16 January 2019
One of the founding fathers of modern video games is making his way across to the tabletop.
Nolan Bushnell co-founded Atari, the home console and video game maker that defined much of the 1970s with games such as Pong, Asteroids and Missile Command.
Bushnell’s latest venture is X2 Games, a games and technology studio co-founded with Zai Ortiz, a Hollywood creative director who has worked on films including Mission Impossible, Sherlock Holmes, Thor and Tron Legacy. Ortiz was responsible for the hologram visuals of J.A.R.V.I.S., the artificial intelligence from Marvel’s Iron Man movies.
The studio’s first mix of tech and gameplay is St. Noire, a board game that uses a companion app (‘skill’) for Amazon’s Alexa AI home speaker to drive a murder-mystery puzzle.
The co-operative game combines Alexa’s narration and audio effects, such as voice acting, with a physical board and cards. Players move between locations to interview witnesses, asking Alexa to question them about specific details, such as where they were at the time of the crime. Suspects can lie, and when players visit certain locations or speak to characters can have an effect on the clues they gather.
Within the six main storylines available, the solution – as in Cluedo, you’re looking for the murderer, location and weapon used – is randomised each time. A built-in timer means that the murderer will ultimately escape if players take too long or make too many wrong guesses; playthroughs are estimated to take between 15 and 30 minutes.
St. Noire is due for release towards the end of February or at the beginning of March, and will cost between $30 and $40 in the US.
It’s not the first hybrid board game to use Alexa as a narrator and game master, though. Last year’s When in Rome, from the creators of app-connected stacking game Beasts of Balance, used the AI as a quizmaster during a travel trivia game and was the first in the ‘Voice Originals’ series of Alexa-powered games.
In our review, we found it to be “a promising next step for the idea of tech on the tabletop” but noted its lack of staying power – maybe St. Noire might be just what we need to make Alexa a regular at the table. You can watch a swish trailer for the game over on the St. Noire website.