In case you were unaware, there is a Steam game out there called Tabletop Simulator (hereafter TS).
TS is basically an emulator for board games, with the Steam Workshop operating as a ROM storefront. In fact, I’m not even sure how any of this is particularly legal. TS by itself is “merely” a toolset… but it is fairly robust and powerful to the extent that it’d be difficult to find some board game that it couldn’t recreate.
The first time I used it, my wife and I played Agricola with a friend on the West Coast. The version of Agricola we played did not have any scripting beyond the starting board state, so we still had to manually place the extra resources on the board each turn.
Something I really appreciate about the game is the ability to see the “hand” (i.e. mouse cursor) of other players – it allowed us to point to cards, see who was already moving a piece, and so on. The 3D nature of the simulator itself obviously leads itself to some exciting possibilities in custom games (or presumably in VR), but it is more of an annoyance in traditional scenarios. For example, it’s sometimes difficult to pick up only one card from a stack, or place down multiple cards, or accidentally stack pieces that you did not intend to stack.
The second session a few weeks later had us playing a semi-scripted Settlers of Catan game. The starting tiles and numbers were already randomly placed for us, and the roll of the dice would highlight exactly which tile produced resources that turn. Settlements and roads also snapped into place, so there was not a bunch physics-based fiddling necessary. Oh, and scoring was semi-automated as well. I was somewhat disappointed that resources did not automatically arrive in our hand, but I suppose there should be some sort of interaction going on. I did like how you can take cards out of other players’ hands, for when you move the Robber.
After Catan, we played a few rounds of Ricochet Robots. This used to be a fairly obscure board game that sold for $80+ on eBay, but it looks like it was reprinted here recently as it’s selling for about $40 on Amazon. There was not particular automation here either, as there really isn’t any need for any. There were a few features that I wish were available, and depending on how difficult it would be to code, it’s probably possible to add them myself.
Having played about ~10 hours of board games using Tabletop Simulator, I will say that there is no substitute for sitting around an actual table with real people in the room. Right-clicking and rolling dice will never be the same as rolling them yourself. But if you are in a scenario in which remote gaming sessions were the only option, Tabletop Simulator is an extremely viable option. To say nothing about its usefulness in testing new games before buying them, or using it in the wild ways of creating your own games, running D&D campaigns, and so on.
Have you seen this adorable thing?
Whoever walked into that Nintendo exec meeting with that in their pocket better have gotten a raise.
I’m not going to go over the details of what games it includes and all that – once again, there are a million different blog posts about it – but I did want to briefly comment on my reaction to it. Namely, it’s brilliant. And what is especially brilliant about it is the fact that it costs $60.
See, you can get a Raspberry Pi 3 for $30-$35 and potentially create your own emulator that plays all the games. But between the Pi 3 itself, some kind of enclosure for it, the microSD card, the controller, and all the steps necessary for piracy… well, let’s just say there is a point at which it’s better to just go legit. And, shit, how much would people pay for a tiny nonfunctional NES on their shelf in the first place? The fact that it plays actual games is probably a bonus.
We’ll see this holiday season whether or not the internet hype over the device translates into actual dollars. I hope it does… because I’m hoping for a SNES version later. Can you imagine? Super Metroid, FF6, Chrono Trigger, A Link to the Past, Secret of Mana, Mario Kart, and so on.
Then it will be on like Donkey Kong (Country).