How will people play augmented board or card games?

May 1, 2010

About a 4 min. read

I’ve been thinking about board games and card games recently (ok, I’ve been thinking about them for years, but over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about them more than I have all semester).  Part of the motivation I have for creating “AR board games” (AR games that combine computer games and board/card games) is to recreate the social play experience of these games.  The experience I imagine is that of sitting around a table, playing a game with friends, where you are looking at each other and playing in the same physical space.  These experiences seem qualitatively different than the experience of multiplayer computer/console games, even games on the Wii.

But, I wonder about some of the non-obvious ways ways these games are different.  Today, as I was walking to the coffee shop to get beans for our espresso machine, I was thinking about the ways games enforce rules, and how board games and card games are fundamentally different than computer games.  With board and card games, rule enforcement is left up to the players;  they know the rules, and they abide by them.  Even when there is nobody around to “catch” them people naturally follow the rules;  to cheat removes the fun.  My dad played solitaire for hours to unwind after working shifts in an auto plant, and as far as I know, he never cheated.  What would be the point?

Computer games, on the other hand, encourage players to do anything the game allows to win.  Because the system is closed and the rules are enforced by the computer, finding ways to get around the system is part of the fun for many players.  If the game let’s you do it, it must be ok!

But, this presents a problem, which I’ll put this way:  will players treat hybrid computer/board games (or computer/card games) as board/card games or as computer games?  Will they play along and follow the rules, even if nobody is there to “call them on it”, or will they do what they can to win?  When there is a high score board, and achievements to unlock,  will players be content to take what the deck gives, or will they stack the cards?

This question is more than academic, because it impacts the kinds of games we can create.  Consider Sony’s Eye of Judgement, which is designed assuming players will treat the game as a computer game, and thus is structured to allow the computer to enforce the rules.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eP4TjzUfOeU[/youtube]

For those of you who have played the game, you know how awkward it is.  After playing for a while, you realize that you are playing a relatively complex card game (ala Magic), but one where the computer’s main job is to enforce the rules. The computer is used for little else, beyond adding eye-candy to justify playing the game in awkward space of the PS Eye camera.

But beyond the awkwardness, one can’t help but wonder what the game might have been like if the players were trusted to follow the rules and enlisted in the gameplay.  What kind of games could we create if the player was allowed to move cards fluidly, was allowed to manipulate their environment naturally, and not treated as a hostile, untrustworthy interloper?  What if the rules were presented and it was assumed people would follow them?

Imagine a single player augmented card game that starts with the player shuffling a deck and laying out 9 cards in a grid.  No checking by the computer, no proactive rule enforcement.  BUT, like traditional solitaire, the placement of the cards determines much about how the game unfolds.  Would such a game work?  It’s hard to say.  If a player approaches it like a card game, where the goal is to enjoy a pleasant diversion for a few minutes, and challenge yourself to solve a puzzle, perhaps such a game would work.

But, will players even consider that approach?  After years of being trained by computer games to take any advantage offered by the computer, will they “cheat” and chose a card layout designed to give them the best start to the game?  Will they even consider this “cheating”?

I’m not sure, but it certainly impacts the kinds of games we can create.

How will people play augmented board or card games? - May 1, 2010 - Blair MacIntyre