Review: Tabletop Simulator (Early Access; PC)

4 mins read
Review by Owen S. 

Tabletop Simulator, like all of the successfully funded projects on Kickstarter, represents a wonderful idea. It promised much; to provide a virtual environment in which to play out classic board games as they are played in person. Griefing by flipping the board over and all. Right from the outset Tabletop Simulator gets the range right; from backgammon and checkers to far more involved games like chess, Chinese checkers and even RPG’s like Dungeons & Dragons, this package offers a virtual sandbox of games. But does it live up to the promise?

Sadly, at this stage the answer is no. If one could actually connect with other players with any degree of reliability, the experience would be better for sure, but at the moment actually playing a game is painful. Now, we like to assume that this side of things will improve, and we did review a pre-release version, but with absolutely no AI by design this piece of software makes its biggest weakness immediately obvious – it’s useless unless a stable connection for everyone involved is guaranteed.

First, let us go through the good. The game design and presentation is fantastic. It looks like a stunning virtual world in which to get engrossed. There is an extensive list of games. There is an ability to reset to the starting point with no effort whatsoever. It’s truly 3D with a fully manipulatable camera. There is even a nice, basic tutorial that makes sure everyone is comfortable in using the software.

There are 15 games already available, and it looks like the development team has plans to add more in the coming weeks and months (and years, we hope). This software is clearly a project of love, and that fact gives us plenty of hope that there will be work done on the software for years to come. It’s just that in its current state it also needs a lot of work.

In addition to the challenge in getting a game going, there’s some issues with the way you interact with the pieces. The physics engine is clunky, with pieces moving as though they’re in a thick kind of water than affected by proper gravity. Whilst great for games like checkers and backgammon, it really doesn’t work in the Dungeons & Dragons mode, where setting up a single room for an encounter can be laborous.

Finally, one of the selling points is the promise of a table flip. You know, the one where you call ‘earthquake’ in a moment of bad sportsman-like anger, pick up the board, and flip it to send pieces everywhere. It’s a fun gimmick here and does indeed ruin the game for everyone else as intended, but it doesn’t add anything either.

This review has been a wrench to write. I want this project to succeed. I want it to grow, to prosper, to resonate. And I think it will, but only when basic flaws are corrected. Please watch this space, because this is one of the rare games that we will re-review, and we will take another look at it in six months or so, when some of these critical issues have, we hope, been addressed.

– Owen S. 

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