at a dragon, instead of just imagining it. I do wish the game kept closer to Kyle Ferrin’s colorful and gaudy color palette.
ROOT is helped by being an asymmetrical turn-based game, and the expanded tutorials are extra important because every army has a different aspect or restriction. It’s like how the 70’s Dune board game struggles with needing a designated rules-lawyer for each faction’s minute problems and abilities, while having the game enforce rules makes ROOT new player friendly. I bet tons of new players might forget the rules on how the Eyrie Dynasties’ Decree system works and go multiple turns while in Turmoil. I know I probably would.
While ROOT was a step in the right direction, board game videogames were supposed to be, on the surface, a solo adventure. People are not always around to throw down face-downs and put their heart in the cards, where at least I can duel Yugi and pals by myself with a video game. Board games are a social hobby, so I needed back-up. I needed to play with…friends.
Mysterium is a large group game about one person being a ghost that uses abstract-surrealist cards to tell the other players, the psychics, who murdered them; think Clue but better, even if Mysterium lacks secret passageways. Most board games that are not 100 percent two-player are usually unenjoyable. I’ve heard rough stories about people playing Kami-Sama in two player mode, where the game has a Kitsune act as a third player that people think cheats, which honestly, is thematically appropriate. Mysterium normally structures a traditional two-player game with one player as a ghost and the other is two psychics, which sounds like a compromised chore. One player as the ghost with another on a team of AI psychics feels more legitimate. Mysterium is a train-of-thought game, and with a close friend, my favorite part was reviewing their reasoning after each correct guess. As in the best puzzles, so too does Mysterium allow for multiple solutions. The AI players never seemed to care about giving out clairvoyance tokens, for extra clues at the end of the game, as maybe they never liked our answers.
Small World kept crashing and kicking my friend and I out of the lobby. The little time I spent with it showed a game about making different strategies with combinations of fantasy races and powers, with some push-your-luck around declining one race to try again with another. It struggled to keep my interest even when we could play it.
I learned through my experiment that I might have been trying to take a social group activity and make it solo. I have zero interest in solo modes for physical board games, as I tend to teach rules and get joy from watching players engage with new systems and develop strategies. The games I own that I play frequently are played multiple times with different people instead of multiple times with the same person or two. I love Core Connection because the rules aren’t very hard to teach and it’s fun to see what different pilot and mech combinations a new person will pick. I will even loan games just so my friends can play with their families, and I can hear about their stories.
Online video game versions seem mostly tooled towards players who enjoy testing their skill or new strategies, which is a competitive streak I don’t have. Some of my negatives might be simple unrealistic expectations; desiring expanded worlds and characters to play against instead of what these realistically are, simulation games. ROOT is a game I can play for a few hours at a time, with an occasional hour-long session of “two-player” Mysterium with a close friend over Discord; but I do not think I will return to most of these BGVGs. Was the experiment a failure? Was there success? Like all good experiments, we test to learn about what we don’t know, not to confirm already held beliefs.