Board Game Nights at Hackerfarm

Recently, we started up board game nights at hackerfarm where we play various board games that we own. I’ve never had a lot of friends when I lived in Tokyo so I didn’t get much chance to play board games. It was a completely different experience for me and it’s interesting how the social interaction around the board game develops. It’s possible to learn a lot about people as you play since there’s a lot of idle talk, some bluffing, bravado, scheming, etc. It’s really fun.

Today, we were hanging around waiting for a tour of Harvard architectural students to come to hackerfarm to visit and see what we were up to. While we were waiting, we started to discuss the possibilities of technology in board games and what place they should have. There are purists that believe that board games should be completely analog and then on the other side of the spectrum are games with so much technology and no content/gameplay. We came up with some ideas to “hide” technology inside the game and what role the tech should have. My idea is to allow for more complex situations and simulations without burdening the players with complicated rules. An example would be to model currency exchange fluctuations based on random disasters that could occur inside a game, such as in Settlers of Catan if something happens to wipe out a crop in a neighboring village.

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Because of the game technology¬†discussion today, I started playing around with passive NFC tags to read and write data. I think its possible to hide the NFC tags and readers inside cards and game boards and use them to manage complex player data and stats. It’s then possible to have simple indicators like glowing game tiles or LED displays without having to introduce new screens like a tablet or computer. I might try to organize game design nights at hackerfarm too for people interested in developing board games. It’s quite interesting and fun, and I feel like I have a lot to learn.

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Here’s a pic of my prototype setup. It’s a simple NFC card reader and a piece of paper I’m using to emulate a player card. The paper has an ISO14443A NFC sticker tag on the back and can hold 1kB of data. The idea would be to store player or item stats on the player card, as well as possibly historical data.

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Here’s a closeup of the NFC reader/writer and the paper card I drew.

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The back side of the piece of paper with an NFC sticker tag on it.

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Here’s the readout on the serial terminal when I put the piece of paper on the reader. In this case, I’m reading and writing to the various blocks with a simple hexadecimal number string (0x01, 0x02, 0x03…).

I’ll keep everyone updated on the game design nights and if it actually goes anywhere. I think it’d be really fun to start a game design group, especially experimenting with hidden technology being used inside the board games.