Boardgame translations onto the iOS platform continue to come fast and furious. The iPhone/iPod Touch platform can serve up a quick boardgaming hit, while the iPad can serve as an alternate boardgaming platform in an extremely portable package. There’s no replacing the enjoyment that can be gained from stacking one’s meeples or searching through one’s discard pile. However, the opportunity to take an entire collection of quality boardgames in a package thin enough to slip into a briefcase is nothing at which to sneer.
As an added bonus, most of these translations come with a passable opponent. While they rarely provide a real challenge for experienced gamers, they can give gamers a quick play through a favorite game or a way to explore games with which they’re less familiar. For example, I’ve never gotten around to owning Tikal, but with the new version on the iPad, I can play through multiple games to explore various strategies. The game may not train me to beat the stuffing out better players but at least I get to enjoy exploring the game and may be ableto hold my own in a live game at some later point.
Most boardgames now come to the iOS platform with a decent interface, computer AI opponents, and some way to play with opponents on a single device (often termed “pass and play”). The better translations are also starting to include online multiplayer options. What remains rare are things like asynchronous (think play-by-mail/email style) online multiplayer nor gaming modes found in other typical video games. Examples would include achievements and/or campaign modes to the games. Sure, these do not have anything to do with the original boardgames, but they are very common in the video game world. Their inclusion would make translations more accessible and interesting for gamers coming from a video game background. Perhaps the best feature of the whole iOS platform are the continual updates many of these games receive. Games like Tichu now have achievements, and I’m aware of long term plans to add online multiplayer to several published games. When was the last time your boardgame came with free updates and improvements months after you purchased it?
Standard disclaimers apply here. I was granted a free review code for most of the following games. While I do not personally know any of the game designers nor developers, I was a beta tester for Shannon Applecline’s Modern Art: the Card Game. (I have to admit my primary feedback was “I can’t find any bugs.”) Games below are listed with their current US store price (as of this writing) to serve as a rough price comparison. Number of players and if multiplayer options are also listed. For the case of fairly well-known boardgames, I will assume the reader knows the general gist of the rules and will try to primarily comment on features and implementation of the interface. I do not recall any of these games having some sort of campaign mode nor options for achievements, but many of them do record some sort of high score list. (Something that is welcome to see, but does not really tell much of a story when boardgames are concerned since a well-fought tight race may be far more satisfying of a win than a blowout game verses a poor AI or newbie human player.)
Ticket to Ride (iPad, $7, 2-5 player with AIs, Online modes available, no pass and play)
See the Opinionated Gamers’ take on this app posted a week or two ago which covered most of the details. In short, the game has a beautiful interface for playing against a passable AI or online through the Days of Wonder online site. I recently saw a post from DoW that a pass and play mode will be implemented in the next patch – one of the few things this title was lacking. At $7, it is the most expensive game on this list, but it is also one of the most polished. Additional gameplay options (1910 mode, Swiss and Europe maps) can be purchased for $1 each. Aside from pass and play, the only thing going against this game is its price. However, at $7, this is still an excellent value and would be inexpensive anywhere but in the cut-rate pricing of the Apple app store.
Keg Bearer (iPad, $1, 2-4 player, pass and play but no online multiplayer)
With all the Eurogames coming to the iPhone, cardboard chit lovin’ wargame grognards aren’t getting a fair treatment. Along comes Keg Bearer to help tide them over. Keg Bearer is a hexagon based wargame for one to four players using four basic units: crossbows, beserkers, defenders, and the king-like Kegbearer. Defenders and beserkers each have two modes of operation. Beserkers attack everything adjacent or can reduce crossbow damage. Defenders are immune to berserk attacks or crossbow attacks. Losing one’s Kegbearer ends the game, but while its around it can partially heal and support other units. There are three game modes: one where players alternate moving their entire armies, one where players alternate moving a single piece (and can move the same piece repeatedly), and one where all players move all their pieces at the same time (although each piece can only be moved once per round). There is a computer AI only for the first mode. The game is customizable with various backgrounds, a few blocking terrain types, and each starting army can be adjusted to contain from zero to four of each basic unit type (making armies ranging 1 to 13 in size.) All in all, I found it a fun little game worth its inexpensive price. However, hardcore wargamers may object to a couple arcade style aspects present in each game mode. First, Beserkers and Defenders can adjust their defense modes at any time. This makes “modes” somewhat meaningless for the computer since it can adjust all its units to defend the active unit type. The second arcade-style modification is in shooting crossbows. If they are loaded (which takes up their movement), a crossbow can be fired at any time, including during an opponent’s turn. If you’re a wargamer, and can stomach a couple little nonstandard, videogame type features, I highly recommend it. I haven’t had the chance to play the “all play simultaneous” mode, but am hoping that might be a fun, wargame equivalent of a “filler” title.
Modern Art: The Card Game (Universal, $3, 3-5 player, no multiplayer <yet>)
The newest card game produced by Shannon Applecline and RPGNet is similar in look and feel to the previous High Society, Money, and Gold!. This is a very good thing as the menus and actions in the game are very clear and easy to access. The game has three levels of difficulty that can be selected which determines which of six different AIs will play against you. While a human will still win out more often than not against most of the AIs, there are one or two that give a good run for your money (and will quickly demonstrate any lack of skill on your part.) Note, this is the card game version of Modern Art, not the auction based game. Being able to play it on the go against a computer AI has given me a very nice appreciation for the game. It is my favorite game of this series so far. I am also aware that multiplayer options for the game are in the future plans for the game, but are not in the near term.
Bohnanza (iPad $5, iPod $, 3-4 player, multiplayer only 2p with AIs in pass and play mode)
Bohnanza is a very polished title, bringing the classic game to the iOS platform in a format one would expect from the wonderful comical art of the original game. There is even a fine tutorial available for gamers new to the title, and is somewhat required for experienced gamers in order to quickly sort out the gaming interface. However, the game suffers from the drawback of Bohnanza’s naturally poor fit with the iOS interface. Games can be played with 3 or 4 players using for different possible levels of AI. My main qualm with the game is its simplicity. There isn’t a lot of strategic “meat” to Bohnanza, instead the game is all about negotiating trades with opponents and thereby enjoying the social interaction that develops. I have to respect the programmers for developing an AI that plays fairly well and puts up a good game while dealing with the many complexities of trading. But negotiation with computer opponents is still fairly stale and, by necessity, is somewhat clunky. In most cases, making a game electronic speeds up the game play quite a bit. This is only somewhat true with Bohnanza, since it takes time to go through the various trading opportunities available. In fact, playing the game on my iPad almost felt slower than a face to face game of Bohnanza since it was lacking so much of the social interaction. In my mind, Bohnanza is translated well to the iOS interface, but by its nature (social and negotiation aspects) it simply is not a good fit for the medium.
Tikal (Universal, $5, 2-4 players, pass and play mode, online through Openfeint)
I was very excited to see Tikal come to the iOS format. It is a classic game that I’ve only played a couple of times, and for $5 I could own a way to play the game since no one in my local gaming circles owns a copy. Even better, one of the game’s biggest detractors is the analysis paralysis that can creep into the game. With a passable AI opponent (there are six levels or styles of AI), I can take all time I need and never have to worry about anyone else stalling out the game. Thus I can explore the game to my heart’s content without having to burden a more experienced gamer with my slower (or newbie) analysis. Tikal also makes a great electronic translation since the interface can take advantage of the rich beautiful game board of the original. I don’t claim to be an expert at the game, and while I can easily win at the lower settings the computer isn’t making any stupid mistakes. With a nice introductory tutorial that explains rules as they are needed during your first game, and a handy undo button, Tikal is a great way for new players to quickly get up to speed. In the short term, I will probably play a bit more to explore the various winning strategies (collecting treasures vs big temples vs a mix). In a longer time frame I can see myself working on some of the achievements available through Openfeint or trying to improve my ELO ranking verses the computer AIs. As things stand, it is somewhat tricky to find online games, so I suspect those looking for online multiplayer should expect to set up meeting times to play. Even when I eventually get bored with the title I don’t intend on taking it off my iPad, as it will remain a nice option for more serious boardgaming on an iPad interface. It currently is my only option if I want to play Tikal, and for $5, that’s not a bad deal at all.
Reiner Knizia’s Keltis Oracle (Universal, $3, 2-4 player, pass and play mode)
The buzz around Knizia’s newest Keltis-style game was quite high, but no one local owned a copy so I was glad to be given a chance to try it out on my iPad. Those familiar with the game realize there are a lot of things going on in this title. Thankfully, the game has a tutorial to take you through all the possible spaces on the board and their special abilities. Even so, learning right from the app without someone around to ask questions either takes good focus or a bit of trial and error over the first game or two. Once I had grasped the basics I found a pretty nifty game. I am on the verge of agreeing with those that consider Keltis Oracle Knizia’s best title that uses the Lost Cities style card play mechanics. As for the game’s translation to iOS, I think it has made an excellent leap. Particularly on the iPad, where the screen size is less of a problem, the iOS version can be easily played by several players. I can’t really comment on the three levels of AI included in the game, since I’m still just getting the hang of how to play strategically. The game gets a good recommendation from me on the basis of a reasonable price point combined with a solid implementation.
Reiner Knizia’s Through the Desert HD (Universal $3, iPhone $2, 2-4 players, pass and play, online through Game Center for 2 players only)
The pastel candy camels are back in child-safe virtual form in this implementation of the good doctor’s Through the Desert. A decent tutorial and charming Arabian-themed graphics round out the presentation. I have run into a couple glitches on my iPad that kick me out of the game, and I’d love to see the computer AIs (there are 2 levels available) play a bit faster, but I’ve found nothing deal-breaking with the title. There is Game Center support for online gaming but from what I’ve heard and found it is somewhat sparsely populated so one’s best bet is to set up specific times to play with known friends if you want to take advantage of the online options.
Dash Race (Universal, $2, 2-4 player, pass and play and WiFi multiplayer modes)
I don’t ever recall coming across this particular boardgame before, but can imagine it has been around in some freeware format for some time. Dash Race is an electronic implemenation of a paper and pencil racing game. Take some graph paper and draw a race course on it. Players begin at the starting line and race around the track hopping from intersection to intersection on the graph paper. Movement is based on previous speed and direction so if you moved three squares last turn you can move anywhere from two to four squares this turn. This basically presents the player with a 3×3 grid of corners from which to choose, with the central corner replicating the speed and direction of the previous turn. As one can imagine, the race around the track comes down to careful planning for speed in straightaways while slowing down in time to manage steeper corners. If you hit a wall you come to a complete stop and lose your next turn as well. The electronic implementation of the game is excellent, taking all the chores of managing choices and simply letting players manage the decisions. There are nine different, unique tracks to use, although more can be purchased through in-app purchasing. The computer AI (there is only one version, but you can play with multiple copies of it) puts up a good fight, winning most of the time if you ever make a mistake and crash. Sure, the game is probably something that could be played optimally, but for a quick little filler it is actually quite fun. It has been announced that Game Center support should be available in the next update.
Non Boardgame Apps of interest:
Disc Drivin’ HD / Disc Drivin’ (iPad $3, iPhone $2, 2 to 4 player asynchronous online, 2-8 players over WiFi or via pass and play. No AI available)
Disc Drivin’ is what PitchCar or Carabande would be if it were ported over to the electronic format. Players take a disc, aim it and then flick the screen to send it careening around the track. However, since the game is in electronic format, there are additional bonuses involved such as oil slick, speed patches (which accelerate your disc), and even a nitro boost that builds up over time and can be supplemented by passing through appropriate areas on the board. Perhaps the best thing going for this title is the online asynchronous mode. You can get a group of friends together online and just play over the course of days or weeks, each taking their turn when it is convenient to play through a race. On the other hand, this does make things seem somewhat disjointed and less intense than compared to a game where everyone is in the same room. While I don’t see this taking over anyone’s PitchCar collection, a copy of the game on an iPad is far cheaper and far, far more portable than schlepping around several boxes full of tracks and discs.
Ted Alspach’s Start Player (Universal $1, no AI available – as anyone who has read his comic can attest)
OK, so Ted Alspach’s Start Player (designed by Ted Alspach) is now available on the iPad or iPhone for only $1. Yes, for only $1 you can get all those lovable meeple characters in their sarcastic glory on your iPhone (or iPad – where they’re even larger than life! or at least close to life sized.) If you’re unfamiliar with Ted Alspach’s Start Player by Ted Alspach, it is a simple deck of cards that gamers can use to decide who will start a game. Simply flip over a card and look at the criteria listed on the front. Examples include the player with the most sevens in their zip code or the shortest player, etc… If you’re like me, you’ve thought to yourself – that’s kinda cool – but you were too cheap to shell out $10 for a deck of silly questions and felt bad on missing out on all those cute meeples and their so-called witty banter, now you can get them all and read them on your iPhone for only $1.
But wait, there’s more. Some people just aren’t card people. Show them a card to pick a start player and they’ll argue with the font used. Included in Ted Alspach’s Start Player, designed by Ted Alspach, for the iPhone/iPad are THREE additional ways to determine a start player. There is a random list start, a spin start, and my favorite – the finger start. For the spinner and list start, a simple dial adjusts how many players are eligible, and then a touch or a flick resolves any disputes. For the finger start, each player places a finger on a character of their choice around the screen, lighting it up with a circle. The center of the screen is pressed and then the meeples are cycled through to find a starting player. (Up to ten players can be assigned a position in this way using an iPad…)
This is an indispensable app for any serious gamer. My personal advice would be to bring it out and get it ready to use just as a game is chosen and the number of players is known. Otherwise some smart aleck will come along and decide who goes first by choosing randomly from a set of colored meeples or some other such sensible thing. I’ve used the app successfully multiple times in recent game days hosted in my home. Unfortunately, we used the spinner function nearly every time because my good friend is unnaturally attracted to spinning things…
Disclaimer: Although Ted Alspach’s comic, Board 2 Pieces, appears here at OpinionatedGamers, I have no dealings with the man and he had nothing to do with this review, aside from providing a free review code (I told you I was cheap – too cheap to spend a $1 eh?) of his app – Ted Alspach’s Start Player, designed by Ted Alspach.
Orions 2 (iPhone $3)
Orions 2 is, sensibly enough, a sequel to the iPhone game Orions. This is a sort of a trading card type game overlaid on a conquest/civilization game board. In the campaign mode, you wander between floating islands in your blimp taking control of new islands by challenging their overlords to a duel. Various colors of crystal are used as money to build buildings on islands or purchase more cards for duels. Of course, the most important buildings to construct increase one’s accumulation of more crystals. The second use of crystals is to buy cards for one’s duel deck. Build the correct building types on the right color of island and you can purchase particular cards of that color. The heart of the game is in the card duels. Each player starts with a limited number and type of cards available from their own pool of purchased (with crystals in the game – thankfully there’s no in-app purchases here to try to make the game a money sink). Players alternate casting cards onto a playing field, typically placing monsters which can then attack the other player (or more commonly the monster placed by the opponent). Some monsters can cast spells each round (basically a special ability) and some cards played by players are simply one-off castings rather than something that create a creature. Cards cost the appropriate amount of colored energy to cast and players gain one energy of each type every round, so there needs to be a balance between casting cheap creatures for defense and saving up for big creatures to try to go for the win. There are some combinations to be seen, but most decisions are fairly spur of the moment tactical ones with implications only going a turn or two into the future. Contrary to other games of this type, when a card is used in a duel, it is removed from a player’s deck so it is even more important in the campaign mode to establish a good economic base in order to keep a healthy stock of cards in one’s deck. To win (or lose) the campaign mode, simply fight your way to the enemy’s home island and defeat the opponent there. All in all, I would have to say I really enjoy the game and would give it a high recommendation if it weren’t for a couple small details that tend to sap some of the enjoyment. I love how the campaign mode allows players to specialize in certain aspects of the game and even improve abilities by going up “levels” which grant players more starting health or energy in duels. However, the campaign mode quickly degenerates into a lot of micromanagement. Each island can only build 3 buildings per turn, so a player typically fights for a few islands, then goes through all conquered islands building up crystal producing buildings until they run out of crystals or islands. Rinse and repeat for the entire first half of the game and one gets the feeling the game is more of a “build up your island” game than a series of duels between opponents. As for what’s new in the sequel, very little has changed. I haven’t played the original in over a year but everything seems very familiar. The largest change I have seen is in the available cards, there are some new ones in the mix that I don’t recall having seen before. If you’re willing to put up with a bit of upkeep overhead, there’s a fairly entertaining game to be had here in the campaign mode. There is also a duel mode for constructed decks, and a somewhat more interesting mode (to me) where one goes through a short draft to select out cards followed by a duel.
Neuroshima Hex! – Puzzle (Universal, $3)
Neuroshima Hex! was another one of those games I always wanted to play and finally got my chance in electronic form. After playing through each race several times, I began to get a bit tired of beating up on the AI (although multiple AI matches can get pretty brutal). Thankfully, along comes a new app in the form of Neuroshima Hex! – Puzzle. This is a set of 100 puzzles based around the full Heuroshima Hex! set of armies (including the two new ones available as in-app purchases in the original game). Whereas the base game requires a competent AI to challenge you, playing through a series of puzzles that involve Neuroshima Hex! pieces is sort of like competing against a pre-programmed computer opponent. You know you can win the game, you just have to figure out how. In addition, playing through the various puzzles has slowly shown me new uses for old army pieces that I might not have thought about before. This is highly recommended for any fan of the game, as well as those folks who like to play game puzzles like those found in books for chess or bridge.
Reiner Knizia’s Labyrinth HD (Universal, $3)
Included in this round-up for completeness, this is another one of Knizia’s single player puzzle style apps. Draw maze tiles at random and place them onto the game board to connect the bottom entrance with the top exit without going through any minotaur spaces while simultaneously trying to go through as many treasure spaces as possible. This is a decent game for folks who like connectivity puzzles with a little bit of pushing one’s luck as there is a balance to be made between optimizing for number of chests acquired and making sure you can still make it out of the maze exit.
Sword of Fargoal Legends (Universal $3)
Anyone familiar with the rogue-like games such as NetHack, Moria, and the like will know what to expect here. Choose a character class and venture into a 20 level dungeon where death awaits in nearly every room. Explore in a very simplified turn-based RPG style where every attack or step your character takes is reflected in another step or attack by all the monsters in the dungeon. Winning the game by venturing all the way down to level 20 is many parts luck, a few parts patient planning, and a good portion of stubborn bullheaddedness. With new fancy graphics that harken back to old school styles (there are even occasional cut scenes), three levels of difficulty, and achievements to complete, this is a great game to bust out and show the younger generation what deadly really means. Just keep in mind that it is old school gaming and don’t complain about the difficulty or the unjustness of the random map generator.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers:
Mark Jackson: While I enjoy Disc Drivin’ (a nifty Carabande-ish flicking game), I’ve decided it really is best as a pass-n-play rather than using the online mode. There are really only three “boardgame” apps that see a lot of play on my iPhone: Money, Roll Through the Ages & Words w/Friends (aka pseudo-Scrabble).
Doug Garrett: I found another thing to like about the Ticket to Ride implementation. If some jerk drops out of your online game right before his final play because he realizes that he won’t be winning, an AI steps in and allows you to finish the game.
Tom Rosen: I have really fallen for the Neuroshima Hex app. This game is really addictive and the app is extremely well done. The presentation is very nice. The addition of achievements just adds to the addiction. And the recent addition of two expansion armies is icing on the cake. The AI is rather well done and only rarely makes non-sensical moves. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the Through the Desert app. I love the Through the Desert board game even more than Neuroshima Hex but the app is pathetic. The presentation is much more amateur and lackluster than Neuroshima Hex. More importantly, the AI is pathetic. Even on the hardest difficulty setting, the AI makes absurdly incompetent moves and is a total pushover. Those are the two board game apps I’ve been playing recently, one great, the other poor. Not a bad showing all told.
Jonathan Franklin: I have lots of free game apps and play almost none of them. If you like logic, try Marple or Sherlock. For word games, I like iAssociate 2 and 7 Words. Other time wasters that have amused me longer than average are Sword & Poker 2, Highborn, Fargoal, Epic Dragon, Strongholds, and Battleheart. I don’t really like playing AI opponents and only play games in 10 minute windows, so pass-and-play or online gaming don’t work that well for me. Frankly, I rarely play beyond what Lite versions offer, so none of these comments should be read to suggest that the full versions are worthwhile. One request – Ricochet Robots, please.
Mary Prasad: Note: all the games I mention are ones I own and play unless otherwise noted. I’m addicted to Boggle. I bought both the iPhone and iPad versions. They play pretty well but could use some improvements. Mostly it annoys me when I pause or interrupt a game (e.g. to answer a call on the iPhone) but when I reselect Boggle, it puts me back at the start menu. So far I don’t see anywhere to restart a game in progress. I would like the author to add a smoother challenge interface, something inside the game instead of through email, e.g. using Game Center. I also don’t like when there are two versions of a game that have to be purchased separately. Catan (Settlers) and Ingenious are the same way; I only have the iPhone versions. At least they should offer a discount for people who own one of the versions already.
I play a lot of Tichu (of course!) but get rather frustrated with the AI players at times. The game looks great though and plays pretty well through the Game Center and with Blue Tooth. One time four of us were playing together at a restaurant while waiting for our food, each on our own iDevices. The look on the waiter’s face as he approached our table was precious. We did tell him we were actually playing a game together and not just being antisocial.
Lately I’ve been playing the new Ticket to Ride (and expansions) on the iPad. Playing TtR on the iPad is a lot faster than in person, probably due to not having to physically place trains, keep score, flip cards, etc. My husband “Snoozefest” and I are really enjoying it. It’s also really nice to be able to access all your tickets in front of you (stacked, but you can see the names) and have the cities highlight when one is clicked. I have only had a little trouble with the game, when connecting through Game Center; I think it was only a problem when both of us (real players) were in the “Restaurant” at the same time. The messages didn’t always go through. Once one of us left that area it worked fine though.
Roll through the Ages, Zooloretto, and Dixit are only available on the iPhone. Zooloretto was one of my first purchases. It’s not a bad interface, but now that other games have been so beautifully implemented, it looks a little “dated” (I know, strange thing to say about something that’s only been around a short while, but everything moves faster in computer time).
Carcassonne, Keltis Oracle, Battleline, Zombie Dice, and Mü are single purchases for both platforms: iPhone and iPad. Thank you for making them this way!
I have Medici HD but haven’t played it yet. Space Alert “Mission Generator” is free (or at least it was); it is not a game but a tool that’s useful when playing the board game Space Alert. It plays the sounds and messages for each mission.