Why Haven’t Board Games Gone Digital?

Practically every board game is available as a Table Top Simulator mod if you like the taste of rum and the sound of parrots, so for consumers it’s not really an issue that so very, very few are available as video games. The lack of AI does mean that, unless the game supports solo play, you do have to actually have friends, but the game itself is not only available, it’s available for free.

Table Top Simulator does have some games available as paid DLC, however. And some games are available from the Steam store as standalone purchases with built-in AI. For example: Small World. You can go out and buy that game on Steam and play it against AI and it’s exactly like the board game except with some sound effects and animations.

Why isn’t this more common? Why is it that if I want to play Twilight Imperium or Eldritch Horror (or one of its antecedents) I have to spend like two hours in set up (or push one button in a pirate mod from TTS)? The unofficial Twilight Imperium tournament scene (such that it is – they play on stream is the important thing) run by the Space Cats Peace Turtles podcast has to use one of those TTS pirate mods. I’m pretty sure that such mega-fans of TI as to show up in stream games have bought real copies of the game, but the point here is that they’re advertising for the free version that gives Fantasy Flight zero dollars for their work, and that’s not because they’re bad people or because they’re rebelling against some terrible decision by Fantasy Flight or anything, they just don’t have the option to stream a version of the game that people could actually buy.

I get that the best board game experience is going to be sitting down with real people to actually play it in person as a social event. I get that an AI for a game like Twilight Imperium would barely even be worth having, because so much of the strategy in Twilight Imperium comes down to politicking between many different players, and the only way to get a game AI that’s any good at that is to invent an entire new diplomacy sub-system like Paradox grand strategy games do. I’m not suggesting that digital versions of board games would serve as effective replacements for board games entirely. Particularly if they’re hard-coded like Small World, rather than TTS or Vassal modules that allow you to move the pieces around however you want, and thus support house rules and so on.

But just because digital board games can serve as full replacements for the real, physical thing, I don’t see why they aren’t serving the same niche as digital books: A slightly cheaper alternative with easier logistics, one so ubiquitous that the question isn’t “are we going to bother to offer this game digitally” but rather “can we afford to offer this game physically?”

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