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Futuristic Fun & Games

Remember the good old days of playing board games? So-called 'family fun', sitting inside on a rainy afternoon with your sibling getting increasingly irate as you gleefully demand rent for your three hotels on Park Lane. Well, those days might have changed for good since Monopoly introduced a voice-activated edition of their family staple...

Boasting that ‘Mr. Monopoly now listens’, you simply say commands like "pay rent on Piccadilly" and bam! the payment is moved to the player’s account. 

Unfortunately, "Mr. Monopoly, pay my mortgage" didn’t have the same effect… I can but dream.

A cartoon image of a board game box titled "UNIVERSE" set against a yellow background. The box features vibrant illustrations of celestial bodies and space motifs. The words "BOARD GAME" are highlighted in a bold typeface in the corner.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t say I miss handling physical money in my day-to-day life. It makes so much more sense to carry around a single debit card than a pocket full of grubby coins. Payments are quick and effortless. But making Monopoly payments quick and effortless? Where’s the fun in that? 

A large part of Monopoly’s enduring appeal is the joy of bankrupting your opponents; counting out loud as you add each of their well-worn bank notes to your overflowing pile. I highly doubt digital transactions could ever pack the same punch.

So, what does all this mean for the future of board games? Has the magic gone?

Judging by reviews, Mr. Monopoly has a bit of work to do to convince the masses, with many stating the technology didn’t work or that it failed to understand commands. And whilst I can appreciate its appeal as a novelty item played once or twice over the Christmas holidays, I can’t imagine it will ever enjoy the longevity of the original game — a game with more than a hundred years under its belt.

But are there games out there that need to revolutionise to reach new audiences? Connect 4-D, perhaps? VR Snakes & Ladders? Although I don’t relish the thought of a life-size snake chasing me down a ladder, there could be something in it.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, online sales of toys and games surged. Sales of games and puzzles increased by 43% between 1st January and 23rd May (compared to the same period in 2019). What’s more, with school holidays and the extension of lockdown in some areas, the trend looks sure to continue.

But what options are available for only children, or those who find themselves without willing opponents? There’s a lot to be said for electronic versions of old favourites in these cases — without them, they simply would not get played.

Take an electronic chess board for instance. You can now pit yourself against a computer who also evaluates your moves like your own personal chess tutor, meaning it’s not only fun but educational. Perfect for those weekends when Mum or Dad need a break from the relentless pleas for “just one more”…

Another family favourite which has enjoyed a modern makeover is Pictionary, although the jury is out on the results… Pictionary Air from Mattel is described as “a hilarious twist on the classic drawing game”. It works by pointing the in-app camera at the illustrator so they'll appear, along with their sketch, on the screen of your smart device.

The concept certainly sounds fun — especially as the illustrator is unable to see what they’ve drawn so far. I could see it working particularly well for game night with the neighbours after a few bottles of red. One reviewer, however, didn’t quite see the funny side, writing “Wouldn’t recommend, very difficult to draw in mid-air, can’t see what you have drawn so ultimately no one can guess as looks nothing like what you want to draw.” Perhaps, Dave from Manchester, that’s kind of the point…

A cartoon depicting two people wearing lab coats stood at a table dropping liquid from a pipette into a glass beaker.

The future of board games is not confined to technological updates, however. Science-themed board games are also proving to be popular ways to learn about topics ranging from chemistry to outer space. And it’s not just for kids.

In April 2019, The Observer published an article entitled “The board games turning science into playtime”. It references John Coveyou, a former chemistry teacher who formed his own company — Genius Games — devoted to player-friendly “Stem” games (“Stem” meaning science, technology, engineering and mathematics):

"After realising how intimidated many of his students were by scientific concepts, and noticing how he and his gaming friends would remember “useless information about sci-fi worlds and things that didn’t exist”, he reasoned that well-crafted strategy games would be ideal for making science approachable. So far, Coveyou has designed and published games about ionic bonding, covalent bonding, protein building, atom building, DNA and cell biology."

Cytosis: A Cell Biology Board Game, designed by Coveyou, is purportedly so faithful to the real processes that occur in a human cell that it’s been endorsed by The Journal of Science. Now that is genius!

Sadly, it’s a bit too complex for my two little’uns — it’s recommended for ages 10+ — but I’m sure I’ll be the one begging for “one more game” when they’re old enough!

It’s too early to say whether technology or tradition will win in the end. One thing is for sure, though — we’ll have fun finding out!


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