Arcade1Up Infinity Game Table review: The digital board game coffee table you didn't know you needed
I spent all afternoon playing Monopoly, backgammon and Sorry! with my family, sitting around the coffee table. We previously did this a lot, but we've done it a lot more since the games were actually embedded in the table, no cardboard box or plastic tokens needed.
We have tons of board games in our house and tons of iPads and game consoles that can play games, too. And yet, we all still ended up loving the most unlikely game console to enter our living room: a giant 24-inch screen embedded in a tablet with metal legs. The Infinity Game Table is, most definitely, a table. And it's also a game platform.
True to the "infinity" name, the game table has, so far, kept out a steady trickle of new games since I started playing. Most are Hasbro-based, but some, like Ticket to Ride and Pandemic, are welcome additions. They also cost extra ($10 each for those, and anywhere from $3-$8 for others). The Infinity Game Table includes over 50 games for free. The 62-game (and counting) total library is a much bigger bundle of games than any of Arcade1Up's other cabinets, and it's what makes the idea appealing as a long-term purchase. And as I look back at a strange year in tech, this game table remains one of my favorite (if imperfect) throwback game experiences.
Arcade1Up's Infinity Game Table isn't perfect and it doesn't have all the games I'd want to play on it. And it's way too expensive for most people to consider. But, it still made us smile a lot around my home after a week. Oddly enough, it became a fixture for a while. And then, like many things, we sometimes grew bored and moved on. New games kept us coming back, sometimes. Over a couple of months, it occasionally became more table than a game console.
Arcade1Up has become popular for its arcade cabinet re-creations, which have anywhere from a couple to a dozen retro games per cabinet. They're specialty/novelty devices. I've hesitated on getting an arcade machine for my home, but on a recent vacation, our rental home had a Ms. Pac-Man cocktail table in the living room. The kids were wowed, even though they literally play games everywhere else every single day. It made us sit down and have some fun. It felt weirdly relaxing, too.
The Infinity Game Table does the same for board games, sort of. CNET's Bridget Carey got an exclusive look and playtest with the table when it was unveiled earlier this year and I felt both fascinated and skeptical. The table comes with a large number of games that can be downloaded and none of them are things you couldn't find for a few bucks (or for free) on your iPad. There are a lot of Hasbro games (Monopoly, Sorry!, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble -- I'll get to those in a second). There are more generic ones like Sudoku, backgammon, chess, checkers and solitaire.
The whole idea of this table isn't new. There used to be giant interactive tablet-tables a decade ago. Those cost a ton. There are iPads now: you could put those on a table. Think of the Infinity Game Table as a dedicated touch-screen board game coffee table, starting at $650. Unnecessary? Sure. Janky at times? Absolutely. And... I sort of love it.
How is it as a game console?
Arcade1Up collected a whole bunch of board games for the table, which can be downloaded one by one to the onboard storage. There's enough space for all available games so far. But they don't come preloaded: You need Wi-Fi access to set it up and download the games. The 24-inch, 1,920x1,080-pixel LCD screen isn't the best -- colors sometimes don't look that vivid -- but it's good enough to see from all angles. The touch response feels good, at least. And, weirdly, this table has rumble feedback. In some games, a loud buzzing shakes the table. That doesn't come into play too often (the game of Operation uses it when you mess up, or Battleship when you sink a ship) and I could have done without it.
There's a power button and volume on the side of the table, like a tablet. The tabletop can be detached from its legs and put on your own table, if you want, too. I preferred keeping the legs on.
You need to set up a user name and account with the Infinity Game Table and while all the games right now seem to be free, future games can cost extra. Two new premium games, Ticket to Ride and Pandemic, are available for $10 extra each. Many games on the table are available free with purchase, but the future of games on this table may be a la carte add-ons, like a game table app store.
The existing batch of Hasbro games and more generic games are a mixed bag. They allow anywhere from two to six players and some are well designed for the tabletop experience: Monopoly places cards and controls all around the table edge and Sorry! is easy to control from any of the four sides. Some games like Candyland and Chutes and Ladders seem a lot less optimized, running only in vertical mode for some reason. Trouble and The Game of Life are natural successes, while games like Clue and Pandemic feel a little complex, and sometimes hard to figure out on the touchscreen.
Most games don't have customized controls and they don't have individual family player profiles or a way to keep track of games played and games won. Graphics and animations are also a lot less modern than anything on an iPad, at times. Dice roll animations and more animated games like Hungry Hungry Hippos hint that the processor on this game table isn't so hot compared to your average computer or phone.
But they work. And sitting around the table is something truly different than gathering around a game system like the Switch. I love Nintendo's Switch board game collection, Clubhouse Games. But it means sitting around the TV or a tiny Switch screen. With us huddled at a table together, the vibe changes. It does feel communal. And special.
Some games are really fun. Others, though, are totally lame-feeling. Operation is turned into a maze game where you drag items with your finger to an exit. Simon is a giant touchscreen pattern-matching game. A weird sumo-wrestling game that just appeared this week feels like a terrible ancient Flash game.
Battleship is addictive. Backgammon is fun. Sorry! is great. Again, though, so few customizations. Backgammon seems to only start with player 2, and I can't swap sides, or layouts, or board designs. There's no doubling cube. I just go with the flow. Again: many games feel like old touchscreen game ideas from 10 years ago. They could use a lot of updates and finesse.
How is it as a table?
This table is my first gaming furniture review. So... is it a good table? Strangely enough, yes. Arcade1Up's cabinets take some time to construct. The Infinity Game Table is a lot simpler: just snap in the metal legs and you're basically set. The 24-inch model was manageable enough for me to put together by myself. (There's a larger-screened version but it's also in the table footprint, just with less bezel around the screen).
The glass-topped table feels solid to lean on and the legs feel sturdy too (with rubber feet on the bottom). There are plastic-rubber bumpers around the table edge, which I appreciated, because of kids and hitting things by accident.
But the table is also lower and smaller than I expected. It works best as a coffee table by your sofa. Regular chairs are a bit too high to pull up to it without leaning in too much. It does snuggle next to our sofas pretty well, though.
The display is surrounded by a pretty large bezel of black space on the table. On a regular tablet, it would be ugly. Here, it's a great free space for drinks and snacks. I put some coasters on the table and enjoyed morning coffee and backgammon with my wife. Of course, I'm worried about spills and crumbs too, but the table surface is at least smooth and uninterrupted by holes or buttons, so it should be easy to wipe clean.
Then there's the power cord. The table needs to be plugged in all the time to use, much like Arcade1Up's other cabinets and cocktail tables, which means snaking that multi-foot power cord somewhere where it won't be seen. I couldn't find a way to do that in a living room, so it was left exposed along on the floor (at least it's long enough to reach across to a nearby outlet). There's a slot for a battery to charge up the table for a few hours of gameplay at a time, but the battery wasn't included with the table I tested. (There are also two USB ports, oddly, and an SD card slot for memory storage expansion, although the 16GB of onboard storage held all the available games with room to spare.)
It's become a little in-home vacation
I miss this thing not having more serious games, like Catan, or Hive, or any of the other cool indie games I love. Puerto Rico? Carcassonne? Azul? Pyramid Arcade? Mansions of Madness? That's what my massive board game collection is for. Or, my iPad. It's what keeps the Infinity Game Table from feeling infinite. And I wonder if Arcade1Up has bitten off more than it can handle with a game platform this ambitious. At least other arcade cabinets made by the company stick to a well-known list of retro games... Would this have been better as just a Hasbro Game Table? How much would have I wanted to play it then?
And yet, we loved it. It's something different and it's made us play more, even though games literally surround us. Maybe it's having a free table ready to go, clean and clear, and all ready to run. Maybe it's the novelty. And of course, this is as much a novelty item as any Arcade1Up machine.
But it also feels like the sort of thing I'd have found in the corner of a hotel lobby when I used to travel more, or in a rental home, or in the corner of an arcade. Something that would be fun to try for a while and lose myself in. At home, it removes us from our space for a bit, makes it feel like we're doing something special, immersive, arcade-like. I'd love for this table to be more, but it's a clever idea that feels more logical now than I ever expected it to.