Games such as "Angry Birds" will always be popular on the iPad, but a new class of "appcessories" gives families the traditional board-game experience with the added plus of video and other interactive elements. The GameChanger is one of the first, putting the iPad in the middle of a fold-out interactive board. We were impressed when we tried this $79.99 accessory out at Toy Fair in February, but were things different when we brought the Game Changer home? Read on to find out.
To get started, simply slip your iPad (it doesn't matter which generation) into the connector at the center of the GameChanger board. We like the way this board is designed, as it can be folded up and essentially act as a case for your tablet. Once you have the board, (12 x 9.5 x 2.6 inches when folded up and 25 x 11 x 1 inches when open) you must download the free companion app from the App Store, and you're ready to go.
Both "Animal Mania" and "Magic School Bus"--the two titles currently available--require game skins that you slip over each side of the game board. Then, each player grabs a pawn (there are four total) and places it on the board. In Animal Mania, you start in a specific habitat (sea, jungle, desert or sky), while in "Magic School Bus" everyone starts at... Start.
"Animal Mania" and "Magic School Bus" include educational questions, the former focusing on animals and the latter on topics such as space and the human body. Players spin a wheel on the iPad's screen (the app was always responsive), which determines how many spaces they can move forward. After moving, players are usually presented with a multiple-choice question (in "Animal Mania") or are tasked with putting three objects in the correct order, such as organizing three planets from smallest to largest in the "Magic School Bus" game.
Both games take about a half hour to finish, and both are rated for ages 6 and up. For families with young kids, we can see how these titles could provide an entertaining and educational experience.
In addition to the two games that require game skins, the app supports games (there are five currently listed on its site) that simply use the GameChanger's touch-sensitive spaces to interact with the iPad. One such title, "Kaboom," has you fire cannons at your opponent while protecting your own towers. We found this game to be more fun than the two educational titles, and we imagine older kids would feel the same.
We were a bit worried when we saw how the different game skins sit loosely atop the GameChanger board--the games work by sensing your pawn's location on the board itself, so we wondered if they would really be able to detect our movements through the skins. Fortunately, the board detected our movements pretty well, though there were times when we had to press down our pawn repeatedly.
We did have one other major setback that interrupted our gameplay: The iPad's accelerometer did not rotate the screen to accommodate players sitting on either side of the board, which meant that we had to rotate the board to our friends if they didn't want to read the instructions upside-down. Our pawns slid off the board several times during this process.
We're happy to see more companies pairing tech like the iPad with an app and physical accessory for a fun gaming experience. While the GameChanger board harkens back to the days of "Life" and "Sorry!," it doesn't make a compelling case for pairing a gadget with a physical game board. At $79.99, it's not cheap, either. It's an interesting first step, but needs to be refined before it becomes a true game-changer.