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Brett Cizmar
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Summerland
British Columbia
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Browsing bgg the other day I seen an advert for the PlayTable (https://playtable.xyz/).
I think this type of device is fascinating because, as far as I know, there has been no dedicated device
geared towards adults for digital board gaming. They intend to create the "netflix" of board gaming. The
important thing here is that we are still gathering around a table and playing our games, the only thing
that is changing is the the way our game(the board and the components) are displayed. PlayTable advertises
relatively simple games on it's website but for me digital board games work really well when it comes to
heavy board games.

Traditionally, heavy board games have many barriers of entry including:

* setup time
* player count/inexperienced players
* time of play
* downtime
* availability/price
* complexity/daunting learning curve


Digital board games help solve these issues, and they can even help mitigate the learning curve.
Digital versions could have "beginner modes" where they guide players around the board or even offer
tips. This could be a separate thing from a traditional tutorial. Just imagine professionally handled
digital versions of games from Splotter, 18xx series games, GMT/MMP, etc. and it becomes really
intriguing. Imagine a scenario where say, you're going to play Game of Thrones (FFG) but you only have
three willing participants. You bring your digital board game device to the table and contact two
people via Skype and get them to join the game with you online so you can have five people. Another
benefit of this type of device is you could have CPU AI opponents (which could also enable more
interesting solitaire play). I know a lot of grognards hate chrome but digital versions of the game
could enhance the experience with visual cues or effects.

A lot of gamers seem to actually enjoy the "fidliness" of these types of games because, knowing
exactly how a type of calculation is made can give you direct insight into what sort of strategies you
can employ to gain an advantage. I get this, however if implemented properly digital board games can
streamline this process AND display the appropriate information at the same time. I personally get
taken out of the experience when I have to cross reference multiple charts, look for a rule exception,
etc.. This is an entirely different discussion but going forward these types of digital games need to
employ reasonable ways to show you why something is happening while also streamlining the process
(for example, I played the iOS versions of Eclipse/Dominant Species and if I had not played these games
before I would of had no idea why or how what I was doing was modifying my score in many situations).

To be clear, I understand there are services like VASSAL, Cyberboard, TTS and Tabletopia (which are
all fantastic in there own right) but i'm talking about apps for a device like PlayTable that actually
streamline the gameplay and let us bring digital games to the table.

Barriers for this technology:

*Whoever is funding this will need to provide a framework so developers can create digital versions of
board games as easily as possible. I'm not sure how streamlined this process is for developers in
something like Unity
*Initial investment will be expensive
*Making sure the service provider is separate from the hardware. I'm envisioning different models from
different manufactures that can be purchased but you have one unified Digital Distributor (like Steam for
PC games) that you can purchase or pay a monthly fee to get content from.



I have a large games collection but, like any other medium if there was a digital replacement that
was almost as good/as good as the traditional medium I would replace it. I used to have lots of physical
music/movies/video games but they have mostly been replaced by digital content. I used to really care
about the "tangibility" and more importantly, the look of a physical collection. However, with the advent
of attractive interfaces like Netflix, Steam, Spotify, Kodi etc. I really don't care anymore. In fact I
enjoy these types of services more because of ease of access, the metadata they provide and the way many
of them let me customize how I want my content to look. Imagine a service like Kodi, but for your board
game collection! And perhaps most importantly these things, especially board games, take up a lot of space
and create clutter.

So i'm just wondering what you guys think. Is there an untapped market here? Has it been tried before?
What are the drawbacks? I'm not an expert in this area but I just got thinking about the possibilities for
my favorite hobby!

Edited: for spelling and grammar.
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Leo Zappa
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This sounds positively awful.

I'm sorry, but I sit around electronic devices far too much as it is (including right now, typing this response). Boardgames allow me to escape all of the digital tyranny that rules the majority of my life.

I want, no, I NEED my hobby to remain strictly analog and tactile, thank you very much.
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Ray
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desertfox2004 wrote:
This sounds positively awful.

I'm sorry, but I sit around electronic devices far too much as it is (including right now, typing this response). Boardgames allow me to escape all of this digital tyranny that runs the majority of my life. I want my hobby to remain strictly analog and tactile, thank you very much.


I couldn't have said it better myself. When I play board games in digital format....it pales in comparison and it's only done because I cannot play with anyone face to face.
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Virginia Milne
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Playing in cardboard feels like the gold standard to me.

I much prefer Chess, Go and Backgammon face to face.

On my board game night meetings I like to meet the crowd, and enjoy contemplating the cardboard. Different playing groups tend to have different crowds, each of which you enjoy in its own different way.

Tactile involvement helps to break the cycle of daily worries. Cigarette smokers have an enforced "quiet time" handling and fiddling around with their smoking appliance.

I often say "A cardboard addiction feels like at least three shots of vodka" devil

Some abstract games you can realistically only play over the internet on turn based servers. I have the entire GIPF series sitting on my games shelf gathering dust. Only about two of them have ever felt the caress of a human hand in face to face play.soblue

I bought an iPad for the sole reason of having the pleasure of playing board games at will, in what might otherwise be periods of dead time.

BUT FACE TO FACE BOARD GAMING, if you can get it, gives me a superior experience to any other form of board gaming.

CARD BOARD OVER SILICONE FOREVER!
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Brett Cizmar
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Summerland
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desertfox2004 wrote:
This sounds positively awful.

I'm sorry, but I sit around electronic devices far too much as it is (including right now, typing this response). Boardgames allow me to escape all of this digital tyranny that runs the majority of my life. I want my hobby to remain strictly analog and tactile, thank you very much.


I understand what you're saying but for me the board is just an abstraction to the simulation. It's just a "means to an end". All its doing is providing information and if an electronic device could do so with just as high fidelity it wouldn't matter to me. The tactile feel of game pieces is definitely nice and that would be lost with a digital board but I believe there are more benefits for ease of play with a multi touch screen. For example, managing a 10 stack counter of chits in a war game can get to be a real hassle but I believe this gets to a be a lot easier when we can expose this information in a digital format and move it around by touch and drag. People make similar arguments for traditional books vs something like a kindle but the kindle display is GREAT and while I don't think it completely replaces your classic paperback/hardcover it is a very nice alternative.
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Brett Cizmar
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Summerland
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VirginiaMilne wrote:


BUT FACE TO FACE BOARD GAMING, if you can get it, gives me a superior experience to any other form of board gaming.



I'm not suggesting we abandon face to face gaming. All i'm suggesting is an electronic tablet like device that you put on your table that replaces your traditional board game board and components. We still gather around the table and retain the social aspects of normal board gaming. All that's changing is the interface. If you look at the playtable site their technology looks like it has the central tablet for the board while players can use their phones or tablets for their player tableau (if necessary).
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Des Lee
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This sounds like a terrible idea, at least for translating existing board games to digital.

I don't buy the comparisons with digital libraries of music and movies. If you went to a separate room to start playback of music or movies for an audience, they most likely wouldn't be able to tell if you are playing a digital file or a CD/DVD. The same cannot be said of board games, the audience will certainly be able to tell the difference.

Some other issues I have with this:

- A large board is more visible to all players, with physical pieces and components being a visual aid. A flat screen would certainly not be as viewable to all players due to viewing angle, lack of 3D components and potential glare on the screen.

- Most boards would look tiny on a screen unless this comes as a huge (and therefore bulky and expensive) screen size. I use a 27" monitor at home, and I daresay most of the boards in my games are bigger than that.

- The tactile sensation of physical pieces can't be recreated.

- Keeping private information is a pain unless each player has their own high resolution tablet.

- Ditto personal player boards or tableaus.

- Most dexterity games are out.

However, some games might actually benefit from this sort of technology. Dominion and other deckbuilders might be a lot easier to setup and play with the aid of digital technology. No need to shuffle, select and lay out a market of cards etc. And games could be developed to have changing boards etc - dungeon crawlers etc would benefit from this.

I would say that the development of new technology is good and exciting, but it in no way makes me want to replace my existing collection because I just don't see the benefits compared to good old cardboard for a vast majority of my games.
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Rob Wrigley
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The games you describe already exist. They are called 'video games'. The prime example of a 'heavy board game with a digital interface' would be the Civilization line.

The appeal of board games is their physical components. Call it the toy factor, or the tactile factor, or what-have-you. But the appeal of these games isn't just the social aspect, or the problem-solving aspect, or strategic aspect. Those all exists in a dozen other forms. Its the pure joy of these beautiful, physical toys we get to play with, and still consider ourselves 'adults'.
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I have to side with the "this is a terrible idea" crowd here. I play board games because of the cardboard, not despite it.

I have no doubt digital is easier to setup and play, but its a world I'm trying to stay away from. Too many digital devices in every other aspect of life, dont need/want them here too.

I dont want to gather around a large screen/tablet.
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Ed T
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Speaking as someone who mostly plays board games alone / solitaire (heavier, complex, fiddly ones with longer setup times such as SPQR no less) and doesn't play board games for social interaction (not that I don't enjoy that when I do play games with others), this all still sounds completely unappealing. I play board games in large part to get away from technology and screens and be completely engaged with the mechanisms behind the game.
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Brett Cizmar
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Summerland
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losfp wrote:


- A large board is more visible to all players, with physical pieces and components being a visual aid. A flat screen would certainly not be as viewable to all players due to viewing angle, lack of 3D components and potential glare on the screen.

- Most boards would look tiny on a screen unless this comes as a huge (and therefore bulky and expensive) screen size. I use a 27" monitor at home, and I daresay most of the boards in my games are bigger than that.

- Keeping private information is a pain unless each player has their own high resolution tablet.

- Ditto personal player boards or tableaus.


As I said to Virginia if you look at the playtable site their technology looks like it has the central tablet for the board while players can use their phones or personal tablets for their player tableau (if necessary). It also looks like they will be offering different models with different screen sizes. The hardware itself would be very important and I'm interested what playtable is doing to mitigate things like glare. Modern display technology (like IPS panels, OLED) are better for acute viewing angles so this would definitely need to be integrated.

I agree with your other points.

I don't believe traditional board games are going anywhere and they'll always have their place. However this could be a very good alternative.
 
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I only agree with one of your barriers to entry. So that hamstrings much or your analysis.

I agree that the ability to include someone remotely is a nice feature. But straight up? I think augmented reality glasses are a far more versatile, simpler solution to the problem. Anyone really wanting to could sell a rig with three cameras that could put a remote game in front of a player in no time.

I'm also of the opinion that the digital versions will cost more, especially with the cost of the table included. As it stands I generally buy used and sell used, so the cost of games is relatively inexpensive.

Sales of digital books have peaked by the way.
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I saw that ad and thought "no way". Part of the board gaming experience, for me, is the tangibility of a game. The rolling of dice, playing of cards, placing a token is almost therapeutic.

Playing an electronic version of a game is sometimes convenient, but one can't help but feel something is lacking (because it is).

Does something like playtable have its place? Sure, but I highly doubt it's going to be very prominent.

Or maybe it's just me. After all, my e-reader sits around with a dead battery most of the time because I'd rather just read a book!
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Jimmy Chen
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California
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Hi guys,

I am the CEO of PlayTable.

You all make valid points, esp the hardcore gamers on this forum who believe what we are doing is a terrible idea. And that's okay. PlayTable may not be for you.

For me, as a longtime player of board games, I too love the traditional analog. Even so, there are some times where I do believe there is an argument for the digital. That includes all the things Brett "soggycardboard" Cizmar had mentioned.

This includes making games easier to:
1) Discover: recommending games, theme, mechanics, and number of players
2) Learn & Teach: tutorials
3) Play: setup, cleanup, gametime, aids, point tracking
4) Extend & modify: expansions, DLC, game balance

For me, as a CEO, and as a board game player, it's about having empathy for those who are not like us... it's the millions of moms and dads out there who WANT to play board games, but can't because iPads have gotten the better of them. Or the occasional player who would never touch a board game in shrink wrap, or who don't know BGG's top 100 games off the top of his head (and may end up buying Monopoly). Having that kind of empathy is super important because it allows for others to join in on the hobby that we dearly hold near and dear to our heart. Instead of looking in, we have to look outwards.

Don't get me wrong - I know there is a case to be made for screen time limitations. But for me, as the chief driver in the design of PlayTable, I don't think there is an argument to be made here. I can, hands down tell you, people play tabletop games beyond the cardboard... it's the mechanics, theme, and gameplay... and most importantly... people. A game of Secret Hitler, Codenames, or Catan is just as fun on paper as it is on PlayTable, because it's about the people.

And that's the point I'm trying to get at. Tabletop games, at the end of the day, are about people. And like so, we've designed a true digital format for people to get together, and play. Now, I'm not saying all analog board games should go digital, but there are a handful of games which can benefit from that.

And there's nothing wrong with wanting analog. I have made custom Catan titles, custom Ticket to Ride maps, and I too own 300+ board games.

So is PlayTable a bad / terrible idea for those of us who are vehemently about cardboard and analog? PROBABLY.

But saying PlayTable is a terrible idea for the rest of us, I think, would be too broad of a statement.

And heck if you guys are going to argue about the features, I might as well try to sell you a PlayTable:
1) Splash proof, and a rugged screen you can bang on
2) PlayTable is tactile. It works with physical pieces and cards.
3) Screen is IPS so 178 degree viewing angle. Sorry we can't cover the last 2 degrees, but we don't really see a case where you need to view it like that :x
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J C Lawrence
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soggycardboard wrote:
A lot of gamers seem to actually enjoy the "fidliness" of these types of games because, knowing exactly how a type of calculation is made can give you direct insight into what sort of strategies you can employ to gain an advantage.


You miss the point. That's not fiddle, that's the game. That is the game. The bits, the board, the moving stuff around...those aren't the game. The game is the numbers, their relationships and how they change. Those calculations and their clearly visible and predictable outcomes...those are the game. It is by knowing them exactly and in detail and without any exceptions that players make reasoned decisions. Without them there's only a guided experience -- and I've no interest at all in that.

Another big advantage of tabletop games is that the obviousness required by presenting a system in cardboard on a tabletop also requires the game to be so mechanically simple as to be easily and completely comprehended. It requires a level of simplicity and directness, of tractability that forces the design to be well within human casual cognition limits. Software doesn't have that limit, doesn't necessarily have that tractability and comprehendibility. It is much easier and far more tempting in software to hide, to obfuscate and to exceed casual human limits. That doesn't work in tabletop -- as the resulting game can't be played -- but there's no such penalty with software. Which is not to say that computerised games can't have that cognitive tractability, just that the overwhelming reward and encouragement for them...is to not. And that that cognitive tractability is perhaps the single most significant metric in table-top gaming.
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Nobody said it was a terrible idea, just that they weren't interested.

I think you're a solution in search of a problem.

More power to you if it succeeds! I wish you all the luck in the world. But I'll tell you this -- Monopoly will almost assuredly be your best-seller (in both senses of the phrase). You might want to embrace it a bit.


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Roberto Lanza
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Connecticut
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Sagrilarus wrote:
I only agree with one of your barriers to entry. So that hamstrings much or your analysis.

I agree that the ability to include someone remotely is a nice feature. But straight up? I think augmented reality glasses are a far more versatile, simpler solution to the problem. Anyone really wanting to could sell a rig with three cameras that could put a remote game in front of a player in no time.

I'm also of the opinion that the digital versions will cost more, especially with the cost of the table included. As it stands I generally buy used and sell used, so the cost of games is relatively inexpensive.

Sales of digital books have peaked by the way.


I have seen and I have played chess using Microsoft HaloLens. The augmented reality is something to experience. You move and pick up pieces as if you are in the real world and the computer fools your eyes to believe that a game board is in front of you. I can see more of this coming in the future.

As far as card board, UPS is experimenting with on-demand factories. Transmit everything electronically and then robots produce everything. Raw material in one side product out the other. IBM did a demo some 10yrs ago for on demand books. They showed you could print books on-demand. I can see between advanced 3D printing and laser cutting and printing that games can be developed on-demand in the future. Amazon and Google are also heavily investing in on-demand manufacturing as well. If it becomes a reality, you can have products made locally and delivered locally.

IMHO, there is a place for both.
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Brett Cizmar
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Summerland
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clearclaw wrote:


You miss the point. That's not fiddle, that's the game. That is the game. The bits, the board, the moving stuff around...those aren't the game. The game is the numbers, their relationships and how they change. Those calculations and their clearly visible and predictable outcomes...those are the game. It is by knowing them exactly and in detail and without any exceptions that players make reasoned decisions.


Indeed! As I said above "for me the board is just an abstraction to the simulation. It's just a "means to an end". All its doing is providing information and if an electronic device could do so with just as high fidelity it wouldn't matter to me."

If the board is doing the calculations for you (say in an 18xx game for a route) I don't see the problem as long as the information is available to show HOW that calculation is being done.
 
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Aric Ashgrove
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...at last I return back to the logical and sane world of wargaming, in order to truly enjoy games again.
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I think a better strategy might be to convince primarily video game players to convert their board games to a digital format rather than board game players to digital format. I am no expert on marketing but that would be my personal first demographic.

... I am so backwards with tech, I still cannot reply with quotes!
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If you have a question in the title of an article, the answer is usually "no".
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Kevin Buchanan
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Ahh, this is an old argument.

CDs -> MP3s
Books -> Ebooks
DVDs -> Digital Distribution

Board Games ->

Here's the weird thing... I love having that shelf full of DVDs, but keep a huge stack digitally for convenience. I regret having to sell so many of my books before moving and love the fact I can read them on my e-reader, tablet or phone, but still prefer the real thing.

I'll happily while away my trip to work playing Carcasonne, Splendor, Ticket to Ride or whatever, but that will never replace sitting around a table with friends, a snack and a drink.

Sure, I'll adopt plenty of digital board games, but my physical collection will probably always top it. (Indeed, I played Splendor digitally first and that made me go out and buy the physical game). Digital versions are convenient and fun, but I primarily play board games for the social aspect.

I'm keeping a close eye on Playtable though, as that looks like a fair compromise in terms of a portable board game collection (You try shipping even a stripped down collection half-way around the world and you'll see why I think it's a good idea).

I guess there is always place for these things to live side-by-side, is what I'm saying. I mean, I've played minis games since I was 14, yet still happily play computer strategy games and never once questioned whether the digital version is replacing the tactile version.
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You have a very nice looking product. I can certainly see the attractiveness in the idea of switching games instantly. However...
playprizm wrote:
it's the millions of moms and dads out there who WANT to play board games, but can't because iPads have gotten the better of them. Or the occasional player who would never touch a board game in shrink wrap, or who don't know BGG's top 100 games off the top of his head (and may end up buying Monopoly).

Do you really think all those millions of moms and dads are going to spend $500 for the PlayTable, plus another $20-30 for each digital game, plus extra for pawns, cards, minis, or whatever else is needed? Is that occasional player going to?

And what happens when the power goes out in the middle of a game? What if people want to play games where there is no power? And how will people play when electronic components die, while they're waiting for repairs?

You see, the idea is not a bad one. But I concur with Ashgrove, that you may want to market this to video gamers instead of board gamers. We already play board games, and can often acquire them for much less than you're asking. Offer the PlayTable as an alternative to a Nintendo or whatever, and get them into playing board games.
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Todd Miller
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We don't need another farking digitization of something tangible. We need more tangible things in our lives not less. Nothing can replace that die roll to win the game. The tension as you shake the dice calling upon the dice gods.

Nothing can replace physically pushing your piece into your opponents space while screaming bahahaha victory is mine!

Lastly I love how all the games look on the shelves. To that you have no answer to. What do I say when I bring someone to my game room with no board games? Look at my tablet? There's something beautiful about seeing a collection displayed.

Sorry, some may like the idea but for me it's a big no.
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Dan Mansfield
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Among those of us reading this post right now, I am pretty sure that the vast majority will side with the "ban the screen" crowd.

However, there is an entire generation (don't look now, but that generation is right over your shoulder) that is growing up with iPhones and tablets starting from the crib. Those people will likely be interested in a big digital gaming table with a Netflix-like subscription service when they have the money to spend twenty years from now.

After all, it wasn't all that long ago that this whole thing called the Internet was just a figment of someone's imagination.

Personally, I will stick to cardboard for as long as I can, but if someone builds a really cool digital table and offers it at an affordable price (with a cheap subscription plan), I might be interested. At the very least, I'd try one out to see if I liked it. As long as there's interaction with other players and we have a good time, I'm all for new developments in the gaming world. Even the types of games that can be played on a digital tabletop can be different (e.g., extreme fiddliness may not be much of an issue if the table can track scoring and resource management).
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Brian Symington
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I don't play ANY games online or on phone or iPad. I only play games in person and in cardboard.
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