Subbuteo VR and Five Other Boardgames That Deserve a Virtual Reality Makeover

By Gerald Lynch on at

Missing pieces. Long-forgotten rules. A 12-sided dice short of a dungeon raid. For every good memory of table top boardgames, there's at least one frustrating one to go with them, from the cat scattering the Scrabble board to Dad slyly pocketing a £100 note as the Monopoly banker.

While enthusiast gaming groups and a slew of smart modern boardgames keep the dice-rolling tradition alive, most kids these days would rather sit in front of an Xbox with FIFA than start ironing the Subbuteo pitch. But, with the advent of virtual reality headsets, there's never been a better time for a tech-fuelled revival of the charity shop staple. Here's a few classic boardgames that we think could do some really interesting things in virtual reality.

*Note also that, in some cases, these games would work even better in an augmented reality set up, through a headset that allows digital objects to seem to appear in your real world. But that'll remain a pipedream, at least until Microsoft's HoloLens gets off the ground. In the meantime, these shouldn't be beyond the realm of possibility with a PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset.

Subbuteo VR

Kicking off, quite literally, with that top image up there, Subbuteo is rife for a VR makeover. First made in 1946 before becoming a huge childhood phenomenon when reintroduced in the 1970s and 1980s, Subbuteo had you flicking wobbly plastic footballers around a cloth pitch that, yes, you had to iron creases out of every time you fancied a game. Collecting adornments for your "stadium", such as stands, dugouts, DIY-painted teams and linesmen, became almost as addictive as the game itself.

But those pieces were pretty brittle and you'd end up with a sore flicking finger after a hard-fought game. With Subbuteo VR, not only would the ironing board stay in the cupboard, but motion controllers could do the work of your calloused fingers. Plus, those little wobbly footballers could come to life, animated in stadiums as grand as your imagination could muster.

Operation VR

Now, you could argue that this one's already been kinda done by the fine folks over at Bossa Studios with Surgeon Simulator VR: Meet the Medic. But where that game uses intentionally-wonky motion controls to turn you into the Harold Shipman of digital surgeons, Operation VR could focus on precision as you get to work on a life-sized version of that red-nosed lost cause. You could even mix up the surgical instruments needed for each operation in the digital game, as well as offering different patients with different ailments.

But just imagine the fear that'll kick in when that guy's honker flashes and he sits bolt upright screaming right in front of you. Just terrifying.

Warhammer VR

Having just had a massively-successful PC game built around the franchise, I'd say one thing's clear about the niche tabletop war gaming hobby – more people would be into it if it wasn't such a faff to set up.

First, you've got to buy a tonne of the pricey models. Then you've got to paint them (admittedly a fun part). Then you've got to find a sizable stretch of floor or table to take over for a few hours, and then you've got to figure out the arcane rules.

A virtual reality version of Warhammer however could play it quite simple, taking a few leaves from Creative Assembly's Total War: Warhammer book. Rules could appear on the fly as pop-ups as you needed to learn them, battles could be any epic size your hardware supports, and the clash of swords and grunts of goblins could all play out animatedly beneath you, as you stand tall over your fantasy front line like a giant digital Gandalf. It'd make the Star Wars Holochess game look like noughts and crosses.

Mousetrap VR

Mousetrap could be so fantastically different in virtual reality as to make it almost another game entirely. The original boardgame has you constructing a simple Rube Goldberg machine that, when completed, could be triggered to catch mice (the players) that are racing around the board trying to collect the game-winning cheese.

For anyone that's played Fantastic Contraption VR, you can see how the Mousetrap idea could be expanded on significantly. Imagine the game split into two parts. The first could give you a large bird's-eye view of the board, complete with a toolbox of parts with which to construct as complex a capture contraption as you could imagine. The second part would have you play the game, but from the mouse's point of view, with all the whirling parts and Wallace and Gromit-like mechanics clattering away around you.

'BE THE MOUSE'. I can see the tagline already.

Buckaroo VR

Now this one would be a perfect fit for the room-scale madness that is the HTC Vive. The timeless steady hand game that sees you stacking stuff up on an overworked, pissed-off mule, a VR version of Buckaroo could put basically any giant beast on the verge of a meltdown in your living room, ready to be tentatively walked around. Imagine trying to gently place a saddle on the back of a huffin'an'puffin T-Rex.

Come to think of it, a towering, multi-story virtual reality version of Jenga might work well like this too. It'd probably be a real shock seeing the huge blocks fall down towards you (though you'd have to have advanced controllers with a nuanced sense of physical feedback to really make the game's wood-block tension play anything like the real thing).

Escape From Colditz VR

Hey, it's that number-one smash-hit childhood favourite, Escape from Colditz! Remember this one! Eh? No? No. Just me then.

Back in the days when it was perfectly acceptable to slap a swastika on the box of a children's toy, Escape from Colditz was a curiously dark boardgame. Indeed, it was the only game (that I'm aware of at least) where you start by agreeing which player is going to take the role of a Nazi prison guard.

Devised by real-life Colditz escapee Major Pat Reid, you'd each become a team of different nationality prisoners, and would explore the castle board looking for items to aid you in your escape, like wire cutters, false papers and disguises. You'd then make a run for it in a bid for freedom, hoping not to be mowed down by the machine-gun dice of the Nazi player. It's a bit like Cluedo, but with a side helping of fascism.

With a rulebook the length of a bible, the VR Colditz game could offer on-the-fly floating tool-tip rules, and offer a series of perspectives on the action – an overhead view for strategic planning, and a ground-level view to get a real feel for what it would have been like to have been a prisoner of war.

Or you could just play Pop-Up Pirate. Bit cheerier, that.


Anything we've missed out? A classic boardgame you'd love to see revived in the matrix? Let us know in the comments section below.