Mixing Physical Play with Digital Devices

Is 2016 the year of augmented reality? Digital meets real world interaction, our gameplay is changing and it’s exciting to see new ways to play and learn. After a string of virtual reality headsets took to the market recently, there has been a boom in virtual world development. And the new launch of Pokémon Go has set the conversation of digital-meets-real-world-fun ablaze.

It’s exciting to see a digital world overlaid onto our physical world; that’s the gist of augmented reality. While we often lament the takeover of screen time in our daily lives, it’s not fair to lump all games and digital experiences into the mindless timewasters category.

I’m intrigued and besotted with the concept of mixing the two worlds together. The realm of crossover imagination is a place where we can express the creativity and ideas inside our head, and combining that idea with our reality. Many of them combine my love of board games with online play, and there are a few games out there that are really thoughtful and well made, so here are a few that stand out.



Koski augmented reality building block board game on NONAGONstyle

I love the basic simplicity of encouraging our kids to play with wooden blocks in this straightforward but thoughtful prototype game by Václav Mlynář. These blocks also happen to have magnetic joints to all of them to build up stable creations, and create new worlds.

NONAGONstyle and the virtual reality board game Koski

NONAGONstyle and the virtual reality board game Koski

The blocks and boards themselves are well designed and pleasingly aesthetic. But as many children these days are demanding time with devices and screen time, this is a fun way to use both the physical and make-believe.

Koski augmented reality building block board game on NONAGONstyle

Koski augmented reality building block board game on NONAGONstyle

A touchscreen device works as the mirror-mirror-on-the-wall, with the camera picking up on the objects in front of it. It allows players to build the physical world, and virtual characters are imposed on the screen.


Koski augmented reality building block board game on NONAGONstyle

There are tokens that are used to create ladders, trees and waterfalls, which the characters can interact with. While at the moment Mlynář’s game software is in development, I can see how this could be totally used in other settings. Games involving your favorite Disney princesses or cartoon characters, for example, would really offer many different universes for play. It would break up the sameness of screen time, because of the interaction with real world objects.

virtual reality board game by RCA graduate Mylar on NONAGONstyle

KOSKI was part of Mlynář’s display at the Royal College of Art ShowRCA 2016 exhibition, and I asked him a few questions about KOSKI and whether he worries about too much screen time.

What inspired you to put this KOSKI game together?
I have loved building blocks games since I was a little kid. When I was thinking about my final work at RCA, the building block game topic struck me straight away. It was very exciting to create my own dream game.
Do you have kids of your own?
I do not have kids, but I have two baby brothers. We always play together with Lego and other building block games. It still fascinates me how much fun it is.
Do you think they use digital devices too much?
No. My brothers have quite strict rules about using iPads so that they don’t spend whole days in front of screens. But they both have their own tablets and like to play games or watch movies.
Are you worried about your own screen time?
Sometime it worries me a bit, because basically I spend most of my time behind my laptop. I am always happy when I can go to the workshop and work on prototypes with my hands.
How do you relax and unwind? 
I like to relax doing manual work which doesn’t require too much thinking. For example, chopping up wood or making a nice dinner. I also like all kinds of sports, but since I started studying design there is not so much time for that any more. 
Where do you think augmented reality will go next?
I think we will see more and more uses for AR and VR in the next couple of years. The possibilities with those technologies are huge. We just need to find the right way to interact with them. I think we will see a lot of AR in education, medicine and health care. Those are fields, which will be the next big thing after gaming.

Are you aiming to push this into commercial application in the near future?
Yes we do. We are now working intensively to prepare the KOSKI project for market and make final product out of it. 
How will you be developing the game further?
We are now talking with a lot of interesting people and companies, that we would like to collaborate with. It will take a few weeks to see how all the negotiating will end up, but  we see big potential for KOSKI to become something more then just one game. We want to create a new gaming platform which will allow users to play different games on top of our building blocks. The education field is also another market we are looking into. 



Beasts of Balance

Another exciting game that combines the physical and virtual is Beasts of Balance by Sensible Object. Suitable for ages six and up, it’s familiar concepts in a new format. The game play is a physical tabletop piece with elements that you hold and build, with enhanced play also taking place on an app on an iPad or tablet.
Beasts of Balance virtual reality on NONAGONstyle

Using a series of animal shapes, you aim to stack a tower in a Jenga-like attempt to make it higher and higher without it all crashing down.

Beasts Of Balance tower collapse on NONAGONstyle

The beasts used in the game look thoughtful and cool, with their many edges for stability and building up the fun. As you mix and match the animal species on the podium, they show you which cross-breeds and mixes you have made in the online world.

Beasts Of Balance Physical and Virtual gaming Boargle

I look forward to seeing how this game is growing and adding more features. Product is in development so you can pre-order now, with expected delivery in November 2016.

Beasts of Balance game on NONAGONstyle



Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

This game has been around for a year or so now, so while you’re waiting for your Beasts of Balance to ship out, you can try out Keep Talking.

While the other two games featured involve a lot of building and shaping, this game is played with clear communication and fast paced action. The basic premise is that one of the players is locked in a room with a ticking bomb, and has no idea how to deactivate it.

Keep Talking bomb game virtual and physical gameplay on NONAGONstyle

Other players, who cannot see the bomb, are in control of the bomb manual. They work as the bomb diffuser expert, who relays the information back to the player with the bomb.

Keep Talking Bomb Physical and Virtual Gameplay on NONAGONstyle

The players have to communicate without seeing the other component. And hilarity ensues. For each different bomb module there is a mini challenge, based on numbers, words and logic, with a set of complicated instructions.

You can use the PDF version of the manual online, but for ease of use it’s a good idea to print it out. It’s probably not necessary for casual play, but… I laminated the pages! It helps me out during the mad rush to find what’s going on next, and allows you to write over the top with wipe-off marker pens.

VR playing Keep Talking gameplay virtual on NONAGONstyle

It’s another fun way to combine digital and real world game play. It’s easily played on PC, but also available to play on VR headsets. Although it’s maybe a bit too complicated for the youngest kids, you are able to adapt and choose easier modules to play with older children and teenagers. And of course, it’s enjoyable for adults too! So try it out, grab a bunch of friends and divvy up the manual between you. I hope you make it through without exploding..!


Do you have a favorite game that blends digital and physical play? What do you recommend and why? Would love to hear about what you and your kids play at home together. Have you tried the Crayola Color together? Let me know!


Update: 15th July added interview questions from Václav Mlynář.

This interview has been condensed and edited.