- Betty Chang, Jim Wallace, Phil McClelland, Dr. Stacey Scott, Dr. Mark Hancock - University of Waterloo
- Joey Pape, Dr. Nick Graham - Queen's University
Digital tabletops present an opportunity to combine the social advantages of traditional board games with the automated features and reactive gameplay of video games. However, it is unclear whether the addition of automation enhances or detracts from the game experience. In a collaborative project between NSERC SurfNet researchers at the Queen's University and the University of Waterloo, a joint study was undertaken that investigated groups playing different versions of the cooperative board game Pandemic, with varying degrees of automation. During the study, 12 groups of players played three different versions of the Pandemic game, each version representing a different combination of media (physical, digital tabletop) and level of automation (low automation, high automation). Analysis of the study data, focused on the impact of the automation on gameplay found that the way in which changes in game state are presented strongly influence players' strategies for collaboratively understanding the game state, and affects players' trust in the fairness of computerized opponents. Furthermore, this analysis revealed that players value flexibility in the enforcement of rules, including the ability to "take back" moves, reinterpret game mechanics, and perform "what-if" scenarios. An advantage of the physical board game that should be considered in the design of future digital tabletop board games was also discovered: free table space surrounding the board game surface was used by players to readily organize and manage game-related roles, responsibilities, and resources.
Pandemic by Z-Man Games is a collaborative board game in which player's must work to cure outbreaks for disease. The spread of disease is dictated by cards drawn at the end of each turn.
A digital tabletop conversion of the Pandemic game included a "high-automation" version which automated complex and routine-in game activities (e.g. shuffling decks), enforcement of rules, game progression, and animation of game events to provide a more engaging experience.