Readers of this blog know that I love mobile implementations of some of my favourite boardgames, even going so far as preferring the app version of some of them.
One of my favourite boardgame apps is Ascension, where I’ve logged just over 5000 multiplayer games, both asynchronous (with buddies all over the world) and synchronous (with my wife). It’s the most beautiful solution because it gives you a choice of how you want to play.
Asynchronous multiplayer is very important to me as an app user, because many of my boardgaming friends don’t live near me. They live in different time zones, sometimes even half-way around the world.
Real-time (Synchronous multiplayer is often called that) multiplayer just doesn’t work for me very often. It certainly doesn’t work for gaming with my buddies, though I occasionally do play real-time games of Ticket to Ride with opponents who are in the lobby of that app.
How important is asynchronous multiplayer to you, as an app user?
Maybe an explanation of what asynchronous (async) multiplayer means might help some of you.
Basically, async multiplayer means that you log into the game, see the state of the board (and hopefully actually see a replay of what your opponent has done), and then take your turn. Once you’re finished, you log out and go mow the yard (or whatever it is you’re doing).
Your opponent can take his/her turn in a few minutes, or when they get back from that U2 concert that they went to, three hours from now.
In this day and age where we all live busy lives, it can often be the only way we’re going to play one of these apps with our buddies.
It’s hard enough organizing our local game group to meet somewhere to play games. How about when there’s a 4-hour time difference?
“Ralph, want to play a game of Jaipur?”
“I can’t. I have to go to bed. I have to be up tomorrow morning early.”
“What do you mean? It’s just dinner time!”
“I’m in Nova Scotia, don’t you remember?”
“Oh, yeah. Whoops. Ok, have a good night.”
In it, he was asked about multiplayer.
Here was his response:
It is a challenging task for Asmodee Digital to be able to always propose a state-of-the-art multiplayer experience for each of our games. First, we are building probably the largest and broadest catalog of digital board games and each of our games has its own gameplay, mechanics, favored multiplayer mode (synchronous, asynchronous, pass & play) which makes it difficult to have a consistent approach on multi-player. Some of our games are distributed games meaning we have a limited say and influence on the direction taken to develop the multiplayer mode(s).
Fundamentally, this debate is between asynchronous and real-time multiplayer, and we are firmly on the side of real-time. The instantaneous reaction to player moves and the ability to engage in real time through chat are as important a part of the digital board game experience as they are in playing physical board games, and that’s something we want to encourage as much as possible.
We certainly understand why asynchronous multiplayer is so popular, and it’s something that we’ll consider implementing in the future on a case-by-case basis. But for now, our focus is on making the most stable and enjoyable real-time multiplayer experiences we can.
Asmodee later said this didn’t quite “sum up” their attitude towards async multiplayer and requested that this be added:
We strongly support asynchronous games! Synchronous games are more difficult to develop, while asynchronous games can be played in real time. Our technology is based on the asynchronous paradigm.
My first response is that the second answer really doesn’t seem to match the first one at all. If they find it easier to develop asynchronous games, then why don’t they? Ticket to Ride and Potion Explosion work beautiful asynchronously (though they desperately need replays so you can see what your opponent(s) did).
Yet Jaipur, a card game that would work beautifully asynchronously, doesn’t have it?
What the hell?
I really just don’t get it. If it’s easier to make asynchronous games, then why are they “firmly on the side of real-time?”
I get that real-time multiplayer can be a more pleasant experience. You’re seeing what your opponent does in response to your move, while your move and strategy is still in your mind.
I also get the knock against playing async with some random dudes who you don’t know. You don’t know if they’ll stick with the game, if they’ll abandon it and leave you hanging, or what.
But that’s why you just play async with your friends. You know they won’t leave you (unless you did something to piss them off).
I agree that some games don’t work asynchronously. There’s too much player interaction to make it convenient.
Colt Express is one game that you can play asynchronously online at Boardgame Arena. But in the app, it’s real-time only. After trying it async, I definitely agree it needs to be real-time.
But the lobby is a wasteland.
Since I started writing this post 20 minutes ago, I joined a game set up to be a 3-player game. It was set up by somebody else.
I’m typing, and we’re still waiting for a third player to join.
I think I have successfully played one multiplayer game of Colt Express since the app came out earlier this year.
That’s really pathetic.
(Note: as I type this, a third player did join, so I’ll be playing while typing this, but my point still stands)
I do hope that Asmodee’s clarification statement is more indicative of what future apps may bring, but the fact that they aren’t even considering async for Jaipur is not a good sign.
One final point before I go.
The thing about async multiplayer is that you can actually play it synchronously as well! That’s how my wife and I play Ascension. So really, if you’re putting async multiplayer in, you can still have the real-time experience.
So why not do it?
Do you play game apps real-time? Do you prefer async multiplayer?
Let me know in the comments.