Board games are enjoying their time in the spotlight right now, but I’m not just talking about stuff like Monopoly or Cluedo. There’s been a boom in titles that vary in playstyle, complexity and design, appealing to a wide range of demographics.
Given board games are still mostly entirely physical (with some popular titles getting digital board game adaptations and ports on Tabletop Simulator) it’s pretty hard to imagine what the future of board games will look like without picturing the Hologame Table from Star Wars. But a bridge connecting us to this holographic fantasy setup might finally have appeared.
Teburu is a platform created by Xplored that can be best described as a console for your games. It allows tabletop games to take advantage of digital assets and features, all while retaining the physical and social aspects that make them great. The platform itself simply folds out and must be placed underneath the physical game pieces (provided you’re playing a title supported by Teburu).
Part of its appeal is its simplicity. The system uses a combination of sensors built into the board, a series of electronic identification tags that must be placed on miniatures and tokens, and the official Teburu companion app.
The board can also track individual tiles, and even comes with physical dice packed with fancy tech that allows the app to read and log your scores. Most of the marketing material I’ve seen focuses on Teburu’s own game – The Bad Karmas and the Curse of the Zodiac – but other Teburu-compatible games are also being developed in collaboration with Vampire: The Masquerade and Sword & Sorcery.
A fantastic hybrid solution
This gets into the other major appeal of Teburu for nerds like me: it’s still a physical system. I’m a big fan of board games and tabletop RPGs, and while I do like to play titles like Terraforming Mars or Scythe on Steam, the video game versions can’t replace the feeling of sitting down with friends, in person, around a table, with snacks.
It was something that was sorely missed during the lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic. Playing online certainly scratched the itch, but it can’t replace the real deal for me.
The board game community contains a lot of collectors who have an appreciation for physical hardware, myself included, and I’m not prepared for tablets and computers to make my growing pile of RPG rulebooks and games irrelevant just yet.
The Bad Karmas does a great job of showcasing Teburu’s capabilities. This is a boss-battle style game where players will move character miniatures around a board while fighting huge monsters inspired by the twelve zodiac signs.
While you still have to physically move your models around the board, you’re able to view important information on your smartphone, which acts almost like a controller. A separate tablet, such as an iPad, will display all the essential game information, including player turn order, enemy health, and a general overview of what’s going on with the game.
While you’ll have to move enemy miniatures around the board, Teburu will control their actions and movement. It feels like you’re fighting an AI video game enemy rather than one that’s usually dictated by random dice rolls. Teburu’s base has other features, too, with different light-up sections that indicate the direction of incoming enemy attacks. Thanks to those sensors in the base of your player models, the enemy AI knows exactly where you are on the board.
At the end of each match, you’re even handed a video game-like scoreboard to browse. The companion app awards titles for player achievements, such as match MVP or taking the most damage. It really does feel like a hybrid system rather than a true analog or digital board game, so while it’s no hologram, the goblin part of my brain that loves flashing lights and graphics definitely feels appeased.
The next step in physical board games?
I’m not just excited for The Bad Karmas though, as fun as that title looks, but for what Teburu could offer more mainstream titles in the future if it proves to be successful. Yes, there are some official collaborations in the works, but if Teburu can be expanded for use across other established games then I’m completely sold on the idea.
That’s going to require a lot of development within the companion app, but having the ability to enjoy your favorite games without any of the boring or frustrating admin sounds like a blessing. One of the biggest issues we have when buying a new game is learning the ropes and trying to remember a complex new set of rules. People who aren’t swift learners, like myself, have to treat the initial set up and playthrough like a pancake – the first one never comes out right.
Teburu is capable of correcting players if they’re trying to perform an action or move that’s against the rules. While physical rulebooks collect all the information you need to play a game, pausing to swot up can be a nuisance, and often ‘illegal’ moves won’t be detected until many moves after they’ve already occurred.
Naturally, this isn’t going to be something that appeals to all board game fans so it falls under a slightly niche demographic, but it certainly feels like this is a halfway point between traditional board game systems and something being entirely online or even VR-based.
It also isn’t the first time we’ve seen board games dipping their toes into the world of digital, with the likes of One Night Ultimate Werewolf and Gloomhaven both having an official app that can be used alongside the game. Descent Legends in the Dark also made some waves last year when it was released thanks to integrating a mobile app to manage enemy movements, story content and the general numerical game admin.
Supporting a crowdfunding project comes with its risks so we can’t advise you to pledge, but if this is something you’re interested in supporting then there’s still some time left on Teburu’s Kickstarter. The €170 (around $185 / £140 / AU$250) price is steep, but far from outlandish in the world of tabletop games, where Warhammer miniatures can cost a small fortune and many of the best board games cost as much as a full-priced triple-A video game.
I really hope Teburu delivers on its promise, and thankfully Xplored founder Davide Garofalo confirmed that Teburu will be an “open platform”, with hopes to provide developer kits to companies of any size who want to bring their games to the platform. That will allow players to use existing board games in their collection (including the figurines and tokens from those games) with Teburu in the future.