Augmented Reality for Boardgames

I started thinking about something last night, and I don’t think it’s going to leave my brain until I take some action. This post may ramble, so hold onto something solid, or the topsy-turvy path of my stream of consciousness ride may cause some gastric discomfort.

ios app for ipad lcarsLast night I downloaded an Star Trek PADD app for our iPad. It’s really cool if you are a fan of the show. Check it out if you are interested, but I’m only including it because it started me down this rabbit hole.

The Star Trek application is really just a database of information related to the show. I thought it would be fun to watch some episodes with my son and be able to access information as we were watching. I realized that this wasn’t a new concept at all, because when I was a teen, every summer I would read The Lord of the Rings and have not one, but two, LOTR reference books nearby so I could look up related characters and events as I read the book. Yes, I am a super nerd. Let’s move on.

This made me think how having this material, electronic or otherwise, enhanced or augmented my enjoyment of the primary entertainment source. It occurred to me that there could be a similar kind of augmented reality that could be implemented for physical board games. Maybe it’s already been done and I just can’t find a reference.

I’m not talking about a situation where a device would replace the physical aspect of a game. I love the game Ascension, but I see no reason to play it in any other form than on my iPhone. That application eliminated the need for the physical game, for me at least. I’m talking about taking an existing board game and augmented the game play experience by providing additional information through a device that takes sensory input from the physical game as it is played.

This input could provide something that applies directly to game play like keeping track of scores or the number of tiles remaining and so on, or it could just give interesting information about some aspect of the game, like the history of the region or that particular battle if it’s a wargame. It could just be entertaining like providing an animation of a battle, but I would rather it be something that actually gives me some kind of useful information, not just entertainment.

I think there should be something like this out there, and I know there are people out there much smarter than I am who could make it happen. I shouldn’t have to download sound effects to my iPhone so that I can generate the sound of a tie fighter when I’m playing the Star Wars X-Wing minis game. I should have something that could look at the playing field and make noises when I move my ship. How about some appropriate background music? I guess that’s just additional entertainment, so maybe I have to take back what I wrote earlier. How about an augmented reality view that would provide a tutorial for a new player that would show them all of the potential moves or options that they have?

What do you think? Has this already happened and I’ve missed out somehow?

15 thoughts on “Augmented Reality for Boardgames”

  1. Well war games use the iPad or computer a lot to make the board game easier. Like doing book keeping and in the case of Space Empires the computer a handles a!ll of the alien stuff going on in a solo or coop game.

    1. That’s what I’m talking about Mike, but does the user input that information or does the application gather input from the device’s camera?

      1. Both but with SE you push one button and it does all the work saving me a lot of time doing the aliens stuff.

        1. I will have to check that out. If it can gather information and figure out scores from the camera, then that is moving in the direction I want to explore. I haven’t played Space Empires.

  2. There’s been some instances of companies trying something like this. Last Night on Earth included a CD of background music (although it’s not really great).

    You and I kind of talked about this before: with the accessibility of microcontrollers and various electronics, it could be easy to do this with some games. I think it could really add to some games.

    1. There was a game up for Kinderspiel last year called Schnact Hubi (or something like that) that has a audio element built in that plays sounds/hints depending on the game state. Not quite AR, but almost there 😀

    2. The Last Night on Earth example is a good one. It’s not essential to the game. It only adds to the experience. The problem I’m starting to see is one that I’m going to refer to as the “Star Wars chess board” problem. It’s important to me to make a distinction between a game that has a technological or AR component that is essential for play and an AR application that enhances an existing board game.

      Now there can be a certain amount of overlap there, especially with what you have mentioned. Adding microelectronics to game pieces that react to movement and placement would provide some of the same kind of feedback that an AR system would provide.

  3. I’m glad you brought this up. I know there will be people that will say, “Just write an app or play a video game”, but I see value in a technology that uses adaptive virtual elements to help us interact with a game in the real world as opposed to just creating the game completely within a virtual space.

    I’m particularly fascinated by the tutorial and historical reference aspects of this idea. When you mentioned war games, I couldn’t help thinking about what this technology would look like in support of games like Here I Stand or Virgin Queen.

    I’m like you, background information about the theme of the game goes a long way toward helping me get immersed in a game’s narrative. Luckily for me, it doesn’t already exist because I’d never leave the house.

      1. I’ll donate my kinect to this project if someone wants to help me hack it. Anyone have an extra pair of AR glasses laying around?

  4. Hi,

    I am pretty sure that I saw some augmented reality stuffs applied to board games on one or two years ago. But I can’t remember much more than that.

    Similarly, if you have not heard of E-Pawn you should check them out. There is also a cross-over there between board gaming and technology.

    And is also very interesting. They now got contracts with a very big company.

    Hope this helps.


  5. I’m actually very turned off by technology in a game.I guess a CD is pay, but if I wanted a computer experience I’d just pay a video game.I like the feel of bits and cardboard. Now, once they can get the technology working where the cardboard board actually changes, I’d be so into that. But,I need that boardgame look and feel.

    1. I totally agree, but I’m not talking about losing the wood and cardboard. I’m talking about playing the game as it is BUT being able to look at the game through an augmented reality interface that might give a rookie tips or just give interesting trivia about the region or something. Like MTV pop up video. That was a thing, right?

  6. I am deeply interested in this concept, and was discussing it with a friend who pointed me in the direction of this post. I can see many ways in which devices (phones, iPad other) could interact with a board / table top game to enhance the experience. One of the key areas I’m interested in is what happens when a device can be used as an arbitrator of information that is not accessible to another. In games like 40K there used to be the option to play with three players; two combatants, and one games master. The GM could influence the game, and arbitrate hidden knowledge (the movement of troops through underground passages etc).

    Other elements that intrigue me are the device taking away some of the less slick parts of gaming (measuring distances between pieces, prompting players when they need to do something, automatic sound effects that do not involved reaching over to hit play on the CD player etc).

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