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The BattleKasters app and the Bluetooth beacon that enables its location-based gameplay
The BattleKasters app and the Bluetooth beacon that enables its location-based gameplay

Artifact Technologies created a mobile, digital board game, but you’re not supposed to play it sitting around your house or taking the bus to work. Instead, Artifact is taking BattleKasters to fan conventions around the U.S., where players wander through the booths to unlock cards, cast spells and unlock the secrets of the Legends of Orkney.

Today, the Seattle-based company is bringing the on-site game home, setting up those beacons around PAX Prime for the Seattle debut of BattleKasters.

BattleKasters leads players through the fantastical world created for Alane Adams’ Norse mythology-based Legends of Orkney book series. Players collect cards at different locations throughout convention centers, casting spells along the way to protect themselves and set back others. To enable location-based play indoors, Artifact has leveraged off-the-shelf Bluetooth beacons to track players in spots where a GPS signal would be impossible to acquire. Artifact is calling this new tech “on-site gaming.”

Brett Cutler, left, Artifact game designer, with Arisa Scott, Artifact product manager, preparing to demonstrate BattleKasters to fans at PAX Prime on Friday morning.
Brett Cutler, left, Artifact game designer, with Arisa Scott, Artifact product manager, preparing to demonstrate BattleKasters to fans at PAX Prime on Friday morning.

On Thursday, Artifact placed beacons around the Washington State Convention Center, stacking virtual card decks with the right mix of cards to keep the game interesting. But Artifact’s co-founder and chief creative officer Brent Friedman sees BattleKasters as a stepping stone to broader on-site gaming opportunities.

“This has been a tricky thing to accomplish, but we’ve finally had our first look at what’s possible,” Friedman said. “Not just with BattleKasters, but with any game that we decide to build.”

Artifact’s on-site gaming tech could be used by other companies looking to create location-based games for any event. With BattleKasters, the storyline, art and game mechanics remain the same at every fancon. Artifact just has to update the map and place the beacons around the event halls and the game is ready for action.

Can you spot the beacon? A magnet allows Artifact to stick them just about anywhere.
Can you spot the beacon? A magnet allows Artifact to stick them just about anywhere.

BattleKasters doesn’t just use your location to make the game exciting. Artifact built a system to dynamically alter the game’s environment based on where players are in the game. In the future, they could even change gameplay based on how people are playing.

“We’re going to keep adding things that make you aware of all the other people playing,” Friedman said. For example, they’re working on a way to have monsters attack players on the show floor. But if a player closes a portal, all the monsters will die.

“And you’re like ‘Whoever closed that, thank you!'” Friedman said. “I don’t see that person doing it, but because someone somewhere took an action heroically, it impacts everyone and everyone benefits.”

Testing BattleKasters’ gameplay

The team at Artifact built a test course around their offices in Seattle neighborhood for me to give the game a run-through.

The game is based on a book with a thick mythology, and like any good card-based board game has plenty of rich detail in both the art on the cards and the info within. You’re welcome to dive deep into the lore, but you don’t have to read every card to enjoy the game.

A card you can collect
A BattleKasters card

The mission of the game is to close a portal to another world to stop the flow of creatures from taking over Earth. Players cast spells to protect themselves from evil spells, but can also cast spells that help them beat the game faster. For example, a player can cast a spell that steals cards from the next player to reach that beacon.

As you travel to new beacons, which are displayed on a mostly static map, your phone will buzz letting you know you’re in range. You can then collect three new cards. While I was playing, there were 62 cards to collect.

You don’t need to collect every card to win the game, but each spell requires three cards, each of a certain type. To cast a spell, choose three card and shake your phone, and the spell is either cast to protect you from traps at the next station or at your location, ready for an unsuspecting player to fall into your trap.

Players are locked out of collecting cards from that beacon again for about three minutes, encouraging them to walk to the next station and unlock new spells. As they complete challenges, more beacons are revealed on the map and the story continues.

As only a novice card game player, some of the rules were a little confusing at first. But I quickly figured out which cards I needed to collect to move forward, and got engaged in the lore with each new card.

If you’re heading to PAX today or over the weekend, you can download the game for Android or iOS now. Players can sign up now, but the game won’t start until you hit the show floor. Artifact will be at the show, and players can visit their booth to learn more about the game, keep track of the leaderboard and dive deeper into the mythology surrounding the game.

If you’re on the show floor and see people shaking their phones and wondering how to close the stonefire, they’re probably playing BattleKasters.

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