In 2010, when the iPad was launched, board game geeks everywhere rejoiced. The large touchscreen presented a fantastic way of playing board games – on a phone you’d be forever zooming in and out, but with the iPad, you got the feeling of a full size board that you could interact with in a tactile manner, while automating the boring parts, such as rolling dice or shuffling cards, and of course, picking up all the pieces afterwards.

We’re seeing a second wave of evolution today, which goes beyond the mere digitization of board games, and is helping evolve the medium in new and fun ways.

First, in the last couple of years we saw some fantastic board games get digitized in a way that takes full advantage of tablets – Carcassone was one of the earlier conversions, and not only did it look great, but it automated shuffling the otherwise bulky deck, helped track the different pieces still in the pile, and took care of the scorekeeping which is probably one of the hardest parts of the game.

Games like Settlers of Catan, Risk, and small world also made a transition, and Ticket to Ride in particular is probably one of the best board games on the iPad. Digital versions of Monopoly, Scrabble and Scotland Yard are also available on the app store.

But how can tablets evolve board games beyond their current state? Instead of simply digitizing games, and automating the more mundane parts, designers are now looking at ways to make more of the strengths of the medium.

So you are now getting some games which are purely digital – Hero Academy is one of the best examples. It’s a fairly straightforward board game – you place soldiers in an arena, and you can move them or attack or use various powers. You play with other people over the internet, but you don’t need to both be online at the same time.

Instead, it’s a turn based system, so you can quit the app after you’ve made your moves, and then pick it up later when it’s your turn again. You can also buy different teams of heroes, with their own unique powers (the game itself is free) - it’s balanced so that buying a team doesn’t give you an unfair advantage over free players, but different teams do suit different play styles.

The other (equally interesting) trend is physical board games, with digital elements. A new board game called Zombicide is an excellent example – the game is a fun survival challenge, with elaborate rules that allow people to get creative in killing (re-killing?) hordes of little plastic zombies.

It’s a complex game, and you’re going to spend a lot of time memorizing the rules, because there’s a thick book which covers all the various interactions of the game. A much easier way of doing things is to download the companion app from the app store. The app runs on your iPad, and takes care of keeping track of moves, dice rolls, and measuring the different elements of zombie killing.

In doing so, the Zombiecide creators make their much more fun, giving users the best of both worlds – the physical interaction of a large board and lots of miniatures, coupled with the convenience of digital. Of course, not everyone has an iPad, but tablet numbers are on the rise, and it’s possible to play the game even without one – just slower.

You can also get companion apps for games like Scrabble (to keep track of your scores) or dice rolling apps to save time when playing games such as Risk. Digital toys, which are adding real world toys into action games on the iPad are starting to get popular now, and board games are also taking cues from the same technology.

This is just the tip of the iceberg though, and we will probably see more games such as Zombiecide come up in the coming months, and see how board games continue to evolve.

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