Part 2 

So where I left off last time was the brief entry into the market of the video board game which breathed a bit of new life into the genre.   

Windows 95 did begin the era of the modern PC together with Intel’s revolutionary Pentium CPUs.  Rather than a horrible reliance on DOS to run software, new games came out onto the market to take full advantage of these souped up PCs.  Whilst some strategy games became more complicated moving away from their “board game roots”, better conversions of existing board games became possible.  By now, Hasbro Interactive had the effective monopoly on conversions with Microprose (soon to be a Hasbro take-over) being one “dissenting voice”.  It was fairly common to see Monopoly and Cluedo packaged together, often with a third game (Scrabble, Risk or Trivial Pursuit).  Whilst Monopoly was a bog-standard game, Cluedo had a bit more personality and the game became a bit more “Agatha Christie” in look and feel.  Music was added evoking a sense of 1920s mystery and you’d expect Hercule Poirot to pop out from behind an overstuffed armchair.  

What really rejuvenated the board game market were licensed tie-ins.  Star Wars Monopoly came out in/around 1996 which saw sets fly off of the shelves and began a process to see every popular franchise have its own dedicated Monopoly set.  This was quickly capitalised on with the release of Star Wars Monopoly on the PC which featured full motion video clips, animations and even Antony Daniels as C3-P0 narrating the game.  The standards had been raised and soon other games would emulate the success of Star Wars Monopoly.  Another example was the wildly successful conversion of Risk which featured animated battle sequences and several maps. 

At this point in the game market, a new phenomenon had appeared – “play by email”.  Now most people are aware of “play by post” for games such as chess or Diplomacy.  There were also fantasy football leagues which one played by post in.  However several off-the-shelf board game conversions appeared in the shops which bypassed the need for a LAN/WAN permanent connection (handy in the days of 28K modems).  The advantage of a play by email game was that it could be effectively played in real-time rather than waiting minutes, hours or even days for your opponent to make their next move.  As dial-up was going to be around for the bulk of home users for the next few years, this offered a cheap way into the burgeoning internet gaming market. 

Speaking of the interwebs, it wasn’t too long before several gaming sites appeared, taking full use of the new Flash software pioneered by Adobe.  These were effectively “penny arcade” sites, taking all sorts of games from the archives and repackaging them for a modern audience.  I personally lost several days of my life to the Shockwave arcade though the chat feature demanding a/s/l got on my nerves more often than not. 

Console gaming really picked up in the late 1990s as the 5th generation of machines were released (Playstation, Dreamcast, N64) and much of the PC’s successes with board game conversions was replicated.  By this point RTS games had snatched a large portion of gamers attention spans and overthrew the traditional dominance of turn-based games.  What RTS games offered were more in the lines of resource management rather than strategy for strategy’s sake.  It can be argued that this is in direct or indirect response to the small but budding interest in “Eurogames” – board games from continental Europe which often features trading, co-operation and competition.  Post war-reconciliation maybe?  Whatever the reason, games like Settlers of Catan do have a certain common theme with video games such as Age of Empires in terms of gathering, building and trading. 

As the millennium came and went, there was a definite board game revival in the adult end of the market, spurred on by video game conversions of existing classics.  Games Workshop had sold the rights to several of their games, notably the Warhammer series which had been turned into successful Playstation games and spurred interest in RPGs.  Whilst RPGs had been around on home computers since Dungeons and Dragons on the Oracle, the latest technology allowed games like Gauntlet to go 3D and really offer a differing experience for each character.  This only seemed to fuel demand for more board games (after all, that’s where the creative minds seemed to dwell) and spawned more and more conversions. 

Of course I can’t continue the article without a nod to the birth of the Party Games genre which really, Mario Party on the N64 helped to start.  These were board games which featured everyone’s favourite Italian-American plumber on a board game map with live-action minigames at the end of every turn.  This was a genius move as gamers could enjoy the latter whilst board gamers could enjoy the strategy of the former.  Although the game came from practically nowhere, it nonetheless began an 11-game franchise (9 official titles + 2 for the GBA and DS) and saw many clones as other franchises struggled to get a piece of the action. 

As we’re coming up to the modern day, I struggle to find much more to write about.  The links between board games and video games are more more intertwined and complex as those who have grown up with computers all their lives seek different challenges and being able to play one’s favourite games on a board brings the sense of the familiar.  The seventh generation of console has brought in new control methods (the Wii’s Motion control, the Xbox Kinect and the Playstation 3’s plastic piece of garbage) but as yet this hasn’t really had much of an impact with board games.  However, Hasbro released four “Family Games Night” titles, a bundle of 4/5 board games featuring classics with jazzy graphics and sounds with differing rules for people to play on their consoles.  Really though, only Monopoly has taken to game innovating with several spin-off games designed for home computers/consoles. 

So how can I conclude this article?  Hmm, perhaps a look to the future is in order.  Video games and Board games are probably linked inextricably and whatever innovations affect one will certainly affect the other.  As microchips get smaller, cheaper and more powerful, it won’t be too long before board games incorporate more and more AI features in board games such as animated pieces, proper sound effects, electronic dice etc.  Whilst video games for the most part will continue to serve up the classics but will occasionally provide inspiration to the more traditional at heart.  

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