Board games & OLED

A groundbreaking technology may make traditional board games a thing of the past. The technology allows groups of friends or family members to play electronic games like they used to do board games: in a sociable and physical setting, placed together around a table. It also eases game controls by using affordances of regular cardboard pieces.

The camera tracking and projection allow researchers at the HML to anticipate technologies 5-10 years down the road, when thin-film Organic LED screens will allow these kinds of board games to become practical. “We just started thinking about, ‘What if these new screens exist? What could we do with them?” says Professor Vertegaal.

“In the near future, a computer will have any shape or form, and iPhone-like computer displays will start appearing on any product. Projecting and tracking objects is just the beginning. These Organic User Interfaces will be embedded in real world interactions.”


Assuming this turns out to be as good as it looks, I really like the idea of using (inexpensive) physical game pieces on a surface of my choosing, over some sort of multitouch interface.

I’ve been waiting for OLEDs to hurry up and be mainstream. I want my future now damnit.

This looks like a cool tech, and I could see how games based upon it could be interesting. Their demo definitely made me think you could do economic style simulators pretty well, and make tile laying games (like Carcassone or Tigris and Euphrates) prettier.

The head lines and that quote seem pretty ridiculous, though. If this whole-sale replaced board games, then the board game market would quickly become a radically different place. Cost to develop a video game is substantially higher than for a board game, so selling high cost boards to a niche market would no longer be viable. Plus, the tactile nature of their board game/video game merging seems to really miss what makes the actual tactile part of board gaming fun. Replacing the fiddly bits with images on a screen (or board, or tile, or hex) misses the point entirely.

So you turn a $30 board game into a three figure activity? Why?

Think of the DLC!

I think the idea here is for a boardgaming platform. A deck of cards that can be anything, etc. This is all projecting into the future. The tactile essence of boardgaming isn’t necessarily lost here, in fact it’s probably necessary as you need a way to interact with the OLED board tiles as they can’t tell one touch from multiple or motion like a touchscreen. Thus you use other tiles or possibly reactive meeples and such to interface.

Finally, a way to play ASL!

Haha, yes, counter heavy stuff would benefit here…but I think this may be too limited in scope to be really useful atm

Actually maybe for tabletop games, thats not any more money, you don’t want to know how much a Games Workshop army will run, but its a three figure activity…even used ones on ebay.

Sorry for the bad quality of the linked article and blog entry. I cringed when I read them, too. I just like the concept and demo.

To clarify something I said in the first post, I meant that when I think about enhancing board games with technology, I like this idea much better than the idea of using a multitouch table or something along those lines. (That is to say, I wasn’t actually suggesting combining the two because that would bump the costs astronomically, even if that would be interesting).

As for cost, if someone really does target the gamer market, to Lorini’s point the product would certainly have to be competitive with current board game equipment costs. That’s probably a no-brainer. I imagine the final product will have to be comparible in cost to, say, an inexpensive projector.

it’s like a kindle for boardgames

I would agree with that. With the Kindle you pay three figures but over time you could expect to break even, plus you would gain a lot of convenience. With a board game like Settlers (which they use as an example) you don’t gain much more convenience except in set up and I don’t see games getting cheaper as a result of using this.

With board games being manufactured in China, they really aren’t that expensive to make. There currently is a pretty good markup on board games which is why everyone is rushing to get into the publishing business.

This technology would certainly open up the design space for board games. With board games increasing in sales every year for the past few years, I don’t see the push to increase the design space. If sales flatten or worsen, then I think there could be interest in the technology, assuming the cost could be less than $100.

I think it has potential for certain kinds of gaming. I could really see it being useful for tabletop wargames, for example.

OTOH, I think it’s also overlooking the fondness that boardgamers have for real, physical bits. People who want to play games with animations and setup/housecleaning tasks handled by a computer can already play videogames, yet people still love boardgames. I guess I’m saying that I’m not sure that boardgamers in general want to have their hobby “improved” in this manner.

100% agree Ben. I think the rise in interest in board/family gaming is because the pieces are wood and well sculptured. I don’t see this technology replacing that either.

I think however that there is space for it, but it will be a niche, like Magic the Gathering or tabletop miniature games. I think they will have a hard time selling this technology unless/until they can find a game that really demonstrates a different way to play. Settlers will not do it for them.

Meh. At first glance I’m unimpressed. I get the impression the guys writing those articles don’t actually play board games much, as all the gimmicks they show don’t really add much, and in many ways aren’t as cool as actual 3d game bits. Plus, they gloss over the UI problems, and the much greater work necessary to implement a game’s mechanics, rather than rely upon players to enforce written rules.

The only way I can see this sort of thing working is if you made a normal computer game, which could also be played on such a mechanism. Then you’d only need to slice in different UI/presentation code. Still, the cost and nicheness of the baordgame market make me dubious it’d ever take off.

Hmmm, on the other hand it would be cool for the sorts of long wargames that I now rarely play because of their tediousness; maybe I’d actually get to play them again? Or table top RPGs… D&D in particular would benefit from something that could take care of all the game mechanics… Definitely a non-trivial bit of programming though.

Never mind the wooden bits - it’s the plastic that sells. Fantasy Flight Games is one of the most successful board game publishers out there, and it’s not the quality of the games that does it (although they have some excellent ones in their lineup) - it’s all the wonderful flashy bits and pieces and plastic.

Tactile feel > digital screen. I can’t see that changing for the foreseeable future, though who can say how future generations (who have never known a non-digital world) will think.

This reminds me of the Microsoft Surface D&D demo.

I found that concept to be hopelessly impractical and this demo is even worse.

The market for tabletop games of all kinds–simple board games, games like Carcassonne or Catan, or really complex D&D games or wargames–is really small to begin with. The idea of adding an expensive layer of technology on top of this is all kinds of impractical. There are going to be very few people that would ever spend the money to get something like this although I could see it as a gimmick in game stores I guess.

You guys realize that this is prototyping for OLEDs right? There will be no projector involved. Everything will be a tactile piece of board game. Gameboards, tiles, meeples, dice, all of it can feasibly be covered with OLED. You can roll one six sided shaped die and it could function as any random number generator. You can’t have miniatures, but you could have blockish meeples that change to the necessary piece. Instead of having a separate box for each game, you get to sell one box for Monopoly, Life, or whatever other crappy thing the market sells millions of. And then sell them downloadable art packs.

And then the batteries start dying.

Yeah, I realize they’re talking about OLEDs, but that’s not what they’re demonstrating, and this is for a reason – they can’t. There are a ton of practical issues, and while were all of those solved it’d be pretty cool, I don’t think it’s even close to working well enough for production. For example, how do you cheaply solve the power and communication issues for so many disparate and independent pieces?

I mean, I suppose I expect to see this sort of stuff before I die, but I’d be surprised if you could buy a boardgame making use of it any time soon.

I got a chance to play around with the MS Surface at Disneyland just recently, and actually think it has potential, although you have to look past the crappy UI they’re using in the video you linked (e.g. the tedious dice rolling). The biggest problem I see with it is the relatively small screen.

[Edit] Also, it’s funny that they screw up the opportunity attack rules, which highlights the sorts of problems such a system can have.