ePawn Arena is the digital board game tabletop that brings the likes of Dungeons and Dragons to life. This screen isn't a tablet. It's not a touchscreen and it doesn't work with RFID. It recognizes little figurines using patented magnetic technology and it's super responsive.
With tablets and video games becoming such hot commodities, you'd think that traditional board games would have all but gone the way of the dodo, but they haven't been knocked out yet. There are still enthusiasts who love smelling the plastic on a new hand-painted figurine, creating worlds in their head as well as on a table top and participating in something where you still play together in the same room.
ePawn's CEO Christophe Duteil tells us he's coming from that world and wants to mix traditional board games with digital elements to make them more interactive and immersive than ever. The digital board hooks up to either a PC, Android or iOS device and displays the app over to the tabletop screen.
For example, in a demo we saw, figurines placed on the Arena can interact with each other. One figurine will be able to attack another with magic spells blasting each other on the screen. If a map is programmed with "walls" the attacking figurine's spells will be blocked and no effects will be shown.
In another demo, ePawn had an iOS air hockey game connected to the Arena, and we used 3D-printed strikers (with embedded magnetic chips) to play a round — as if the Arena was a touchscreen.
The possibilities are endless. Rather than buy multiple boards, the Arena would be the only board gamers would ever need. One board, a million different maps or games. All you would need would be to buy new figurines, much along the same lines as Skylanders for the Nintendo 3DS.
Duteil is still shopping the Arena around. He's hoping to ramp up interest in it so that more games (currently only about five) will support the digital board. ePawn is shooting for a target price of about $400 for a 26-inch Arena and hopes to have them out later this year.
The benefit to the magnetic technology is that responsiveness is actually faster than on a touchscreen. From what we saw, the technology looks promising, but that $400 is still a huge sum for a digital board game.
Posted on location at CES 2012 in Las Vegas.
All photos taken by Raymond Wong for DVICE. Video shot and edited by Raymond Wong for DVICE.