Hands-on: SquareOne wants it to be your digital backgammon table

Hands-on: SquareOne wants it to be your digital backgammon table

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Video games have always seemed big, and board games are enjoying a healthy renaissance, thanks to the non-digital games from From Gloomhaven to Arkham Horror. But combining the two has long been the Holy Grail for some players. We’ve seen auxiliary iOS and Android apps for board games, virtual recreation of board games (Tabletopia, Tabletop Simulator etc.), and we’ve also seen some attempts to create a large touch game deck that can replace map tiles for gamepads and other physical parts of games.

SquareOne is a new example of this. It is a touch screen tablet built into the base of the gamepad, designed to sit at a coffee or dining table. The 19-inch screen is framed by a frame that uses NFC input to identify cards or other game parts they’re placed on. The game board itself changes depending on the game you’re playing, and each of the demos I tried had a different set of plastic icons and NFC-enabled cards.

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because home arcade game maker Arcade1Up recently launched its own version, called Infinity Game Table, on Kickstarter. This larger appliance is more of a free-standing coffee table with optional legs. Game-wise, Arcade1Up version contains licenses for popular mainstream games like Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, and Monopoly.

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SquareOne goes to a more serious audience for board games, promising digital versions of heavier games like Cthulhu Wars from designer Sandy Peterson (who I’ve been with on the board game discussion board recently) and even Labyrinth’s old crawl maze.

The idea dates back to 2013 or so at least, with a series of large-screen desktop computers from Lenovo, Dell, and others that can lie on a table and be used to play different board games. Examples like the Sony Vaio Tap 20 and Dell XPS 18 really haven’t been discovered. Although smart, it was pricey and couldn’t support graphic-intensive games.

In my short working time with the SquareOne prototype, I tried a few demo games, including the fictional miniatures game called Element Fight and a marine exploration game called Crystal Bay. Programs and interfaces are early on in the process, and in many cases are just placeholders, but the Crystal Bay game in particular seemed to be a great example of what such devices could do.

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The placement of cards around the outer edge of the board activated abilities and abilities, while the central beacon in the middle of the board, represented by a miniature plastic lighthouse, was able to sweep the surface of the water on demand, revealing treasures and traps beneath the waves.

SquareOne is raising money from Kickstarter (as is Arcade1Up’s Infinity game table). As a longtime fan of both video and table games, I’m not sure anyone has really nailed the digital game table experience yet, but I look forward to seeing how SquareOne implements some of these big-name games.

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