The award-winning augmented reality tabletop game Beasts of Balance has just launched in Australia. With such a novel concept, we thought it was a good opportunity to have a chat with Alex Bertie, CMO at Beasts of Balance to learn more about the game and to hear his thoughts on tabletop gaming in the digital age.
Gamers Classified: Can you tell us about the gameplay of Beasts of Balance?
Alex Bertie: In Beasts of Balance players take on the role of Divine Creators, tasked to play solo or with friends to build worlds and reach high scores by stacking magical Artefacts into incredible towers. But this is no standard dexterity game – everything added to the tower interacts with a world that evolves on a wirelessly connected digital device. Stack an Octopus and *poof* you’ve just made a digital Octopus! Add a Migrate Artefact and *shazam* you’ve turned it into a land-dwelling Rocktopus! There’s real skill in deciding on the next piece to add to the stack, and it takes smarts and teamwork to build high-scoring towers and find the most elusive beasts. Originally launched as co-op game for 1-5 players the app is getting a major free upgrade in July this year with a entirely new competitive game mode called Battles. Battles can be played with 2-3 players and gives players who like their balancing to be a bit more ‘fighty’ to crush their opponents under their divine boots.
Gamers Classified: Beasts of Balance weaves tabletop and digital gaming elements in a way that breaks down the either/or mentality when it comes to digital versus offline forms of entertainment. Beasts of Balance is both at the same time. Do you think the distinction between digital and offline entertainment will become a thing of the past in coming years?
Alex Bertie: I hope there’ll always be room for all types of play. At the studio we play all types of games, but we do think there’s a really interesting and exciting space where the best of digital play meets the face to face social fun of board games. At a basic level cardboard is a technology – a very well established and simple one, but a technology nonetheless – and the amount of things that game designers have been able to do with it over the years is testament to human ingenuity when it comes to designing things using well understood technologies. What Nintendo have designed with Labo is just great, combining simple analogue cardboard technology with the digital wizardry of Switch.
Gamers Classified: Some party games are now entirely digital and done through connected devices or a gaming console. Games like “That’s You!” for the PlayStation 4 and “Mario Party” for the Wii U come to mind. Are there certain aspects of tabletop gaming that you think are too important or too hard to take completely out of the physical world and emulate in the virtual one?
Alex Bertie: You have to start with the player experience and put that at the centre of your design thinking. We really value the social interaction involved in playing together face to face and although there are plenty of awesome console party games (Mario Party!) and great sofa games (Fifa!) the focus tends to be on the screen. We’re trying to do something different to keep players attention on each other and the physical thing they are playing with the screen (in the case of Beasts of Balance) providing extra context.
Gamers Classified: The Independent in the UK described Beasts of Balance as “Jenga for the iPhone generation”. It’s quite true. Both Jenga and Beasts of Balance share the same core idea of balancing and stacking towers. However, Beasts of Balance’s take on this is far more elaborate. Do you think the fundamentals of what people find entertaining, or what people want in a game, changes over the generations or remains the same?
Alex Bertie: I think the fundamentals probably don’t change that much, but their expectations about what’s possible do. Digital technology has opened up so many amazing imaginative and creative avenues that it seems crazy not to embrace them and see what’s possible.
Gamers Classified: For some people, a game is just a game. They enjoy the social side of it. For others, they’re in it to win it. They’re highly competitive. Do you err towards one side more than the other in Beasts of Balance or how do you enable both kinds of people to enjoy the game to the fullest?
Alex Bertie: That’s a very timely question! The game was originally a purely co-op experience aimed primarily at families with gameplay that was both accessible for younger kids but also challenging enough for older siblings and adults. Last year we did a second Kickstarter and funded a competitive mode called Battles. Battles is a 2-3 player PvP mode that has both a free version and a premium version that involves NFC cards. Battles is launching in July this year and brings a whole new type of play to Beasts of Balance, so whatever kind of player you are Beasts of Balance has you covered!
Gamers Classified: Computer games often get updates and patches. Are you able to reveal what new additions to Beasts of Balance we can expect to see in the near future? Are there any new or emerging technologies that you think will be able to add to the experience of Beasts of Balance?
Alex Bertie: There’s a huge new expansion coming in July with the release of Battles and we have a range of new add-ons that are being launched in September that bring new gameplay, introduce new Beasts and multiply the number of potential digital Beasts players can add to their Bestiary. We also have some exciting new, as yet unannounced things coming out later this year. So players should expect regular app updates packed with new features and upgrades throughout the rest of the year and beyond.
Gamers Classified: The car came along, and the horse and buggy became a relic. The Internet came along, and the encyclopedia became a prop rather than a resource. They lost their value but there’s a part of us that still finds it hard to part with them. They still have their charm. Call it nostalgia. Is the same likely going to happen to traditional board games?
Alex Bertie: Tabletop games are having a huge renaissance right now, largely thanks to Kickstarter, and that fundamental experience of getting together to play with friends or family is pretty deep in all of us. We think that that experience has the potential to be enhanced with digital technology, but it’s still based on that great tradition of sitting around and playing together face to face!