IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

No getting board with these games

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 14, 2013

Most folks still think of classics such as Monopoly, Cluedo and Risk at the mention of board games.

Lesser known are strategic board games, also known as German-style games, which are increasingly reaching out to the mass market - all thanks to the digitisation of these titles for the iPad.

These strategy games cover a range of themes - from grandiose space exploration and world conquest, to simple concepts such as farming and fishing.

They are designed for players who prefer to use their wits rather than rely on a throw of the dice. And while they are not that tough to learn, they are difficult to master.

The physical versions of these strategy games cost a lot - on average about $60 to $100 per game - and sometimes, more than $200. By comparison, the iPad versions of these games are going for a song, typically under $10 a pop.

A few years ago, there was a mere handful of such games that were ported to the iPad, but now there are hundreds.

These games are great fun and a good way for family and friends to spend time together. Some games may take as little as 30 minutes to complete, while the more complex ones can go on for hours. They are designed to rack your brains, but not break the bank, unlike many modern free-to-play mobile games which are deliberately addictive to lure players to make in-app purchases

Trying to find these strategic board games on the Apple App Store, however, can be a challenge as they are lumped together with the classics such as Monopoly. If you search "Board Games" in the App Store, the top hits will turn out to be standard ones such as Monopoly and Scrabble.

Search deeper and some of these strategic board games will appear. However, without an obvious search filter, the better way is to key in the actual name of a game. Or search using the names of the original creators and the developers of the digital versions.

In some instances, the game developers - Fantasy Flight Games, Days Of Wonder and Ravensburger among them - create the digital versions in-house.

But in many others, renowned game makers, including Reiner Knizia and Uwe Rosenberg, work with third-party digital game developers to port their titles to the iPad. Search for developer names such as Playdek, Codito, USM and Skotos Tech to find more of these games.

These games are primarily available on the iPad, though Android has a small selection of them.

Moving to the iPad has been very profitable for the United States company Days Of Wonder. In nine years, the physical version of its flagship game Ticket To Ride has sold more than two million copies. Its iPad and iPhone versions together have sold as many, but in just two or three years. The digital versions sell for about a tenth of the price of the original games.

The company noticed that the iPad version sold 17 times faster than the physical game, and the iPhone version sold 40 times faster in the first month when it went on sale.

At first sight, moving to the cheaper digital version might cannibalise the more expensive physical versions, which typically come with luxurious boards, cards and wooden gaming pieces.

But veteran gamers insist that the two products are separate.

The digital version of a game is typically used for playing alone against the computer or against other players online. It is great for learning the rules of the game and for practice sessions.

If you are on a budget, the digital versions work just fine, with many incorporating a Pass-and-Play feature in which players can take turns with the iPad, though the gaming experience is not quite on a par with the real thing.

Mr Damien Chua, 39, owner of 11-year-old board game shop Paradigm Infinity, feels that the digital port of board games has pros and cons for his business.

While it means that some gamers will choose the cheaper iPad versions over the physical copies, he feels that many will still go for the full experience.

He said: "You can't really socialise over the iPad like you can with friends over drinks and hours of board gaming. It's just not the same."

ginlee@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 14, 2013

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