17 October 2018
Is Amazon's AI Alexa welcome at the table?
After so effectively making the case for iPads at the table with its charming tablet-connected stacking game Beasts of Balance, UK studio Sensible Object has turned its attention to inviting another piece of home tech to join in with the fun and games.
When In Rome is the first in the Voice Originals series of games designed to be played with the assistance of Amazon’s smart speaker AI Alexa, who here serves as quizmaster during a globehopping travel trivia game.
There is a physical board and pieces to track the teams’ current locations and the ‘friends’ they’ve made by correctly answering questions, as well as upgrade cards activated by speaking certain commands (which opt for using amusing triggers such as “Fetch the flamethrower” rather than the dull keywords you might expect), but they're largely unnecessary: Alexa gives detailed tips on where each team can fly next, meaning you could easily do away with the physical layout, as attractive and well-produced as it is.
It is Alexa who shines here, with lively and genuinely entertaining writing that belies her robotic nature. Questions are read by real-life inhabitants of the cities and go beyond worn-out clichés; we eagerly soaked up knowledge about local foodstuffs in Mumbai and myths in Hong Kong. Each answer is given a good amount of explanation – and wrong guesses are met with friendly, natural jabs. Though Alexa can occasionally be a little too over-wordy, she is easily hurried along with the right phrase – a single playthrough never feels exhaustingly drawn-out.
When In Rome is a promising next step for the idea of tech on the tabletop, but it’s better approached as a passing curio than a game to be captivated by. Unlike Beasts of Balance, which remained rooted in the physical experience, the components and gameplay here feel overshadowed by their digital counterpart. That said, the virtual experience is top-notch – when Alexa shows a little more love to the analogue side of things, we won’t hesitate to invite her back to our game night.
Designer: George Buckenham, Alex Fleetwood
Artist: Steve Bachmayer
Time: 30-120 minutes
This review originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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