The tabletop and board game hobby has seen a resurgence in the past decade thanks to games like Catan, Gloomhaven, and others which have shifted the perception of what the medium can offer. Thanks to the pandemic, digital versions of these games and the virtual tabletop space saw particularly strong growth due to the limits placed on in-person meetings. Last year, I took a look and hypothesized that the future of the tabletop hobby would lay somewhere in a shared ground between digital and in-person physical experiences, an avenue that is already being explored by developers like Last Gameboard. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down and observe a live demo done by Gameboard’s CEO and Co-founder, Shail Mehta, to find out what makes Gameboard special.
The Gameboard is an interactive tabletop platform that aims to let owners play digital offerings of board games in a single portable package while introducing handy new proprietary features that will add to the tabletop experience. Measuring 17”x17” with and coming in around 8.5 pounds (or about 8-9 Dungeons & Dragons books) comes packed with a 22” playable screen space (1920×1920 with a 60Hz refresh rate), 64GB Flash storage with an expandable SD card slot and 4GB of DDR4 ram, the Gameboard is a hefty piece of tech. Gameboard has a couple of nifty features that set it apart from other tablet-based virtual tabletop experiences out there, including the ability to wireless link multiple boards to create larger play surfaces and its proprietary SenseScreen technology.
Speaking with Shail, she explained that the SenseScreen is a combination of both under-the-hood tech and software that allows the Gameboard to read and react to a far greater number of touch inputs on its screen, but it also features a wide range of gestures you wouldn’t see on a regular tablet. Shail demonstrated one of the gestures that the Gameboard can interpret by cupping her hand around her playing cards, and the Gameboard reacting to the gesture, hiding her cards from other players during a game of Poker.
This SenseScreen technology also grants the Gameboard its most exciting and potentially giant innovation: its ability to digitally pair a token or miniature without the need for RFID tech. The Gameboard is able to recognize specific designs and 3D markers that are a part of miniatures or components and link them to a specific player, character, or whatever the game requires. This really was impressive. As a big tabletop RPG player, the idea of being able to 3D print my players’ characters and all I would need to add is a small little symbol to their bases in order to connect their stat sheets and character to the physical mini could very well be a game changer. RFID tags, while cheap, are rarely a modification that your common player could install. But on a Gameboard, you wouldn’t need to worry about such annoyances.
For groups of players that may own multiple Gameboard devices, you can simply link up multiple boards against one another to create an expanded play space for larger games or maps. As more and more games become available to play on it, being able to connect multiple devices together effortlessly will be handy.
All this technology the Gameboard is packing, unfortunately, isn’t cheap. It’s a shocking $800 price tag before including any of the games to play on the device when similar products such as 1up’s Game Board cost $300 less, or for $1000, you could get an actual coffee table with virtual tabletop functionality built in . That also means that if you wanted to double the dimensions of your playspace, you would be looking at more than $3200! Shail admitted that the price is steep, it is partly due to the low production run of the Gameboard currently and hopes that as they are able to increase production, the price will lower. Even as impressive as the SenseScreen technology is, that is a large pill to swallow.
On the topic of games, Gameboard utilizes its own digital store and subscription platform that will cost you $15 a month to access, with the option to purchase games outright as well, regardless of your subscription status. Taking a look at the current game offerings in the shop, there are roughly 25-ish games being offered (I use “ish” because a few selections serve as TTRPG supplements for maps and the like), with another 12 listed as “upcoming.” These games include Poker, Chess, and Checkers, but a few standouts as well, such as Zombie Dice, Night of the Ninja, Koi, and Terraforming Mars (currently in Beta). For the service being in its infancy and growing its library, I understand that it will take some time to grow, but for $15 a month, that’s asking a lot for such a limited selection.
During the demo presentation, one thought that never left my mind was simply, why? If I was playing with my friends in person (my preferred method of tabletop goodness), for that same $800, I could buy a small collection worth of great physical games while supporting my local game store or even boxes of Gloomhaven for my five closest friends. While it may be a bit easier to transport a Gameboard than a bag full of games to my local board game cafe or barcade for tabletop night, I’m also not risking spilling a beer on an $800 machine as opposed to cardboard.
Looking at it from a digital convenience standpoint, I found myself asking similar “why” questions. Why would I want to spend $15 a month for a small list of games, when for less than $3 a month on Board Game Arena, or Tabletopia’s $10 a month offering, I could subscribe to both for less than Gameboard’s service and have access to thousands of games. Speaking nothing of the additional benefits that come with them, such as hot seat gaming (taking turns over time, great for playing sessions while working), simultaneous game sessions, and inviting friends into the premium game offerings for free.
As someone who is into 3D printing as a hobby, the idea that with little hassle and just a little detail, the SenseScreen functionality would allow me to quickly assign something I made to a digital counterpart in a game is exciting and has a lot of potential going forward. None of that potential can make me forget the price tag. I can buy a lot of games for $800, all of which I would be a lot less concerned with spilling drinks over or getting messy fingerprints on.
Currently, you can sign up to be added to the waitlist for when the next batch of Gameboard units becomes available for purchase over on the official website. Only time will tell regarding how the tabletop community at large responds to this latest hybrid device, and if it truly will be the Last Gameboard or not.