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Tablet-Top Gaming: The Last Gameboard Finds A New Way To Merge Tech And Tabletop

The past half-decade has been called “The Golden Age of Board Gaming” by people both inside and outside the board game industry. Coinciding with the resurgence of the tabletop RPG, there’s never been a better time to gather around the dinner table for a night of fun. But the rise of tabletop has happened at a time when the world is at it’s most digital, when babies are raised on iPads and fifth graders have smartphones. In fact, it’s almost happened despite the world’s ever-growing technophilia. Many avid gamers point to one thing that tabletop gaming offers that nothing digital can: community.

Companies have been working hard to close the gap, however, whether through online RPG programs like Roll20 or digital versions of board games (on Steam or mobile). Most of these try to move the community experience of board gaming into the digital sphere. However, outside of the supplementary apps publishers are starting to release with their games, there haven’t been many attempts to bring the digital into the community tabletop space. But a new company, founded by a lifelong gamer and a hardware mastermind, is hoping to finally mix the peanut butter and the chocolate with today’s Kickstarter launch of their brand new gaming device: Gameboard-1. It will be the first release of Colorado-based startup The Last Gameboard, a culmination of over a year’s worth of planning, testing, and, most importantly, gaming.

From Table To Tablet

Co-Founders Rob Wyatt (left) and Shail Mehta (left) in their Boulder, CO office.

The company was founded to answer a simple question: why wasn’t there a console that could recognize game pieces? This was the problem that set co-founder Shail Mehta down the path to Gameboard-1. An Indian immigrant, Mehta has been playing games since she was a child, finding within them a sense of community otherwise difficult to attain as an immigrant learning English. In a Medium post titled “My Love Letter To Gamers”, Mehta describes herself as a “techie, an entrepreneur, a mom,” who found her way into gaming through Settlers of Catan and soon enough sound that board games became a source of escape and enchantment, and board game NIGHTS doing much the same.

“I got to actually “see” people. Friends new and old weren’t just faces streaming by in a collection of photos or texts. We laughed, we told jokes, we solved puzzles, we built railways, we made memories.” 

This was the community she wanted to foster and help grow without the “lefts” that held it back: pieces left in other places, games left at other’s houses, people being left out. Her search led her to Rob Wyatt, an unsung hero of console gaming who worked on Microsoft’s DirectX program, was the systems architect on the original Xbox console, and was the initial lead on the Atari VCS console (a position he only recently left). The two found that many of the problems with Wyatt’s world of video gaming, like alienation or depression, could be solved by the very community that Mehta was hoping to capture.

“Hobby gaming has thrived in our society because of it’s fundamental truth, it brings people together. Face to face.”

The new “console” hopes to address many of the drawbacks of analog gaming (set up and takedown, inability to save, organizing components, etc.) while still keeping the parts Wyatt and Mehta love. The founded The Last Gameboard in January of this year, and have been working tirelessly since then to get ready for today’s big launch. In the meantime, they’ve already made some buzz at startup competitions, winning second place at Denver StartUp Week and being named a “Top 100 Rising Startup” at The 2019 Startup Of The Year Summit in Memphis (where they’ll compete for a Top 5 place and up to 100k in investments later this month).

One Board. All Play

Gameboard-1 is, in many ways, a souped-up tablet. Measuring 16″x16″, with a 1″ bezel in the first run, it uses a square screen to maximize screen real estate. At the heart of the device is a brand new technology called Sense Screen that makes physical and digital interactions better than ever. Developed and patented by The Last Gameboard, Sense Screen mixes antennas with innovative touch screen technology to allow Gameboard-1 to interact with multiple objects at once, both digital and physical. The devices are built so that they can connect to each other, allowing for groups to create larger gameplay areas as needed, and also feature integration with personal screens (ie phones) to let games have a more specialized view of the game. However, the thing that really makes Gameboard-1 stand out, however, is how it uses game pieces.

The screen of the device is built to detect almost any object placed on it based on size, orientation, and location. But the real show is in the tagging system. Using both “passive” and “active” tags, individual pieces like miniatures can be detected with extreme accuracy by the board. They also store information about your game, meaning that you could take a tagged mini of your D&D character from one game to the next, using two different board, and have their health, XP, level, and other stats ready to go without having to connect to the internet or whip out notes. There’s even tagged playing cards to use in the game.

The company hopes to reduce the size of the device’s bezel as time goes on

The big question on everyone’s mind has been the question of dice. We can’t exactly be hucking little chunks of plastic (or worse) at our expensive console! The Last Gameboard has apparently come up with FOUR solutions to this issue that they hope can appease even the hardiest of old-school dice throwers. The most obvious ones are digital, with the device having digital dice built-in and the company providing an app for mobile that lets players still have the motion of dice rolling. In the physical world, they’ve developed a “Dice Bowl Reader” that can detect up to five of any dice you might want to use, and are working to develop Bluetooth-enabled dice that can be rolled anywhere and still communicate with the device.

What Can We Play?

While the digital device and its components make up the core of The Last Gameboard, they’ve also worked to ensure their game library is as comprehensive as possible.  They’ve already gotten 100 games committed to the platform, including deals with Paizo and Wizards of The Coast to let players move their Pathfinder or D&D campaigns onto Gameboard-1. Games are downloaded over wi-fi and can be used even without a connection, working much the same way a cardboard board game might. They also have partnered with Serenity Forge (Pixel Galaxy), and plan for the device to be a platform for fully-digital gaming as well. Players can access the game library through a subscription fee, which includes access to D20Pro, or choose to buy and download individual games. Developers will find tools to develop for the platform starting in January 2020, leaving plenty of time to increase their library by the launch in Q4 of 2020.

Gameboard-1 launched today on Kickstarter, where it starts at $349 and allows you to subscribe to their game library for three, six, of twelve months. You can also choose to reserve a game board, in case you want to see how it develops over the next year or just want to save some money. The Kickstarter is not meant as a make-or-break for the company, instead acting as a way to gauge demand as they work towards more funding. Still, it’s a way to get your hands on a new and very cool device almost a year before its launch.

What do you think? Do you think this’ll change your board game style, or are you going to stick with cardboard? Sound off in the comments, and keep an eye on the Fandomentals for more news from the world of tabletop!

All images via The Last Gameboard LLC

Dan Arndt
Written By

Fiction writer, board game fanatic, DM Currently working towards an MFA. If you have a dog, I'd very much like to pet it. Operating out of Wichita and Indianapolis.

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