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December 16, 2018
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Translating Tabletop for Digital - Best Practices for Best of Show

by Philippe Dao on 06/13/18 04:54:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Asmodee Digital is already an industry leader for digital board games (as is parent company, Asmodee for board games worldwide), and we’re quickly uncovering the secrets to untapping new opportunities for existing board game IP. Understanding the growth of the tabletop market, how that relates to digital, and how to create new experiences based on beloved IPs is something we do best. Pivoting from direct 1-1 translations to complementary experiences based on the original tabletop games, not just on mobile and PC, but new platforms, is the topic at hand.
 
Part of this means translating physical to digital games, but our bigger objective is making something *new*. The characters, adventures and universe introduced in the Mansions of Madness board game lend themselves well to an adventure video game, and we’re working hard to bring the IP to life in a new way, that’s still faithful to the craft.
 
Mansions of Madness: Mother’s Embrace is an all new experience for fans of the board game, and for Lovecraft’s lovers. With this game, we wanted to take risks to elevate the genre. Working alongside awesome partners like Fantasy Flight Games and Luckyhammers allows us to do that.
 
Can you make any board game a (good) video game?
 
Not all board games can be adapted to digital. For example, games requiring lots of verbal interactions between players can be hard to translate. Also, board games that use real-time gameplay or interruptions can be tough to adapt for online gaming.
 
On the other hand, turn-based games often translate well to digital. The beauty of our job is that when we consider a board game for adaptation, we are already in front of an experience with a flawless game design. Designing physical board games is in fact extremely difficult to do, because unlike in the video game space, there is absolutely nothing to help the players: no automatic points counting, no preset set up, no verification of players' actions, no interactive tutorial, etc. All of these things are performed by technology in a video game. So the original design must be extremely well thought-out, clean, simple, and readable. This makes our job comparatively easier when coding a game. The hard part is more about squeezing the user interface into the small screen of a phone or tablet, and developing an AI that plays the game very well - our AIs are not allowed to cheat!

Physical - digital translation challenges
 
When adapting a board game to digital, you have multiple challenges to overcome - not just the usual video game considerations: game design, user interface, multiplayer experience, game economy, business model, etc., but also specific ones like creating a solo mode, modifying rules of the physical game, re-balancing the UI, etc.
 
Let’s take the UI as an example: from previous releases, we have identified a few best practices on how to quickly optimize the most common flows (from the main menu to a multiplayer game for instance), how to display a large number of elements on a small screen, how to make an efficient chat feature, how to design a lobby, and more. There is a constant need to analyze player behavior if you want to good UI in digital board game.
 
A Good UI flow is quite simple - it happens when nothing interferes with the player’s objective. 

First objective, there is the will to start a game. The player must go through several screens and game detail set-ups before starting a game. This flow must be as short and understandable as possible. At Asmodee Digital, we are trying to improve this flow with every game’s development, and trying to make the process as consistent as possible throughout all our games, adapted per platform. Moreover, when a player is in an Asmodee Digital game, he or she can expect almost the same features, organization and flow throughout.

Then, the second objective (and the biggest one) - the UI and flow when a player is in the game. Even if there are some similarities from game to game, each one is unique. The player should only be concerned with understanding the gameplay mechanisms; not how to use it. The UI should never make the gameplay more difficult than the physical experience. It should ease the game experience but never make it easier. 

We have a lot of principles and best practices that we are trying to use in our game related to context, support, hierarchy, opponents' actions... The list can be quite long. As an example, when we can, we try to contextualized the HUD according to the game state, so the player is not overwhelmed with too much information. We also try to always make easy to understand what is the player next action according to the game state so there is no frustration.
 
Regarding the IP, it is really important for players to rediscover in the digital adaptation what they love from the digital one (the story, the universe, the strategies…) and to benefit from the digital support. For that, we first identify the pillars of the game (or even the brand when the game is part of a bigger brand). These pillars are the one we will use also in the digital adaptation, insuring that we will be faithful to what the game is in the physical universe. This entails several different steps, like reading community feedback, analyzing the artistic style and the gameplay main mechanics, etc. In Jaipur, our digital adaptation offers the opportunity to create an ambiance with the soundtrack, and to create the campaign mode that comprises all sorts of variants to the base game’s rules.
 
Working with board game IPs

Asmodee Digital is ultimately mimicking what Asmodee did -- first by benefiting from the impressive catalog of board games available to create a digital catalog (which now includes almost 30 games in less than two years, like Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Jaipur, etc.). There are many factors that come into play in choosing which titles to tackle: complementary opportunities offered by the digital for the game, the author’s eagerness to go digital, and the compatibility with our community, to name a few. 

Digital games offer complementary experiences, so we have to understand the board games’ fans vs. digital gamers’ expectations. Depending on the game, we might put additional content in the digital version and/or create alternate gameplay modes. The key idea is to deepen the game experience, or to give players an alternative experience which could not be done easily in the physical world. For example, in Splendor, we added solo puzzles with rule variants that are not only are fun to play, but also teach players some advanced tactics. 

The asynchronous online gaming experience is also a big difference between digital and physical board games. We even have players of the physical version who organize tournaments on-line as part of their competitions, like the French Federation of Memoir '44.
 
Now, after creating a strong catalog with quality games for all types of players, and becoming number one in the Google App Store and Apple Store premium board game category within 2 years (!!), Asmodee Digital looks to go further, increasing the narrative power of board games by creating new stories based on the amazing universes in our catalog. Mansions of Madness is a perfect illustration of how we’re creating new gameplay and new experiences, complementary to the original games. There are many paths to success with board game IPs -- we love what we do, and we love to see what others do, too.

 


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