Why Hybrids are a Thing (and why you might care about it!)

I am a boardgamer for a decade if not longer. Sure, it doesn't sound all that impressive, right? I mean, I personally know lovely maniacs with half a thousand game boxes littering their houses from floor to the ceiling, having almost a quarter of century of experience with these games and treating them no longer as "just a hobby" but more a way of life, if that is even possible. Still, I know myself the nagging, gnawing sensation of uncertainty, when you try to sell me a hybrid game. Which is funny, considering I make them now and actually enjoy them, right?

When it comes to the Hybrid Games a lot of hardcore players scrunches their noses with mild disgusts and proclaim quickly, that it is sinful. Or just plain bad. I mean, come on, right? You went for boardgames because you admire it's down-to-earth physical aspect, the fact that it's so disconnected from the modern world of everyday gadgets and technologies... You use your smartphone or tablet every day at work, you most likely treat internet connection in the same way as air you breath (it is just there, you barely notice it, but when it suddenly vanish, you feel your life choked out of you!). Classic boardgames with their pawns and tokens and boards are a lovely way of escaping from such dreary overlordship of technology over our lives. It's a statement, really - I like Boardgames, aside for other reasons of course, because they let me get my eyes off the bright digital screens...

Now it is clear why Hybrids for a long time had quite a lot of problems getting even a tiny niche in the minds of the boardgamers. After all, no matter what solutions, aid and even innovations they managed to bring to the table, all of this was encumbered by the heavy price of allowing a digital device into the gameplay as well.

Now let me change the direction... Ever considered why /nom/ hybrid games attacked again? Why they become a thing? Why Alchemists or X-COM gets solid reviews, quite often high praise? A few reasons, really. Firstly, times changed. Not so long ago mobile devices were still clunky, slow, weak computers. They were expensive too. And mostly, they were no so widely spread through the society. Now try to find a group in any western country that do not have at least one person with a smartphone or a tablet, I dare you. Chances are everyone get one of this devices. The publishers and boardgame developers learnt their lessons too - it is not hard to just slap an app on the game and call it a day. It is however quite a daunting task to make it in such a way, that the application is not an obstacle, but an actual help... And a vital ingredient of the game! It's a ripe time for the hybrid games to nudge the players again.

And there are oh so many benefits of adding an app to the game! Gosh, let me list a few:

  • Objective judge! An app, unlike a human being, will not be bribed. Will not whittle at the emotional blackmail, will be exactly as harsh and just to anyone and most importantly, will keep the rules in line and in check all the time. App is a great tribunal for a game, especially when it holds and takes care of the rules... So, you can move up to three spaces with your pawn? Well, you will surely not be able to move more "by mistake", because it won't let you. You learnt something new and would love to back out of your action? Sorry, mate, not a chance.
  • Keeper of secrets! I think this is the genre where Hybrid games will quickly become a dominant species. Clue, Letters from White Chapel, Roar! Catch the Monster... All these games are deduction games where plenty of information have to be kept secret, and a mobile device is a charm of making that a smooth ride. No need to pen and paper, no problem with running out of dockets to fill out, no problem with falling down paravans of cardboard... Everything is neatly stored in the app which easily allow us moving and keeping track of everything right on the screen.
  • The progress tracker! Now, that is maybe less important to a lot of players, but I know some who would love this to be a thing... Want to know the scores you've got in a game last month? Or 50 games ago? Want to review what you did wrong and where you did well? Or gosh, maybe you have this sweet sensation of progress when you collect achievements and would not mind one bit having that implemented to your boardgames? App can do that. It was /made/ to do that and with ease.
  • Variables and ease of expansion! Let me put it into a perspective first... If an app is a crucial part of the game and a lot of it happens through it, then the game developer can offer players outrageous amount of variations and flexibility to the game. Let's say we have an adventure game where every round a new event pop out. Usually that would be handled by cards, for example, which is fine. I mean, you can easily print 100 cards and make that a lovely way to keep the game fresh for longer, right? Sure. App can do 10 000 "event cards". Because it is not a printed material. And same goes for expansions... Adding new  scenarios? New mechanics? New elements? Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Let me once again bring the example of Roar! - in the game player holding the device control a fully digital monster that hides through the city. Each monster have an unique special power. Currently there are three of them in the game... But nothing stop the publisher to adding as many as they would like to later on! That's rad.
  • Immersion! This is a given, isn't it? Remember the old games with VHS tape or a CD with music on it? Simple stuff, really, usually just a timer... You were suppose to play until the soundtrack or a movie ends. But it have a touch of RPG magic to it... A lot of Game Masters in a vast number of pen and paper roleplays like to add props to the session. Candles, maps, letters on a nicely burnt paper on the edges... And of course music, which is a natural mood builder. And a game with an App can reach for this benefits and double them, because you can not only add music and sound effect, but animation, 3D envirnoments, augmented reality and simply things that can happen only on a screen. It might be a plus for the adult players, but for kids? It is a godsend.
See? Hybrids don't have to be clunky games where players frustration grow over the constant juggling of the slow and unresponsive device and a game. It just might be a thing that smooth the ride through the fun and makes it all a much more pleasant experience for everyone. Just put the bias on the hook by the door and give them a chance.

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