No new board game this week, but the introduction of a new playmate, who can even explain the rules to you.

Christmas isn’t that far behind us, and maybe you got a board game as a gift. Possibly Les Aventuriers du Rail, an excellent choice for a gentle introduction to this hobby.

But even if it is familiar and accessible, it is not always easy to assimilate the rules of a new game. And, admittedly, it’s often quite off-putting. Hence the sad fate reserved for many boxes: to gather dust in a cupboard, for lack of having someone on hand to accompany you in your first part.

That’s probably what Days of Wonder, the game’s publisher, and the team at Alexa, Amazon’s virtual PDA, had in mind.

Source : Days of Wonder

Source: Days of Wonder

The two partners have thus jointly developed two Alexa skills, one for each of the main versions of the game; the basic one, with its map of the United States, and its European counterpart. The skills allow to add new features to a device integrating Alexa (an Echo Dot speaker as far as we are concerned). Just install them, then call the assistant to ask for the weather, a recipe, listen to the latest news, etc. Aventuriers du Rail skills offer to explain the rules of the game to you, and even to play with you.

Alexa, explain the rules to me.

The first feature, which will be of interest to those who have difficulty reading and assimilating a rule of the game, allows you to free yourself from this somewhat painful step. When the skill is launched, Alexa offers to explain them to you. It can even be adapted, depending on whether you have already played one or the other version of the game.

The explanations are clear and precise. They start with a presentation of the material and its implementation, then go on to describe the different actions that can be carried out in turn and how to score points.

Source : Days of Wonder

Source: Days of Wonder

In case of doubt, he may be asked to repeat a specific rule point (“Alexa, repeat”), or even to rephrase his explanation (“Alexa, rephrase”). In addition to the complete rules, it is possible to question it during the game in case of doubt, and a reminder is made when a situation is encountered for the first time. It takes about 20 minutes to really get into the game.

The whole is clear and well structured. Of course, it lacks the spontaneity and adaptability of a human-made explanation, which can bounce off the audience’s reactions. For a relatively simple game like Les Aventuriers du Rail, this seemed more suitable than video rules. More interactive and less intrusive.

Alexa, play with me

The second feature offered by the skill allows Alexa to assume the role of a player. You can also use it as a simple referee, to count the scores, the other usual sticking point in addition to the rules.

Alexa’s integration as a player is quite successful. She shares the tray and destination cards with the other participants, but has her own set of wagon cards. Without unbalancing the game too much, it makes it easier to play the game. Otherwise, the rhythm would have been chopped and the experience would have been ruined.

Source : Days of Wonder

Source: Days of Wonder

You just have to place your pawns on her when she asks you, tell her it’s her turn to play, and indicate which player takes which road (“Alexa, blue takes the road from Marseille to Barcelona”). It can detect errors (if a player wants to take a road or a station that is already occupied), and guess when to skip his turn.

At the end of the game, after indicating the destination maps of all the human players, she takes care of calculating the scores and announcing the ranking.

She also livens up the game by broadcasting traditional musical themes from the countries in which a road has just been built. It’s totally kitsch, but, paradoxically, catchy and fun. You get caught whistling Italian, Russian or German tunes.

Alexa, new way to consume board games?

To the question “Should we buy an Alexa aircraft specifically for Les Aventuriers du Rail? ” the answer is clearly no. The investment is not worth it. On the other hand, if you already have both, it would be a shame not to take advantage of it.

Alexa’s explanations of the rules are a big plus, which will help many families. Of course, this phase lacks fluidity and flexibility compared to a human. Still, not everyone can explain a rule well.

However, the skill is not without blame. It got stuck a few times, or left unexpectedly. Fortunately, a backup is made in real time, and Alexa proposes to continue the current game as soon as it is reactivated. It can also take several tries before she understands which road has just been taken by a player. To his credit, some Eastern European cities are not easy to pronounce for a Frenchman. The developers of the skill, contacted by us, assure that these problems will be fixed in a future iteration.

Source : Days of Wonder

Source: Days of Wonder

Already knowing the game well, it is as an additional player that we have essentially used it, over a dozen games. And she didn’t make a fool of herself, far from it. Of course, she never finished first, but she never finished last either (except for two-player games). And once you’ve taken the trick of saying “Alex, it’s your turn”, its integration is quite natural and doesn’t pose any particular problem (apart from the few bugs mentioned above). We simply regret that only one level of difficulty is proposed: we would have liked to have been able to adapt it according to the experience of the participants.

The game is also available in electronic version on different supports. But the big advantage of Alexa, is that you keep the tactile aspect of the material. You manipulate the cards, shuffle them, place your wagons on the board, etc. It’s still a board game, not a video game. Even if you can hit the “society” side when you play one-on-one with a machine…

Without being perfect, this first experience is rather successful. Especially if you already own a compatible device. Otherwise, buying one specifically for that purpose seems a bit unreasonable. Instead, try to find someone to explain the game to you and play it with you. Given his success, it shouldn’t be too difficult.

On the other hand, we are quite curious to discover the next skills developed to play with Alexa. And especially curious about the adaptations to the rules imagined by the editors and Amazon to overcome the constraints imposed by the possibilities of the devices. Because, on reflection, they eliminate a number of them.

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