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What makes a good board game adaptation?

11-25-2013, 07:33 PM
Joined: Feb 2010
Location: Bellevue, NE
Posts: 29
What makes a good board game adaptation?

The iPad has become the gold standard device for digital adaptations of board games. Digital board games offer many advantages over traditional cardboard, including availability, price, portability, ease of setup, speed of play, and expandibility. Several board game adaptations have been big hits, topping the download charts and being featured by Apple, including Carcassonne, and more recently Agricola. Many players had never heard of these games, much less played them, until they were released on the App Store. But what were their keys to success?

My name is Jeremiah Maher and I'm a game designer and app developer. My first board game adaptation was Yehuda Berlinger's IT'S ALIVE! - The Monster Building Game, released just over two years ago. My newest game is the official adaptation of Ted Alspach's Suburbia board game, which should be available soon. I wanted to share some of the lessons I've learned, and how Ted and I have applied these principles in our upcoming release.

First, of course, you need to start with a quality game. This is subjective, but much as iOS gamers look to TouchArcade, a good place to investigate board games is BoardGameGeek.com, the leading site for board game enthusiasts. You can search thousands of games from around the world, and find information, photos, and reviews. Of course, a number of quality games (including IT'S ALIVE!) aren't well-known, but are well-reviewed. These games may still be good candidates for digital conversion, and the App Store just might get them the wider recognition they deserve.

Suburbia happens to be not only very well reviewed, but also quite popular. Out of those thousands of games on BGG, Suburbia is consistently in or near the top 100 games overall, and in or near the top 50 strategy games! This brings me to my second point: it helps to have a group of die-hard fans. Even if they're not huge in numbers, vocal fans can help spread the word to a new digital audience. And increasingly, traditional board game fans are also playing mobile games, and can give you good ideas and feedback about your adaptation. If nothing else, fans of the original that also own a tablet can help boost your download numbers, giving you a strong start on the App Store.

Even good games with loyal fans can't guarantee success. Some physical games just don't work well digitally. But if a game has a lot of math, or a number of statistics to be tracked, it may be a good candidate for conversion. Computers are good at these things. Suburbia does require some math, and as the game progresses, there are a number of tiles and effects to keep track of. The iPad version automatically does these calculations, so players can concentrate on strategy. Players also don't have to worry about physically sorting and setting up the many pieces, so games can be started and played quickly.

Fans of the originals look for faithful game adaptations, but you also need to bring something unique to the digital tabletop. It may be different artwork for the mobile release, animation or interactivity that is impossible with a physical game, or a new game mode. Playing Agricola on iOS is a much different experience than playing the original. The adaptation has new artwork and animation that arguably makes the game more interesting, intuitive, and accessible for new players. With Suburbia, we're introducing a Single-Player Campaign mode, where players unlock real-life cities, each with its own goals.

Even with all this content, digital board games (although generally more expensive than other types of mobile games) are usually much cheaper than their cardboard counterparts. You can easily spend $30, $60, or more on a boxed board game, if you can find it, while app versions are a great value, often $5 or $10 at most, and just a download away.

Digital versions also give developers the unique opportunity to teach new players through tutorials. Most physical board games require new players to read through a rule book, but the best digital adaptations use interactive tutorials to get players up and running quickly. Suburbia includes just such a tutorial, as well as a complete rule book and tile reference for those who want more detailed instructions.

In addition to making it easy to play, you should also give players different ways to play, whether they want to play alone, compete against a computer, or play with friends. Suburbia will include a variety of single and multiplayer options, including a number of AI computer personalities, and updates and expansions are planned, to add to replay value.

Finally, in addition to good reviews from fans and media, board games that have gone on to have successful digital adaptations often first won industry awards. Both Carcassonne and Agricola won Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) honors. And earlier this year, Suburbia was one of just five games to win the prestigious Mensa Select Mind Games award for games that are "original, challenging, and well designed." As American Mensa says, when you see their seal, you'll know "you've found a high-quality product that you're likely to enjoy."

I hope you've enjoyed my thoughts on what makes a good board game adaptation. Look for more info about Suburbia for iPad in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts and feedback!
12-12-2013, 05:19 PM
Joined: Feb 2010
Location: Bellevue, NE
Posts: 29
Suburbia for iPad Now Available

Suburbia for iPad is Now Available on the App Store!

See this thread for more information: