"We all have board games at home, and it's important to understand these games draw a lot of people, particularly if we have hybrid products that come from the physical side of the game. Why would we move from the purely physical boxed game to a hybrid game? The first basic thing is that we live in a world of electronics. It's just there, it gives a better user experience and better features, so why would that not naturally go into our games as well?" Electronics can do the grunt work of handling the rules, and motor tasks like shuffling and dealing cards. "But also, it enriches the context and the atmosphere of the game, because of course, I can put in more aspects and more background information through electronics, through loudspeakers and display." There are nearly a thousand new board games released every year, and hybridization with electronics offer opportunities to stand out. But they also necessitate designing for certain limitations, a necessity for designers leaving a familiar framework. "You get a lot of interface challenges: Input -- how do I go from the physical world to the electronic world -- and the output. How does the electronic world feed back into the physical world, and how do I keep that world in sync?"
"You roll the die, you get a number, and then your figure moves along the board. If you were to leave that die away, it becomes a very boring game."
The colored play figures on the board can also have different resistances, so touching your green figure produces a green light, and touching a red one produces a red light. "So now we've essentially found out who I am and where I am, because I can move with my figure and it detects my location." But players are wary of touching a battery and soliciting an electrical current, so it is hidden inside a mysterious panel. "I need to give people the reason for that other touch; we don't have one, we have several buttons. So now the electronic also knows what I'm doing, because that depends on which pad I touch. Therefore I get different reactions, now, depending on what I touch." It can feel like magic, to have a game that responds to touch with light and sound that seems to read everything the player does. Knizia's King Arthur was successful, so the company followed up with strategy game The Island, navigating the complicated electronics and printing process involved in conductive ink. Not only was it elaborate, but there was a complication in trying to use similar technology to make games for kids, who can often play rough with their toys.
"We live in a world of electronics. It's just there, it gives a better user experience and better features, so why would that not naturally go into our games as well?"
So with children's game Whoowasit, Knizia's most successful game ever, the electronics were placed outside the board, in a "magic chest," and the elements were carefully synchronized for clarity and appeal, rooted in visual language that appeals to kids. Synchronization with the electronics had to form the core of all the other design elements. Whoowasit won multiple awards in Germany across 2008, 2009 and 2010, and was a big seller. But time has moved on across the last five years. Creating bespoke hardware for every game is an expensive proposition, but today, nearly everyone has a mobile device. Last year, Knizia Games released The Three Investigators, where an iPhone with an associated app replaces the hardware bundle created for the hybrid games of years ago, and offers inputs that enhance the design the game. "Whatever you do on the board is seen or is taken in, so you have a fantastic input situation," Knizia says, predicting the future will bring even more experimentation of the design junction between physical and digital games.
"If you are in a creative business, the best thing that can happen to you is change. We just need to redirect ourselves, be open, and we can do new things."