Digitizing the Tabletop: The Hybridization of Tangible Game Spaces

Curator's Note

While often conceived of as an analog experience, board and tabletop game companies have recently begun experimenting with digital elements as part of more “tangible” games. These experiments include companion apps, app enhanced board games, and mobile versions of popular board games (Dized, 2017; Blagburn, 2018; Law, 2018). Such novel imbrications of the digital and physical, along with the renewed interest in and popularity of board and tabletop games (Graham, 2016; Boycott-Owen, 2018), necessitates scholarly attention to an older form of play. Specifically, while there exists popular and even academic proclivity to reinforce artificial demarcations between the physical and the digital, the use of mobile applications as part of board and tabletop game spaces is better conceived of through the concept of hybrid spaces, which “merge the physical and the digital in a social environment created by the mobility of users connected via mobile technology devices” (de Souza e Silva, 2006, p. 263). The examples of popular board and tabletop games MTG Arena, Hearthstone, and Key Forge elucidate some of the various practices and arrangements of hybridity that have recently begun to take shape:

Magic The Gathering: Arena, arguably the most recent hybridization of popular analog games, offers an interesting look into the digital commerce practices. The tangible version of Magic has long been touted as having an incredibly high floor for entry in terms of monetary investment; however, MTG: Arena harnesses common digital ‘microtransaction’ practices that lower the floor significantly, thus making the game accessible to those who may have balked previously.

Hearthstone is one of, if not the, most popular digital card game in the world. Interestingly, unlike MTG: Arena, Hearthstone never had a tangible release. Yet capitalizing on the immensely popular Blizzard franchises along with using tried and true card game mechanics melded with digital flare – Hearthstone offers an interesting look at the desire for the digitalization of what are normally tangible gaming experiences.

Keyforge is a unique card game released in late 2018. Neither a living card game nor collectable card game, players purchase algorithmically-generated one-of-a-kind completed decks. Fantasy Flight Games promises over 104 quadrillion possible decks, which were released alongside a companion app that allows players register their unique deck via QR code, as well as to track their wins and losses. Fantasy Flight Games promises that data collected over time will allow for balancing mechanisms to offset possible flawed deck composition.

These reconstructions of tangible game spaces through added digital elements and the use of applications necessitates reconceptualization of board and tabletop games. Here, the concept of hybrid space assists in avoiding unproductive binaries that position the physical and digital game spaces in opposition to one another. Consequently, such reconceptualization allows new instead focus on the arrangements of space, sociability, connectivity, flows, social relationships, and communication of which these hybrid game spaces are a part, as well as novel forms of monetization and data collection.






Blagburn, F. (2018, July 13). The best app-enhanced board games for all the family. Retrieved from            https://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/parenting/best-app-enhanced-board-gam...


Boycott-Owen, M. (2018, May 12). After books and vinyl, board games make a comeback. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/may/12/millennials-drive-b...


De Souza e Silva, A. (2006). From Cyber to Hybrid: Mobile Technologies as Interfaces of Hybrid Spaces. Space and Culture, 9(3), 261-278.


Dized. (2017, October 26). Board game companion apps and new ways to play: The (controversial) marriage of analog and digital. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@getDized/board-        game-companion-apps-and-new-ways-to-play-the-controversial-marriage-of-analog-and-digital-c0059a5a756


Graham, L. (2016, December 22). Millennials are driving the board games revival. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/22/millennials-the-board-games-revival-cata... pandemic.html


Law, K. (2018, May 18). The 25 Best Board-Game Mobile Apps. Retrieved from https://www.vulture.com/article/best-board-game-apps.html



Video Credits


Fantasy Flight Games (2018, November 19). KeyForge: Call of the Archons! [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O52JQjgzwbo


Hearthstone. (2018, November 21). Rastakhan's Rumble Livestream Recap [Video file].https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-BqdQthbr4


Team Covenant (2018, September 7). Learning KeyForge | How to Play FFG's Unique Deck Game [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fXSWyH6s84&t=923s


Wizards of the Coast. (2018, September 26). Magic: The Gathering Arena - Beta Gameplay Trailer (Official) [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrHjiXiRZlE


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