A modern board-game centric home entertainment platform utilizing smart TVs, smartphones and tablets.

Board games have been with us forever, have involved organically and are deeply ingrained into our culture. It's time to show them some love.

Preface

People play board games and collect them. They do so in the old fashioned way they always have: invite friends, gather around a table, pick a game, set up the board, deal the pieces and roll the dice.

While, since the advent of the PC, there have been been many attempts at implementing board games, both as single player (vs. computer), and multiplayer configurations (with local and remote opponents), there has not yet been a proper attempt to create a board game experience for the modern consumer landscape, which is characterized by two things: the smartphone and the smart TV.

Problem

While the existing experience did stand the test of time and is certainly not going anywhere, some aspects of it could substantially be improved upon. Namely:

  • The state of a game does not persist between sessions, unless cumbersome actions (putting the board away, putting aside player hand states) are made to preserve it. Long games cannot be resumed.
  • The availability of a given title depends on whether someone bought the physical box and its available at a time and place where that game is desired. Have you gone camping and forgot / did not have want to take a bulky box along?
  • Game modification is difficult. If only the rules are affected it’s rather straightforward. However, if modifying game art, the board or adding new pieces is desired, the barrier is raised significantly.
  • There is no easy discovery of interested players within a user’s social circle.

And these are just the issues that end-users have. Game publishers, being tied to an archaic distribution model:

  • Cannot release game updates & corrections easily (only as expansion packs or new editions)
  • Cannot offer in-game purchases, per-player customizations, player progression beyond the initial deliverable is impossible.
  • Cannot communicate to players and fans directly, offering them relevant news & updates.

Thus, each popular game vendor licenses or develops their own solution, which do not offer a universal, familiar experience, nor moddability, nor the ability to play together.

Enter BoardHub

BoardHub is a service that’s designed to address all of the above issues. The easiest way into its vision would be to walk the reader through the main usage scenarios

Game organizer

You’d like to organize a game evening with friends. You invite them by a medium of your choice and enter boardhub to set up a new game.

  1. Open a browser on the big smart TV in the living room and head to boardhub. Authenticate by email or social media login, and proceed to choose the game to be played. [a]
  2. Once the game is chosen, the host configures the amount of seats and chooses various other flags and settings such as special game rules.
  3. Part of the game setup process allow the host to send direct invite links by any medium to game participants. However, it’s not mandatory. At this point, the TV displays the overall game board (shared game state) and a scannable QR code in the corner.

Game participant

  1. As participants arrive, each scans the QR code to be seated at the game, optionally setting up their in-game player in the process (name, piece color and so on).
  2. Once everyone has joined and have marked their state as ready, the host (through teir smartphone or desktop) begins the game.
  3. Each player, in their turn, controls the game movements from their device. On their phone they can see game information that pertains to them only (what cards are held and so on).
  4. The big TV displays the shared state of the game, which is usually the game board, he house cards - information that is available to everyone. Every player can switch to the “board view” display on their respective smartphone as well, if they are not seeing the shared state on the TV screen, or have chosen to play remotely.
  5. Once the game is over, the winners are announced on the big screen, as well as to each player on their device
  6. Each participant can proceed to share their result via social media, as well as access the linked social media profiles of other game participants. Pictures from the game can be created, customized with smartphone photos, uploaded to social media with all willing players tagged. This is one of the viral paths for Boardhub’s adoptation.

Indie game modder/developer

Most games published on BoardHub are initially open source. They are hosted at github or other HTTP-accessible, publically available Git repositories, with this information being readily available to users on each game page

The server side implementation of those games is in a high-level Object-Oriented Python, while the client side is implemented in a high-level JS framework such as React (or maybe Elm).

This means that game logic, as well as its graphics are readily available for examination, modification (modding) and peer review by anyone interested.

A modder may fork the code of a previously published BoardHub game, work on it locally (the bare development environment for running games locally is open sourced as well) and change its rules, make corrections, enhance or replace its graphics, and submit it on BoardHub, which, following a review process, will make it available for gameplay.

The purpose of such openness is to facilitate the creation of an ecosystem of indie developers who would create, extend, mutate and adapt classic games for their particular tastes, cultures and express their own ideas within. That, in turn, would further contribute to a rapid adaptation of the platform by board gamers worldwide.

Commercial game vendor

While the above use case is instrumental in positioning BoardHub as the standard platform and ecosystem for board game development and gameplay, the commercial vendor that sells their game will not be able to use it due to its free nature.

A commercial game vendor is interested in

  1. Selling their title in a modern online format, while not wasting a fortune on development
  2. Being able to reach a large relevant audience of boardgamers.
  3. Pushing game updates and expansion packs to existing users through a well-established channel

Monetization of Boardhub would come from such game vendors, who are already well experienced & motivated in selling their product.

A game vendor would be interested in publishing a game on Boardhub if

  1. the barrier to publishing is cheaper than going solo (porting a game is straightforward with a high quality SDK and in a high-level language).
  2. The potential to reach a large gamer audience is serious.
  3. There is an easy monetization process in place.


Game types

Boardhub will be focus on games having the following attributes:

  • Turn based
  • Having a “house” or a shared state (board game)
  • Involving cards, game pieces and/or dice.
  • Being multiplayer

Examples of well known games that fit the above characteristics are:

  • Chess
  • Monopoly
  • Backgammon
  • Poker
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Go

Technology

Boardhub, initially, will be built using a Web-oriented technology stack, for the following reasons:

  • Immediate availability on a large amount of devices / formats such as smartphone, tablet, desktop, smart TV.
  • Straightforward integration with social media platforms.
  • Single implementation and ability to build & evolve the platform rapidly
  • High level game implementations that allows modders/game developers to produce results quickly.
  • Board games do not require competitive native graphics as other games do.
  • Game progress is saved as unstructured JSON objects in a PostgreSQL RDBMS. Prior states are stored as jsonpatch deltas. Every such delta is subject for validation of the respective logic & ruleset of each game. This makes all games replayable and subject to retroactive checks for compatibility under different rulesets.

Resources

  • AirConsole - seem to be doing exactly that, minus the github-minded space, are more arcade-oriented (which is a pity, a smart tv can’t compete with a gaming console).
  • Most popular board games according to BoardGameGeek. On the same resource, in a forum, people are complaining about lack of support on consoles.
  • Tabletopia , Boardgame Arena seem to be focusing on remote play, as opposed to our goal of modernizing actual tabletop play.

  

[a]This step can also be performed on a different browser (mobile or desktop) that will not eventually be the big shared state display


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