Cardboard to Circuit Board

Board games are really popular right now (especially in Toronto). At first glance, this tactile, in-person social phenomenon seems to be a rebuke of all things digital, or at least a respite from them. Cardboard over circuit boards. Dice over devices.

But alongside board games are digital apps that recreate these games, ostensibly not changing anything about the game. The rules are the same. The artwork is often exactly the same.  It’s just on your iPad – well, kind of…

A photo of the physical version of the game. By Laszlo Molnar. Source: Board Game Geek (

One of these games to make such a transition is designer Philippe Keyaerts’ Small World (Days of Wonder, 2009). And it’s a game I’ve played in its digital form. This is a game for 2-4 players . It plays like a streamlined Risk, players competing directly for territories. Here are some of the big differences between the physical and digital versions:

  • There is music in the digital version. This music, by my ears, seems to reinforce the lightheartedness of the game with a lulling, cheery soundtrack.
  • The game has quite a bit of math in it. But the digital version, as you’d expect, handles this digitally. On the one hand this ensures that the points keeping is more accurate. On the other hand, if this is being used as an educational activity for children, then the digital version’s automatic calculations would be a disadvantage compared to the physical version’s need for human brainpower.
  • But the most significant change between the two versions is that the digital version allows AI opponents that a single player can compete against. Unlike the physical version, which requires in-person social interaction between players, the digital version does not. It’s easy to see why that may change the experience of the game. If board games are synonymous with in-person social activities, is any digital port of a board game really a board game?

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