Yes, I’ve already written about board games that need an application to work, and if you’ve been following the NSKN Games Blog for some time (since its previous version in fact), you probably know my feelings about the whole thing. Up until now it has been lukewarm. However, now we have the second edition of Mansions of Madness Second Edition.
Let’s be honest, if there ever was a game that really seemed like it needed an app that would run at least some parts of it, it was Mansions of Madness. All the coolness of the game, all the immersive gimmicks and simple but effective storytelling mechanisms could not save it from its biggest flaw: the insane amount of prep required from the Keeper.
In fact, playing as the Keeper was both arduous (at least during the setup part) and stressful, as a single, tiny mistake in scenario setup (which actually requires you to play a swathe of cards in different spaces), could have catastrophic consequences. Then again, when it all worked, it worked really well.
Fantasy Flight Games had dipped their toes in the Android/Apple/PC app pond and deemed it worthy to marry some of their games with apps. Thus XCOM was designed, and although generally acclaimed, it did not avoid a few missteps spawned by its creators’ hubris: the game came with manual, so players could not refresh the rules during the game, or go back and read fragments they would disagree upon.
Soon afterwards, another big step was made, this time marrying an existing game with an app. Descent: Road to Legend created a new mode of play, a fully cooperative one, where the Overlord would no longer be a human player. Instead, all players could work together to fight the AI, and through a set of separate quests go through a full cooperative campaign.
Mansions of Madness Second Edition did a very similar thing. The Keeper Player was taken out of the equation, and players now fight as Investigators against an opponent that fits on a tiny fraction of a flash drive. And yet, despite its tiny size, it turns out to be a formidable foe.
On the one hand, it seems only natural that the heavy lifting would now be outsourced to an electronic device. Instead of building a complex system the players would have to follow (which includes correctly recognizing proper outcomes of edge cases), an app does all that for them.
On the other hand, it may seem a little disturbing that a revamped version of a fully analogue game now needs an app to work, or that a once discontinued physical product now makes a return as a set of blips on a touch screen.
Personally, I know that my interest with playing Mansions of Madness has risen significantly, and simply downloading an app seems like a much faster route to playing cooperative Descent than building a fan-made set of card to breathe some artificial life into monsters, traps and the dungeon itself. And yet, my previous trepidation still stands: I am afraid of what happens when partly digitalized board games start facing video games on their own turf.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts. And one more thing: who knows when the Imperial Assault app will finally drop?