After nearly two decades of covering Gen Con, the world’s largest tabletop gaming convention, I’m sick and tired of hearing about tabletop and digital board game consoles.
Touch-sensitive screens, motion-sensing cameras, RFID-enabled bits, AAA-licensed titles, virtual reality solutions… I’ve heard literally every note made in the last few years. The problem is that almost everyone who installs a digital board game console is selling an overpriced solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist. There are a lot of great board games available today, thanks, most can be delivered to my house overnight and none of them require a firmware update to run.
But what if there was a digital solution that really added something to the experience, an almost transparent digital platform that contributed to immersion and speed of play? Earlier this month I was introduced to Teburu, a startup project by an experienced game developer at Explored. I was skeptical at first, but if something works out in this fantastic little niche, I think it could be a lot like Teburu.
In the center of the Hunt system is a rectangular game board, about the same size as your average Monopoly board; it’s just that this one is covered on one side with a thin, pre-printed adhesive sheet full of sensors. A compatible board game goes over the top. At the bottom of each of your sections is an RFID tag, which the game board can detect as they move across its surface. Attached to the game board is a dongle with two antennas — one connected to an RFID chip and another for Bluetooth. That’s for the dice, two simple six-sided dice that are smart enough to know which side is up, and for other Bluetooth-enabled devices like speakers, tablets, and smartphones. The most elaborate item is the more eye-catching single pedestal for the larger miniatures—let’s call it a boss miniature—which lights up with colorful LED lights at four points along the edges. That’s it: Four rather smart peripheral devices, by today’s standards, all connected to a smartphone that everyone keeps in their pocket all day.
So what does this digital kit allow you to do? Well, first of all, it allows the game to always know where the players are on the board. That allows developers to program behavior into enemies, or environments for that matter, that starts based on where you move your pawns. In my demo Bad Karma and Zodiac Curse, it means that each of the four player characters has a unique sound for their footsteps. As my character stepped out of the lava pit, I could hear the erupting and hissing of the molten rock beneath. Using my smartphone, I can choose a skill to use from the small number of cards displayed on my screen. Picking and rolling the dice, I got a six, and it made a unique sound when I hit the boss. The boss’s pedestal lit up, indicating that I had dropped its shield on the left rear side. Then the game is passed on to the player to my left, whose turn begins with a unique musical progression.
At all times during the demo, the Hunt system supported my attempts to play the game. The hyperlink keyword is accessible, instantly popping up a small menu to remind me of their in-game effects. The focus of the interface moves intelligently around the room, drawing the focus of the entire group to the main screen — the tablet — where global information about the meeting is displayed, and alternately to my personal screen that serves as my personal sideboard. It’s easy to see how Hunt can enable solo gameplay, an option that has been hugely popular in board games since the start of the pandemic.
Instead of being a complicated oddity, or the sole focus of every interaction in the game, Hunt just helps me, adding to the experience without detracting from it. It was very beautiful.
“[The hardest part was] user experience, or gameplay,” said Riccardo Landi, head of design for Teburu. “You have the game board, you have the physical dice, you have three or four — five! — screen to view. [It’s about] how the game tells you what to do, when the game tells you what to do. It’s about timing and the rhythm of the game, because if something happens too fast, you lose control. If it happens too soon you won’t want to play.”
For someone who has spent hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars on intricate plastic terrain, trays, dice towers, paint, and other odds and ends to support my favorite table game, Hunt suddenly makes sense. I can definitely see myself collecting the $100 or more it would take for the system to upgrade my favorite game.
However, the catalog of just one game — which hasn’t even been shipped to backers — is very limited. The team tells me that most of the hardware work is done at this point. Development began five years ago, said founder and CEO Davide Garofalo, who produced nine patents. To ensure the company has enough hardware to meet potential demand, Garofalo says he’s been stockpiling the components needed to make more — mostly hard-to-find chips and special antennas needed for connectivity. They are just waiting, ready for the next wave.
The only thing missing is more great games, and at least two more have been announced so far. The jewel in the crown is a new partnership with Paradox Interactive. Soon Teburu will start creating original games based on the World of Darkness property from the European publisher. Starts with Vampire: Disguisetheir hope is that the path will be extended to both Werewolf: Apocalypse and Hunter: The calculation. The team at Teburu wanted the game trilogy to be connected in some way, with events from one game flowing naturally into the next.
“It will be a city management game,” says founder and CEO Garofalo, “where you are the Anarchs willing to rule Milan over the Camarilla. Then we made the Werewolf title, and the Hunter title, but somehow they would be related to each other in a cross chronology. [way].”
Rather than a turn-based tactical adventure, as in Bad Karma, these World of Darkness games will be narratively focused. Think of a cooperative role-playing campaign in a box, like gloomy heavenbut with a computer running the Dungeon Master role.
“Imagine something like Arkham Horror Second Edition, where you go somewhere and you pick up a card,” said Garofalo, naming one of the leading app-assisted board games on the market today. “Instead of picking up cards, we have a whole narrative design — like in a video game — that’s based on who you are, what the moment is, what happens at that moment in the timeline, and so on. The system proposes for you the right narrative events, and it lets you choose between a variety of possible options. They can be narrative, or investigative, or related to other characters [in the game with you at that point in time]. So this is not a role-playing game; it’s a board game experience — but very narrative.”
But with talk of the metaverse and virtual reality taking up so much cutting-edge development and marketing energy these days, why not use an augmented reality or virtual reality system? Garofalo believes it is another solution to the problem. After all, humans are still physical creatures, who like to gather together around the table.
“I believe that we are still monkeys around monoliths,” Garofalo said with a hopeful smile, “or tribes around campfires.”
Look for more crowdfunding campaigns from Teburu in the months and years to come. Bad Karma and Zodiac Curse bundled with the basic Hunt system and available as a late promise reward via Games found to equal to $178.