iPad Breathes New Life into German Board Games

Video games have largely killed the market for physical board games. After all, who wants to watch a thimble and a top hat compete for real estate when they can blast zombies in photo-realistic environments? But for a unique style of physical German board games, moving to digital platforms like the iPhone and iPad has resuscitated classic pastimes and popularized a type of play radically different from American classics such as Clue and Sorry.

Designed from the start with a finite number of moves, graphical simplicity and a focus on universal topics that attract a range of genders and ages, these games come pre-optimized for digital platforms. Additionally, since games such as Mafia Wars and Farmville were themselves greatly influenced by German-style board games, many users are already familiar with these games whether they know it or not.

“Electronic gaming has continued to eat away at the market. The only exception was the introduction of the German board games,” said Neil Jesse, a professor of political science at Bowling Green University who specializes in board games. “I think the iPad, because of its size, could be a platform for these games. If you see it on the iPad, there could be a huge breakout. They could get it into millions of more hands than they get in now.”

These German board games, such as Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan, attract a diverse audience by forgoing military topics for abstract economic concepts, rewarding strategic thinking by removing the randomness of dice rolls and keeping all players active by rewarding cooperation over competition. Those qualities are embodied in the German word “Spieltiefe,” which roughly translates to “game depth” but implies that a game is easy to learn but difficult to master.

Already, 200,000 people have downloaded the Settlers of Catan iPhone app, said Thorsten Suckow, project manager at United Soft Media, the company that adapted the Settlers of Catan for the iPhone and iPad.

By translating the movement of pieces to the movement of pixels, these games have created a gray area in between video games and board games; a fusion of digital and analog that may eventually redefine how we think of both.

“The iPad is really great for two-player games, because you can use the pad as the game board. There's huge potential there,” Suckow told TechNewsDaily.

“This is a bridge between two types of players who otherwise wouldn’t look at each other’s games. It can appeal to both video gamers and board gamers.”

Stuart Fox currently researches and develops physical and digital exhibit experiences at the Science Liberty Center. His news writing includes the likes of several Purch sites, including Live Science and Live Science's Life's Little Mysteries.