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It's not all electronic: tabletop games of E3 2014

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Anna Washenko

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Visitors of the IndieCade booth play a tabletop game called Grow, where players accrue points by building a tree

Visitors of the IndieCade booth play a tabletop game called Grow, where players accrue points by building a tree Photo: Mashable / Jeff Petriello

This post was originally published on Mashable.

At an event called the Electronic Entertainment Expo, you’d expect to see lots of screens.

True to form, there are computers, smartphones, tablets, and projectors everywhere. But at the IndieCade booth, attendees got the chance to look at some innovative new projects that are all about analog.

Stephanie Barish, the founder and CEO of IndieCade, said that the inclusion of physical and tabletop games at their booth was just a part of the organization’s ethos.

“People are just looking for good games,” she said. IndieCade had a wide range of formats on display, with tabletop, mobile, virtual reality, console and PC platforms represented.

This year’s tabletop games ranged from the traditional — such as conversation card game called What?!? Oh… by Games Without Strings — to the futuristic, with a mobile game called Monstermatic that lets players design and 3D print a small monster figurine.

One eye-catching project at the booth was titled Grow. T.A. Pribbenow, who goes by Tap, was one of the three creators who made this game. The trio met at the Savannah College of Art and Design studying interactive design and games, and Grow initially began as a class project.

While it may have started as a school assignment, Grow is now many more things. Part competitive building game, part sculpture creation, it tasks players with constructing a tree, starting with the trunk, then adding branches, leaves, flowers and bugs. The longer the chain of flora, the more points a player can score.

Tap said that while his team probably had the skills to make a digital project, they began Grow as a physical concept. Soon, they were entranced by the simple idea of a group of friends sitting around a table and building, and any thoughts of a digital version quickly fell by the wayside.

When asked about the reaction of E3 attendees to seeing his tabletop creation, Tap said the response had been positive. He didn’t feel that the choice of medium or the presence of so many digital games had any impact on the quality of Grow in the eyes of either visitors or his fellow exhibitors.

“They’re all just games,” Tap said. “We belong as much as anyone.”

Another physical game that made a visible mark on the booth was Bloom, with several of the hot pink creations dotting the IndieCade landscape. Bloom first took shape for the Wonder series of competitions held by the city of London in advance of the 2012 Olympic Games. It was an art installation, constructed by designers, but visitors could change the layout of the existing pieces and create totally new, organic shapes. That original project involved 60,000 identical pieces of flexible plastic.

The team is now retailing Bloom on a smaller scale, calling it a building toy, but the game still has strong ties to that original artistic purpose. Bloom has been displayed as an art installation at galleries and at festivals. In a nod to the public art roots of the game, the team gave away a piece to anybody who visited their station.

“It’s a token of participation,” said Jose Sanchez, adding that the game was really all about community.

Sanchez was one of the two people who came up with Bloom for the London competition. The Chilean-born designer was an architecture professor at the University College London at the time and worked on the proposal with Alisa Andrasek.

During the conceptual stages of the game, the team relied on computer simulations to hone the final shape of the repeated piece. This allowed them to test out different nuances of size and shape — showing them just how many ways the single item could be combined. When the pieces are attached in certain patterns, they can create ring, spiral or fractal shapes. 

But that community experience could only be achieved with a physical game that people could touch and build together.

Bloom was also getting a delighted reception from E3 visitors.

“People that start giving it a go, they start really enjoying it,” Sanchez said.

Even though some people may immediately associate the word ‘games’ with ‘video games,’ the IndieCade E3 booth served as an excellent reminder of how fun can still be had in the analog roots of play. Today’s independent game developers know that the ability to bring people together with games isn’t restricted to any network or medium. It’s exciting to see them quite literally bring their talent, passion and creativity to the table.

Mashable is the largest independent news source covering digital culture, social media and technology.

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