Board gaming is an inherently social activity, where people have to be fully present to make the most of the experience. For that reason, I prefer that when people are playing a board game with me, that they kindly stay off their devices with the exception of taking a quick picture or two. It helps the game run smoother, and keeps people invested in the outcome of the game.
This policy has been fairly clear cut until recently. The trend of including apps into board gaming has become popular across a variety of different game types. I am on the fence about how I feel on this trend. It is clear that there are some clear positives of using apps in boardgames. They can help do a variety of different things that can benefit gameplay. For instance, many of these apps add a lot thematically that while could be included in other ways, really highlights the theme of the game. One game that does this very well is Meeple Circus. The addition of the music as a timer adds a lot to the theme, but otherwise a similar mechanic could be achieved with another kind of time keeper. Other games really benefit from apps as they add clarity and simplicity to gameplay. Both Mansions of Madness and the Unlock! Series come to mind when discussing this benefit. I love that these apps are so easy to use, and really help make set up a breeze.
While there are clearly benefits, I also see a lot of drawbacks to having these apps be apart of the game. Three reasons mostly stand out to me. First, when the phone is apart of the game, it seems that other people tend to be more likely to check their phone or be distracted by other devices during playing. I have found that this is especially true in games like Unlock! where there may not be specific turns. Second, I am terrified of breaking someone else’s device. I am a total klutz. Holding another person’s phone always makes me nervous. Finally, I hate having to have a charged device to play a game. It really limits the places that I might be able to play these games. While I normally have my phone charged and with me, I do not always want to use it’s entire charge on a game such as this. Remembering to charge iPads or Kindles is not always high on my priority list before game day.
I think while a well integrated app can really make a game stand out in great ways, I also worry that without proper consideration they can take away from a gaming experience. What do you think about this trend? Do you like the addition of apps into your board games?