We’re increasingly living in a world dominated by and dependant on technology. Many see this as a reason why board games and other tabletop fare have seen such a resurgence in recent years: we’re just desperate for entertainment that doesn’t rely on a microprocessor and a power socket.

Thus when a board game features app-driven technology in some way, whether it’s a replacement for a Gamesmaster in something like Mansions of Madness or Descent, or some sort of Augmented Reality implementation, there’s often a backlash against it from the community, followed by a ritual stoning of the heretic who brought it to Games Night in the first place.

With this in mind I arranged a few meetings at this year’s UK Games Expo (UKGE) with two companies promoting such witchcraft, but instead of some drastic technological change to how we play our tabletop games, these two products instead hope to assist us in our existing gaming.

Syrinscape

Technology And The Tabletop UKGE 2017 - Syrinscape - Benjamin Loomes

Benjamin Loomes, CEO and Creative Director at Syrinscape.

Benjamin Loomes is a man on a mission, to free us all from “those ambience loops that everyone is doing nowadays that by definition are 100% repetitious and completely non-customisable.”

His answer is Syrinscape

Syrinscape is an app that creates beautiful, immersive, dramatic sound effects and a movie-like soundtrack for tabletop games”

So how does it work?

Taking one of the supplied soundtracks, “Red Dragon Battle”, all the GM has to do is to hit one of the Moods, “Pleasant Morning” and they’ll hear a medieval town happily going about its business: people chatting, gulls calling, dogs barking, maybe a cart going by every now and then.

After some roleplaying you might touch “Dragon Attacks”: an alarm bell sounds; there’s a horrific roar; women, children and men scream; there’s crashes and bangs, a high energy music score… and Syrinscape continues like that as you roleplay out the action, until you touch another button to send things back to normal… or change things up again. And that’s all you have to do as a GM.

Technology And The Tabletop UKGE 2017 - Syrinscape - Sliders

There are sliders to control the overall mood, and a selection of customisable buttons to trigger One Shot sounds.

“You’re already on overload as a Gamesmaster,” says Benjamin “and tabletop gaming is meant to be a social activity where you’re connecting with your players, so I literally built Syrinscape so I could just have that one touch every hour or as the location or situation changes.”

What genres are available?

Syrinscape already has a mass of content (literally thousands of samples) covering a variety of popular genres, including: Fantasy (with a Paizo licence to produce official sounds for Pathfinder), Sci-Fi, Cthulhu, Superheroes (with a Green Ronin licence for Mutants & Masterminds), Wild West, Steampunk and Modern. But you’re not restricted by the genre of player you opt for.

“You can actually make any of the content show in any of the players” assures Benjamin.

How much does it cost?

You can download the app for free, which comes with two free sound sets, a generic spooky forest called the “Witch Wood” and “Bugbear Battle” which you can also use for something like Orcs or anything humanoid.

Technology And The Tabletop UKGE 2017 - Syrinscape - Subscription

You can choose from a number of subscription models.

You can then buy content individually, with each soundset costing from 3.99 USD or you can subscribe to unlock everything. So the Fantasy subscription unlocks the entire fantasy player: all the Pathfinder adventures, all the monsters, portals, five different taverns… everything, and that costs 6.50 USD/month.

However there is a Supersyrin subscription for 10 USD/month which unlocks absolutely everything, including the Syrinscape Soundset Creator.

What about customisation?

One of the best features of Syrinscape is how easy it is to use straight out of the box, in terms of its single click interface for moods and “One Shot” sounds.

“That’s pretty much the whole point of Syrinscape and why I made it for myself. But if you do want to customise things, you can.” says Benjamin.

Syrinscape’s Soundset Creator allows you to modify and customise existing sound sets. So for example, you could strip the music and replace it with your own, add in your own players’ voices, add custom sound effects, and then upload it to the server as your own version of that soundset.

Technology And The Tabletop UKGE 2017 - Syrinscape - Music

Modify the musical score, or just strip it out and replace it with your own.

Your new creation then appears on any device you sign in to just like the rest of your content, and if you want you can then share it with other SuperSyrin subscribers.

Verdict

I’ve always been a big fan of audio atmosphere with your gaming, and whilst Syrinscape is obviously aimed primarily at the RPG market, there’s a lot of boardgames that could also benefit from the app, beyond simply the RPG-Lite end of the market.

In fact they’re already creating a Board Game Player which has a catalogue of sounds specific to a number of titles, although I’m not convinced that people wouldn’t just pop on some appropriate music, but we’ll have to see how it develops as more titles are added.

I’m also not sold yet on the price point: $120 a year seems an awful lot unless you’re a hardcore RPGer, but I guess the individual sound packs let you make small purchases if you’re more casual.

At the end of the day Syrinscape is free to download and you get a couple of sound sets to play with, so you may as well just get it, have a fiddle and make your own mind up whether you can’t do without it, or will make do with the free, loopable soundtracks available online.

[Find out more about pricing and subscriptions at the Syrinscape store.]

Dized

Technology And The Tabletop UKGE 2017 - Dized - Jouni Jussila

Jouni Jussila, CEO and Co-Founder of Playmore Games and Dized.

My mate Phil recently enthused to me down at the pub about his great new idea for an boardgame app. “It’s like a collection of all the rulebooks, and you just ask it questions about the rules, and it tells you! I think I’ll call it Rules Wizard…”

Brilliant, Phil, although I think Rules Lawyer might be a better name, and unfortunately someone has already thought of your idea, and they called it Dized.

“So we’re doing exactly the same thing that video games did 20 years ago” says Jouni Jussila of Playmore Games, the developers of Dized. “We’re getting rid of the manual, and getting you into the game much sooner.”

Technology And The Tabletop UKGE 2017 - Dized - Race to the North Pole

The app is designed to get you up and playing the game as soon as possible, without reading through the whole rule book.

Dized is a smart device application that teaches you how to play boardgames. It does quite a few things as the self-styled ultimate companion app, but let’s start with the interactive tutorials, which use a step-by-step guide to let you sit down with a new game and start playing immediately.

I watched a short trailer for a tutorial of Bang! The Card Game, and it looked well-produced, thematic and the tutorial steps required a click to advance, so players could go at their own pace.

“And because Dized is animated, voice-overed and subtitled” says Jouni “it supports different learning styles.”

Technology And The Tabletop UKGE 2017 - Dized - Bang!

The tutorial is obviously meant for brand new players of a game, and it’s designed in a way that engages you gradually by only teaching you the rules that you need to know to start playing immediately, and then drip-feeding you new rules as you come to them. With each important rule it leaves an icon on-screen should you need to go back and double-check.

Dized is like a friend at the table, who already knows the game inside out, who teaches you how to play while you’re playing” says Jouni.

But what about more experienced players? How can it help them?

“Let’s say you already know how to play a game but it’s 6 months since you played it, and you have that “Hey, how did this work?” moment. You can use the Rule Lookup tool, either going through graphical menus to find any rule in the game or by using a search function.”

This sounds a lot like Phil’s Brilliant Pub Idea, so I had to ask about voice recognition.

“Absolutely” confirms Jouni. “You can ask any FAQ-style question and have an immediate answer, and our prototype already supports a voice function so you don’t have to stall the game by typing stuff or searching manually.”

I’d kind of like this app right now but unfortunately Dized isn’t yet published. It’s set for a full demo at GenCon in August, followed by a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo right afterwards, but there’s no final decision yet about what games are going to be featured and which publishers will get on board.

Technology And The Tabletop UKGE 2017 - Dized - Tutorial

“Our goal is obviously to have all games on the system,” says Jouni “but there’s a bottleneck issue — there’s seven new games being published in the world every day.”

Their answer is the development of a web-based toolset that allows the quick creation of the interactive tutorials, that once ready they want to open up to publishers and freelance developers.

“Then we can have thousands of people around the world developing these tutorials at the same time” hopes Jouni. “This is when we can build up the library really fast, and hopefully we can make this happen as soon as next year.”

So how much will all this cost the gamer?

“The app will be free to download” assures Jouni “with the tutorials and rulebooks being ad-based. The extra content, digital mechanics, other features of the app are either free or they might have a small price tag on them (per game).”

Any plans for a subscription model?

“If we have a subscription then primarily it’ll be just to get rid of the ads, but also to get other benefits in the app as well.”

Verdict

This is a great idea, both for general ease of rules reference at the table and also for transporting games: not having to lug a pile of rulebooks around has got to be a good thing. Sure we have PDFs freely available from most publishers nowadays, but an app where we can just yell at it to find us a rule has got to be a good thing.

The only issue will be the level of available content. It’s going to rely on developers and publishers getting on board, and more importantly it’s going to need some sort of concerted community effort to wade through the existing backlog of games.

All in all it’s going to rely on good visibility for the crowdfunding campaign to make publishers prick up their ears and give the project some cash to fund the enterprise. So spread the word!

[Find out about Dized and the IndieGoGo campaign at Playmore Games.]

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