Like a lot of “gamers” I enjoy taking time away from the screen to gather around a table and play a board game with family and friends. For a multitude of reasons, tabletop gaming has seen a resurgence in popularity over the recent years and, naturally, this has caused many publishers to turn their heads to digital iterations of their popular games.
The current offering of tabletop games is surprisingly vast. With classic staples standing shoulder to shoulder with novel adaptations, there is plenty on offer. But often these titles perform poorly compared to their real life counterparts and many go completely unnoticed on the eShop. So my big question in this digest is, are we missing a trick here?
Traditional Board Games on Switch
The most obvious titles showing up on the eShop are ones most people have in their cupboard. Some may even have multiple copies. The majority being obvious Hasbro titles such as Cluedo, Monopoly, and Risk. These popular titles have been ported to consoles multiple times both individually and bundled together. There’s even a port of Battleship!
These titles are the most commonly seen. Alongside obvious titles such as Clubhouse Games and Mario Party are the most popular purchases in the genre. Simply put their familiarity and polish often set them apart from other titles. That doesn’t mean they have great appeal or gameplay though. As seen in previous iterations of Monopoly, their appeal can often be superficial at best.
But when you finally factor in the price of these titles, it becomes increasingly difficult to recommend these as must have titles. When every single game costs more than its paper-based counterpart, does it really provide more fun? And more importantly, do families still fight over Monopoly when the “board” is a £300 console?
Modern Classics on Switch
Boardgaming has gone through a renaissance in the last decade, even further for some! With games like Settlers of Catan being released in 1995 and other huge titles following that. More and more bookshelves are sporting titles such as Munchkin and Ticket to Ride. So it was only natural that digitally, these games would make their way to platforms.
A huge swathe of titles come from a very small number of studios. The largest of these is Asmodee Digital. A French game publisher, Asmodee have grown rapidly. Acquiring some of the bigger names in board gaming until it is now the second largest, behind Hasbro. No surprise then that the majority of digital board game titles have their name attached to them. With big name modern titles such as Catan, Carcassonne, and Pandemic, the company have even more titles outside the eShop.
Smaller studios have also brought big name titles to the switch though. With Nomad games bringing Talisman and Dire Wolf Digital with the gorgeous Sagrada. Lets also not forget the popular Wingspan and Evolution from Monster Couch and North Star Digital. There is plenty of variety, but are they enough to tempt people away from their paper counterparts?
Hidden Gems and Utter Lemons
With the more modern games, there are some absolute gems and some real lemons to avoid. For more details on these, you should certainly check out our reviews if you haven’t already! But just like with video games, there are titles I rush back to, and ones I avoid like the plague.
In the corner of hidden gem there has to be space for Here be Dragons from Red Zero Games. This is a press your luck dice rolling game, similar to King of Tokyo, itself a game that should be made digitally, but hasn’t seen any movement since before the pandemic. Here be Dragons gives a different twist on the press your luck genre. Combining dice rolling with satirical and lighthearted sea monster combat and possibly questionable historical accuracy!
With great games on the eShop however come some absolute lemons. Munchkin Quacked Quest is certainly one of the latter. Based on the massively popular Munchkin series by Steve Jackson, the game moves away from its card gaming roots to focus on a dungeon crawler. Rather than stay true to the card game, Asmodee went along the lines of a multiplayer party game that couldn’t hold a candle to games like Mario Party or Overcooked for example. The game garnered such a negative response, I couldn’t even see it on Asmodee’s list of games on their website.
What is the Switch Missing?
Even with such a wide variety of titles at your fingertips, the Switch still has titles that are crying out to be played on it. One of the most obvious is another Asmodee title, Ticket to Ride. The hugely popular board game actually transcribes well to digital, with it being an absolute gem on tablets. The game now even sports Alexa functionality where the AI can assist with scorekeeping and rules among other features.
It’s safe to say this title would do fantasitcally well on the Switch. Owning one console would necessitate “pass and play” functionality whereby handheld mode would need to be the norm. But while full screen play is sacrificed, what is gained in having a fully portable ticket to ride experience. Full screen functionality can still be maintained online and even used when multiple switches are incorporated into local play.
The obvious other board game title that is missing from the Switch is Magic: The Gathering Arena. Wizards of the Coast have, frankly, dropped a small fortune on renovating their digital offering to compete with its closest rival, Hearthstone (also not on Switch). But the fact is, the game has only just made it to mobile devices, and even then only high end ones. This is hugely disheartening considering that MTG Arena was written in code designed to make it transferable to consoles.
The Future of Board Games?
So many of you will probably be asking why I haven’t mentioned the obvious title, Mario Party. Mainly, it’s because while they use a board etc, I personally feel they are predominantly about mini games and less about strategy. Super Mario Party did make me look on in awe at the potential that could be unlocked if developers aren’t already.
One of the features of Super Mario Party was Toad’s Rec Room. In this, the console uses its functionality to provide minigames that require using multiple switch screens. Despite feeling like a tech demo, they showed off a feature I think has been greatly overlooked by developers thus far!
The other big move in tabletop gaming was the push to virtual tabletops, obviously made more popular during the pandemic, but providing virtual tabletops on the Nintendo Switch seems the perfect combination of functionality and fun. Imagine loading up your copy of Betrayal at House on the Hill (a tile laying game where you create the board as you go until the games win conditions are revealed). No need to carry the box around, you can connect a few switch screens to lay tiles, and zoom in when you need to see a certain area.
What is quickly starting to show though is that certain games can have a positive impact on mental health. These tend to focus on titles which provide immersive, escapist or social aspects. Often combined with a sense of accomplishment or interaction. The study was also quick to point out games and situations that can still have a negative effect. The key message was that companies need to be less secretive with data. This will give us a more realistic picture of the impact on mental health.
So while it is safe to say that board games are a staple on the Switch. The biggest issue is the hit and miss nature of titles. What is clear is that, for all the best intentions, its difficult transposing real life experiences of board games to a digital space.
Board gaming titles are ones I love to see released and always love getting copies to review, but as a board gaming fan, what I’m really hoping for, is for a way to share my passion for board games in a more convenient fashion. Being able to add the functionality of the switch to essentially enhance the tabletop experience is something I would love to see.