Update 2/08: Hasbro's representation has sent us a statement about the usage of AI in future games: “We’re very excited about the partnership with Xplored, but want to clarify that this partnership is centered around future applications within board games and not the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game or its upcoming virtual tabletop.”

Last week, Hasbro, publisher of Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, and dozens of other board games, announced that it will be partnering with Xplored, the creators of Teburu, a digital board game system that integrates physical and digital elements. Hasbro says that the collaboration will help it explore “the integration of smart-sensing technology, AI, and dynamic multimedia”, as well as enable it to “deliver innovative gameplay to our players and fans, limitless digital expansions to physical games, seamless onboarding, and powerful AI-driven game mechanics.”

One of these things is not like the others. I think technology that makes playing games easier for newcomers is always a good thing – the rules of tabletop games can be hard to learn and tools that simplify the process can be a huge help. As someone who loves running one-shots of new games with my friends, I’m all too familiar with the teething pains of learning a new game and having to flip furiously through rulebooks while trying to explain mechanics to other players. For this reason, I think Xplored’s Teburu platform is very cool. It uses RFID tags, bluetooth, and smart devices to supplement games. It uses smart miniatures with LEDs and RFIDs in the bases to communicate information about characters to players. It can even automatically count dice rolls for you and do character sheet math instantly, which saves both time and headaches.

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However, I balk at the inclusion of AI in Dungeons & Dragons. The last big technology craze was NFTs in 2021, which has since crashed and burned spectacularly. AI is now supplanting that, and generative AI has exploded in popularity. Students use ChatGPT for essays, Twitter guys use Midjourney to make fake cosplay photos, and TikTokers feed their faces into the algorithm for fun. Companies are jumping on board the same way they did with NFTs – with reckless abandon and very little thought as to what value this actually provides to their customers. When asked by GamesRadar for more information as to how it plans to incorporate AI into its games, Hasbro Gaming SVP and general manager Adam Biehl said, “We plan to use AI and other software capabilities to create dynamic experiences that can instantly react to player decisions and rules resolution without the complexity of lengthy instructions.”

On its face, this sounds fine. It sounds similar to how video games use artificial intelligence, and it would definitely make diving into new games easier for players. However, it’s also very lacking in specifics. When asked how the technology would impact long-running games like Dungeons & Dragons, Biehl said, “We feel that the applications of this new technology will allow us to both enrich our current portfolio of games and expand our horizons to entirely new games”. My fear is that Hasbro will eventually use AI to encroach on the traditional experience of D&D, which prizes collaborative storytelling and face-to-face interaction. The worst-case scenario would be that they make it so you can run games entirely without a Dungeon Master, which would truly defeat the point of the game. I don’t necessarily believe they’ll make this mistake, but again, that’s the worst case.

I’m not excited to see AI enter the tabletop game space, but digital media has been included in these spaces already, with varying degrees of success. For the most part, I enjoyed the digital media included in the Hunt A Killer games, though I think that often companies include digital aspects because it’s the cool thing to do and not because the game necessarily benefits from it. I really don’t want Hasbro to start shoehorning AI in its games if that technology isn’t addressing an existing need, and I especially don’t want them to make Dungeons & Dragons less fun in the name of bringing the game into the modern age. Please Hasbro, don’t try to fix what doesn’t need fixing.

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