Tobold's Blog
Saturday, October 02, 2021
Worst of both worlds?

I recently read about a board game called Paleo, which just won a prestigious game of the year award. And I wasn't 100% sure whether I would like it. On the one side it fits my criteria of being playable solo or co-operatively, having some sort of character progression, and offering interesting choices. On the other hand I wasn't sure about how well the game would manage to tell a story without actually using words. I'm not a huge fan of abstract games. But reviewers said that in fact Paleo manages the difficult art of emergent story-telling. So I wondered how I could test that before buying the game.

What I found was that one can in fact play Paleo online for free on Tabletopia. Only I had never used Tabletopia or similar software like Tabletop Simulator. Basically I had heard of Tabletop Simulator, and how most of the games there were "fan made", which for me sounded like a euphemism for "pirated". But the games on Tabletopia are official versions made by the developers, which made that option more attractive to me (your mileage may vary).

That ended in the way the developers of Paleo had probably intended when they made the game available for free: I liked Paleo, and ordered the game from Amazon. As a side remark, if you live in North America and find that on that continent Paleo is extremely hard to get, you might actually consider ordering the game for €40 from You can find the English language rulebook online, and the card titles are irrelevant for playing, so it doesn't matter if they are in a foreign language.

But the experience of playing Paleo on Tabletopia also taught me why developers are willing to let you play for free, and why I don't want to pay $99 a year for a gold subscription there, which would let me play games that aren't for free: Playing a board game on a simulator software feels rather awkward and clunky. It combines the disadvantages of a board game, like having to handle all the components yourself and doing all the accounting, with the disadvantages of a computer game, the lack of physical feel of cards and dice. After one game of Paleo I decided I would definitively rather play the physical version, even solo, but even more so when playing with my wife.

I do like digital versions of board games, like the recently mentioned Gloomhaven. But in that software the UI is designed to automate certain game mechanics. I could see myself playing a stand-alone digital Paleo game, where if I select an option on the card, the game automatically handles the adding and removing of resources, and puts the cards on the right discard pile. But having to drag and drop every resource, every token, and every card manually on Tabletopia is not as fast. And if I have to do everything manually, I prefer an actual physical version.


Just like video games translate badly to the board (ever tried playing the World of Warcraft boardgame...?), the opposite applies as well. The mechanics are usually suited to the medium, and translate awkwardly to the other. A friend was talking about "real-cards" Hearthstone, but it would suck, since keeping track of all the atk/hp changes and effects would be a nightmare.....
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