Xplored on AR board game platform Teburu, World Of Darkness and the rise of “phygital” gaming

It felt like the early to mid-2010s were the height of phygital gaming. Skylanders and Disney Infinity led the way with the whole toy-to-life genre, but we’ve also had the likes of Rock Band, the Wii U, and even less popular attempts like the Wonderbook. With the collapse of Disney Infinity in 2015, it felt like augmented reality was over for video games, but the spirit of the days had quietly continued in the board game space. From simple free services like Magic: The Gathering’s Spelltable to more ambitious projects like the Tilt Five powered by AR glasses, the table has picked up where video games left off.

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A particularly exciting project is Teburu from Xplored. Marketed as a kind of “console for board games”, it has been a staple at gaming events since its reveal in 2019. Combining digital services with physical game pieces, Teburu recently got a big boost with a partnership recently announced with Paradox Interactive to bring the classic World of Darkness tabletop franchise to the platform.

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It’s easy to watch Teburu and not be entirely sure what you’re watching. Is it an AR thing? Is it toys to life? Is it one of those metaverse things the New York Times keeps talking about? According to Garofalo, no precisely. At its basic level, Davide Garofalo, CEO of Xplored, describes it as “a smart board, smart minis, wireless dice, an LED ring, and an interconnected game app.” The map has sensors to detect RFID chips inside each figure, which can track their location and even the state of the game piece – keeping a count of their stats, gear and condition, for example. Figures can also be upgraded with the LED ring to show, for example, where an enemy is vulnerable. However, this is not intended for use with Xplored’s collaboration with Paradox on the first of its World of Darkness games, Vampire: the Masquerade – Milan Uprising, and is only used with Xplored’s other announced game. Teburu, The Bad Karmas and the Curse of the Zodiacs.



Teburu
via Teburu’s Instagram

Meanwhile, the dice can instantly transmit the results of its rolls to the application, which then sorts out all calculations and rule processing. Throwing a load of electronics into a dice seems like a great way to unbalance it, but Garofalo reassured me that while the builds seen so far at events have only been “roughly balanced” , the last thing is being designed to ensure that it is perfectly balanced both when standing still and during a roll.

One of the great benefits of having an app that tracks your rules and stats is that it easily enables remote play, where players can play on two completely different Teburu systems together. While you could argue that’s something almost any tabletop game can do with a webcam, like what Magic The Gathering does with Spelltable, Garofalo was keen to point out that “nothing exists via webcams and smartphones to deliver what Teburu does”. “What Teburu does”, in particular, being smart games “without AR glasses, magic wands or large and expensive tables”.


Teburu may seem like an ambitious project, but Xplored has experience producing this type of “phygital” hardware. He previously worked with Bandai Namco to create Tori, a platform that uses a similar smart board and “educational devices” to play multiple educational games. He also worked with 505 Games on the more traditional racing game Runimalz.

So how does a company go from manufacturing toy games to life years after the trend of producing tabletop games for one of the best-known brands in the industry collapsed? According to Garofalo, it was a strange stroke of luck: “Paradox was the first partner I instinctively tried to contact [when starting work on Teburu]. When I wrote to their management to explore their interest in Teburu, I quickly received a response indicating that Paradox was already seeking direct contact with us.”



WoD Teburu
Everything we’ve seen so far from Teburu’s World of Darkness partnership.

The first game in this partnership is Vampire: the Masquerade – Milan Uprising. Set in Paradox’s massive World of Darkness universe, the announcement described the game as featuring “hidden action, interactive storytelling, and secret objectives inspired by personal and political Vampire horror stories.” It’s vague as hell, so I asked Garofalo what exactly the Milan uprising is.

According to him, it is a “cooperative miniatures game with a strong narrative and RPG elements. But there are, of course, personal goals and hidden information. You are a vampire after all”. So it’s not a simple adaptation of the Vampire: RPG Masquerade, which, unfortunately, Garofali says there are “no plans” to bring to Teburu. Instead, it feels more like adversarial cooperative play in the sense of Paranoia’s emphasis on working with untrustworthy teammates before an inevitable betrayal.


It hasn’t been entirely easy for Xplored and its previous partners. In the early days of Teburu, one of the first games announced was an adaptation of the zombie survival game Zombicide. It was a collaboration with board game publisher CMON, but it was quickly scrapped due to, as Garofalo puts it, “changing business priorities” caused by the pandemic. Although CMON played an important role in the initial branding of Teburu, Garofalo told me very clearly that “the Teburu technology, system and brand have always been and are the exclusive property of Xplored”.


Teburu and bad karmas
The Bad Karmas, the first game for Teburu.

The work with Paradox apparently went much better. Paradox seemed to understand Teburu’s goal of creating digital tabletop games that “respect the way people play tabletop games”. Milan Uprising is part of a multi-year deal with Paradox to bring many World of Darkness games to Teburu. Garofalo confirmed that one of the titles also in development is based on the franchise’s second-biggest title, Werewolf: The Apocalypse. While Milan Uprising is more intrigue and subterfuge-based, Werewolf will take a more action-based and combat-focused approach. There’s also an unannounced third game in the works, which aims to balance the two versions of the Dark World, though Garofalo didn’t say which title it would be based on. My hope is for one of the lesser known parts of the Dark World, like Changeling: The Dreaming.


It is reasonable, at first glance, to feel a little skeptical of Teburu. The technology is impressive, but after the seemingly collapse of all other AR projects more than seven years ago, some may be cautious about its promises. Either way, Xplored is gearing up to put Teburu in the hands of gamers, with a Kickstarter campaign on March 15 for its first game, The Bad Karmas and the Curse of the Zodiacs. Contributors will be able to secure the game and a Teburu for themselves at the $200 reward level. With a reasonable price, years of showing off at in-person events to back up its claims, and backing from big tabletop names like Paradox and Sword & Sorcery publisher Ares Games, Teburu really could be the innovation that gaming company was looking for.

NEXT: How to Use Spelltable to Play Magic The Gathering Over Webcam


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