Yep, here in the US we have one more day before Winter officially starts, that means I squeak by with my Fall iBoardgaming column. There has been a huge influx of boardgame and strategy-related titles coming out on the app store this season, so much so that I’m a bit behind. Expect to see the “winter” edition coming in just a few weeks (I expect to catch up a bit on my portable gaming during holiday travel.) But don’t worry, if you scroll down to the end of the report, I’ll list some of the more notable recent releases and in-app expansion purchases that will get a bit more coverage next time around. While there are limits on how well a small electronic screen can recreate a boardgame setting, every time I reflect on how many great boardgames I have available to me, simply by picking up my iPad, I’m floored. When I go visiting this Christmas I may bring one or two recent titles I’m currently enamored with, but I know I’ll have dozens of extremely good eurogames on hand as a backup on my iPad.
I hope you’re aware of the excellent elder statesman of the Eurogame world, Puerto Rico. The iPad implementation is a solid one, reminding me quite a bit of the PC version from a few years ago. The game has everything one needs for a solid port of the boardgame (intuitive menus, decent AI, uncluttered screen) with a little bit extra. There is a nice interactive tutorial to help newcomers to the interface and the game, although there isn’t much beyond the game itself to attract solo players (achievements or campains, etc…) As I mentioned, the AI is decent although its a bit hard to tell at times since player position and decisions can swing a game more than any one player’s main strategy. All in all, I give it a big thumbs up for delivering a good implementation of the boardgame.
Wow, I’ve only played the cooperative physical boardgame Ghost Stories a few times and this portable version is a much handier way for me to try the game solo. Now if I could only figure out how to win! While it was released only playable by 1-2 players, it has been updated so one (or more) players can control up to the full complement of 4 characters. I’m not a Ghost Stories expert by any means, but this implementation looks like it won’t disappoint any fan who wants a more portable way to play the game.
I have a soft spot for Cartagena, that gateway game that I like to call “Advanced Pirate Candyland”. Play your cards to advance your pirates to the next unoccupied matching symbol or retreat one pirate to draw one (or two) cards. Be the first to get all your pirates through the board to win. Cartagena (Cartagena1 on the app store for some reason) offers multiple levels of computer AI to challenge you, although I am either pretty good or even the better AI isn’t all that great. The good news is that the game can be played on the iPhone or expanded up on the iPad. In the 2x view on the iPad (where I did most of my testing) the game board is completely on the screen and would work as a pretty good substitute for the physical game in a pinch. The two main downsides of this implementation are: 1) no way to hide a player’s cards when going from one player’s turn to another (although this isn’t an issue for the computer players, which don’t display their held cards) and 2) no way to play the alternate version of the game where players’ can view upcoming cards and do a bit more advance planning. All in all a pretty good game, although I’d like to see a universal version with iPad graphics. In addition, I have had some trouble with game crashes, booting me back to the main iOS screen when playing with my iPad 2. (I haven’t played as much with my iPod Touch so can’t vouch for its current stability.) There is a save feature, so if I pay attention to saving occasionally I can still restart.
This is a fun little game that reminds me a lot of Button Men. It can be played solo or multiplayer (where each player has their own set of dice.) Players take turns rolling eight eight-sided dice trying to achieve a high score. Any dice with matching numbers showing can be rerolled. Dice displaying the 8 face can use a special power (each die is a different color and has a different ability – like adding or subtracting 1 from another die, rerolling non-8 dice, etc…) Once a die uses it’s ability it is locked at 8 and can’t be used again (aside from the obligatory die that can reset the power of any other die…) The game continues until all the dice are no longer able to be rerolled. It is a fun little game (it’s only $1) that you can play solo but once you get a lucky game to set a high score it seems to wear off a bit. It might be better to play multiplayer, although I haven’t run it through many multiplayer sessions to find out. If you like ButtonMen or other die rolling games, this is pretty fun, has a solo (almost like a puzzle) mode, and isn’t expensive.
Yet another “flicky” game like Carabande or PitchCar, only with a bit more thematic twist. Players take on the role of little race cards and flick them around the track to be the first to complete the requisite number of laps. However, one must also take into account the cars’ gears. Gears go from 1 to 6, and affect just how far the car will fly. Run into other cars or the edge of the board and you crash and lose your turn. Since one can’t just jump between any two gears, planning must be done to slow down and speed up to take advantage of hairpin turns and straightaways. The graphics are simple but effective, with a color palette and graphics that make me think of the old Speed Racer cartoons. Once again, this is quite a steal at $1. It works on iPhones (although I find it a tad cramped) as well as iPads for one low price and even supports an online leaderboard (where players compare their best times on each track.) Highly recommended for fans of the flick…
A made-for-iPad game that is either a simplistic strategy video game or a slightly complex boardgame (where the computer takes care of much of the details.) Players are pirates that venture around a square grid board looking for islands with ports where they can buy and sell goods. Each port handily displays the going price for each of the three resources in the game, so planning shipping routes isn’t difficult. As one earns money, one’s ship can be upgraded to hold more cargo, go faster (more spaces per turn), or have better armament. When fighting roaming monsters or other players, each ship starts with three basic cards (red/green/blue) numbered 1 to 8. Each color as a favorable and unfavorable matchup (so red is better vs green, for example). Players simultaneously pick one of their cards to play and the better card wins (ties go to the defender) by destroying the losing card (for this battle). The rounds continue until someone loses all three cards whereupon they lose a small amount of gold or cargo (it is unfortunate, but not devastating.) When ships upgrade their weaponry, they are actually buying better cards, upgrading their 2 green to a 3 green for example. The various ports specialize in different colors so one needs to find the right port to upgrade any given color. Meanwhile, players are crossing all over the board making deliveries and also fulfilling minor quests (take a passenger to X, defeat the monster attacking Y, etc…) The game ends when someone gathers up the three ancient artifacts that are sold in three different (unknown at first) ports. Gather all three and you can then hunt down and challenge the big leviathan (for which you generally want all your cards upgraded) to win. While I felt the the initial buildup of the game was fairly fun, the endgame seemed a bit anticlimactic. I felt it was too easy for me to overpower my opponents after making a lot of cash during short deliveries. The game has a strong visual theme, making it play almost as if you were playing on an old school parchment map. Of course, that also means it is fairly monochromatic and for a festive-color fiend like myself that wouldn’t have been my preference. Perhaps the best thing going for the game is that there is a free trial version available so you can easily try it out and see if it is worth the small $3 purchase.
This was a VERY different game for me. Supposedly this is a popular video game in Russia. Players line up pieces on opposite ends of a chessboard and then “flick” them at each other trying to knock off the opponents’ pieces. When a winner takes a round, the game is set up again with the winner advancing their pieces one line forward onto the board. Rounds continue to be played until one player has all their pieces advanced/retreated all the way off the board for a match win. There is surprising variety in game play as not every piece on the board is equal. Some are “heavier” than others, flying less distance but needing much more momentum to push around. There are bombs that explode after being touched, gas canisters that push nearby pieces after each movement, and even gas-masked units immune to the gas attacks. All in all, it is a pretty decent little game, although I sometimes feel that a full match takes a bit too long. Sure, a comeback could be made, but once I’m most of the way across the board I’d prefer to get on to the next game. Also, the game was released a bit buggy. I haven’t played it much lately but it initially had some screen icons that wouldn’t clear up after jumping between menus and the game would occasionally hang on me. An interesting little game, and those people who really like to surf the app store for variety would find a very different little game here to try out. However, most exclusively-Eurogame fans wouldn’t find enough strategy here to make it worth their while.
Another great price for a universal version of a popular board/card game. This is a great implementation of that cross between word games and Mastermind. Given a six or seven letter word, players are presented with 2 to 6 letter “slots” to form up guesses. Each guess must be a word in its own right. A guess earns 250 points for a correct letter in the wrong location (on the entire word) and 1000 points if a letter is in the correct location as well. One must infer from the point scoring which letters are part of the word and their location. A handy alphabetical chart appears next to the game to help players track letters and/or locations they can logically exclude from the solution. In addition to a series of solo challenges (more can be purchased) there are daily challenges that can be attempted and high scores are recorded on leaderboards. Any word fan owes this $1 title a look.
Less directly boardgame-related titles:
In a previous iBoardgaming column, I had stated Conquist 2 was the definitive Risk-clone on the app store. However, comments below referred me to Dominion, and I must confess it give Dominion a run for its money. I’m torn betewen the two, and lacking the time (and inclination) to do a serious head-to-head of both, I’ll just have to leave it to each player’s preferences. Dominion does seem to have a more slick interface and presentation, but it also costs slightly more (and Conquist 2 is Universal, to boot.) Dominion is a Risk-clone that provides a couple different ways to play (all out war or objectives) and many different map setups (one for each continent as well as a world map and a couple others.) Those looking for the ultimate Risk clone will need to check it out, but I believe that honor is somewhat suggestive and would at least require far more detail than I have time for here. Regardless, Dominion is well done and would serve as a fine Risk-clone for any interested iPhone/iPod gamers.
I’m a fan of tower defense titles, although they are quite over-done. Anomaly Warzone Earth takes the tower defense title and turns it on its head. You play as the “creeps” trying to make your way through a layout of towers. Plan your path to avoid the worst of the turrets and pass by any reward spaces (you can adjust on the fly if needed) but don’t take too serpentine a path as you have a time limit to get to the end. Along the way, you may pass by cash drops which provide money for new creeps to add to your caravan or to upgrade current units. While your units auto-attack you participate via several global abilities such as healing, confusing nearby turrets, etc… Each ability is an area effect and more appear throughout the level as you destroy other turrets. Since you are “babysitting” your creeps through the maze it is more involving and slightly more active than most tower defense games, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. There is obviously no multiplayer modes, but the single player campaign is pretty good.
Dice Soccer is an app that seems like it might not make a bad custom card/boardgame focused on dice. One creates a “team” of players: 3 forwards, 3 defenders, and a goalie. Each player is represented in the game by a 6 sided die and may also have special abilities that can kick in when specific conditions are met (someone on your team rolls a “1”, or doubles are rolled, etc…) A game against the computer is then played, starting at the midline (forwards vs forwards). Each team rolls their 3 dice and their sums are compared (after applying affects like rerolls, bonuses such as +1 to +3, even a x3 or divide by 2). The team with the higher sum advances the ball down the field (to the opponent’s defenders in this case) and a new 3 vs 3 die roll-off occurs. Advance past the defenders and there is a 1 vs 1 roll-off for your center player vs the goalie die to see if a score occurs. It is a curious little game and the special powers can be combined in interesting ways, particularly if rerolls are effectively used – since other powers can than be activated several times! All in all, I really liked the game and played it for several days, but I do have a few little gripes. The theme is one of a manager for a soccer league and you earn money by defeating (or even at least tying) other teams. This can then be used to buy newer (and better) player/cards with nifty new abilities, etc… These cards also start out “locked” so you can’t buy them but unlocking them is typically fairly easy. Where it is a slightly less fun game is that nearly everything can be unlocked with in-app purchases. Playing without buying a bit of in-game cash it somewhat of an uphill battle. Entirely manageable, but I feel the game’s progress is a bit too slow… too often I need to repeatedly play lesser opponents just to earn enough cash to get to the next level of team players I need. Thus, as much as I enjoy the game I can’t give it a high rating. I’ll have to leave it more of a medium-level title, although if one spent a bit of real world cash it might make the pace of the game more enjoyable. (I’m simply too frugal for that…)
This is a pretty cool game, with strong “X-Com”-like overtones. You command a squad of space infantry and send them off on missions after setting up their armaments, etc… On the mission you have to manage their action points (for moving and shooting) while you try to accomplish the mission’s goals (such as eliminating opponents or specific objects.) On the plus side, the game is not too expensive and delivers a very entertaining strategy game, with a nice ongoing development cycle – making me want to keep playing so I can set my crew up with better weapons and abilities, etc… The downside is that the game also has a number of additional gaming modes or opportunities that cost real-world currency to unlock. However, I’ve found that a casual (not addicted, but casual) player can pretty much get their gaming fix in by playing the free missions available each day. That is what I like to see in games of this sort, if it draws you in enough you might pay extra but just casual game play isn’t totally necessary. For some, just that it has been compared to Space Hulk may be enough for them to check it out, for me a comparison to X-Com should send many of you to try it. Overall, I’m putting it in the good, almost great category, dinged slightly due to the pay-as-you-go model that serious gamers may eventually come up against. (I’m much more a fan of one price = one game, than ongoing or irregular purchases unless they’re for an occasional expansion release.)
There are a few real-time strategy (RTS) games on the iPhone/iPad, but Pocket Combat is the only one that really doesn’t work unless you’re playing with a touch interface. Rather than playing with small units you manage and click, your people are a sea of little tiny dots. Tap on them with your finger and slide along the path you want them to take, and they move off. Hold-tap and you can select an area of them. The trick is to try to surround your opponent with your blob so that you maximize your contact with the enemy (surrounded blobs die off faster…) The game is based around a decent campaign mode where you slowly encounter new effects to avoid or use (like walls or bombers). In the end, I think the game is pretty good but it just didn’t grip me. RTS fans should check it out (it is FREE, after all) and for it’s price it is very good. However, I haven’t been drawn back to it much after my initial evaluation period.
OK, I broke down and bought a copy of this game since it was always in the high rankings of game lists around the net. This is basically a puzzle game and may appeal to many boardgamers out there. You start with just a small collection of “elements” like fire and water, and then must “mix” them by dragging one on top of another. If the designers happen to think they should make another element (like fire + water = steam) then you magically get another element to play with (which can be turned around and mixed with lots of other elements.) While some match-ups seem reasonable (man + sword = knight) others are pretty out there. It is a mix of trial and error along with inspiration (I typically end up with far more trial and error than I’d like). Thankfully, hints can be granted every couple minutes and really impatient people can actually buy a set of “instant” hints so they don’t have to wait between each hint. There are a LOT of elements to discover and mix together (over 200 if I recall) so it can get pretty hairy as you go along. Thankfully, most of the time you find some basic items that challenge you to head down a particular path so you’re typically using more of your recent elements than heading back to reuse all the old ones. Overall, I think its a pretty fun little puzzle game, its main downfall is when you and the designers disagree on what a nice match should be… I’m always coming up with two things that SHOULD make something but somehow don’t… well back to the old hint-button again!
I stumbled across this VERY challenging tower defense game when it went on deep discount sale. With simple geometric graphics, the game is played on a hexagonal grid. Typically these grids are quite open, although there are limited areas where one cannot play and sometimes areas you can’t place turrets that even help the creeps (move extra fast or heal.) There are about five basic towers (cheap shooter, line-shooter, rockets, area slow, area damage) and they can all be upgraded up to six times. While it sounds simple some of the towers gain extra powers as they upgrade (the line shooter can be “locked” into a position or the missile towers gain intelligent homing at level 4). What struck me about the game was its difficulty. Most of the tower defense games I’ve tried I may have to restart the occasional level, but I was redoing almost every level a couple of times to complete them. This gave a nice feeling of accomplishment when I did figure out a successful strategy. However, when I went back to check on things for this article I found there is now an “easy” mode and a “hardcore” mode (perhaps I missed it before). In any case, the hardcore mode is what I was playing before and is the only version that will record high scores for each level. Anyone looking for a pretty good tower defense challenge (especially on a hex grid) should take a look. Unfortunately, it isn’t Universal, but I’ve had no problems playing it on my iPad.
OK, my preferences are coming through. Made by the same folks as Dice Soccer, this is a really fun tower defense game with a bit of RPG-like customization and background story thrown in. Creeps come in various types, and follow a set path through the screen while the player can only place towers on specific sites. There are four available towers (damage, slow, vulnerable, and area damage) but some sites are “linked” so that two towers can be combined. Thus, a linked slow and area tower would produce a continuous slow effect while a linked damage and damage site produce a more powerful range damage. What makes the game the most unique are the presence of a large Boss creep at the end of every level. While you can win the level and advance through the campaign without killing the large Boss, if you do kill it you typically gain new abilities that can be placed in a special customization area. (In fact, each Boss has specific “drop” rates so you can see what kinds of new abilities you might get if you take it out…) These abilities range from speeding up the firing rate of all your towers, increasing damage, more effective abilities, etc… Later on in the game (I’m in the second run-through of the campaign – veteran mode) some of the dropped upgrades even give special powers to specific towers (my unlinked area damage towers get extra money on kill shots). Finally, before each level, you are treated to a quote from the story background. Apparently, the Earth (whoever we are) have actually decided to harvest these space aliens for resources so we’re luring them here to be destroyed. It is a fairly cynical look at the game itself and would be a plus for anyone interested in some mildly dark humor. I particularly like how there are only 4 types of towers but they can then be combined into 16 (or so) different combinations, in addition to being upgraded up to three levels. And since the game runs on a sort of RPG-mode I’m feeling much more powerful now that I’m running through the Veteran level with my increased abilities. 4Towers is in my top 5 tower defense game and (probably because of the RPG aspects) is my current go-to tower defense game of choice.
I have to admit up front that I’m a huge fan of the Majesty series (1 & 2) on the PC where you the player take control of a kingdom and can only build buildings and recruit heroes. You can’t actually control anyone onscreen. Sure, the paladins will hunt out undead if they see it around, but you had better set up a bribe or bounty for your thieves if you’re hoping they will walk across the expanse of the game map and fight that cave of bears you’re worried about. The heroes all earn cash defeating enemies (often your cash) but then they come back to the town you’ve built and spend it in your markets, blacksmiths, and other shops! (You built some of those, too, right?) Sooner or later a tax man will come by, pick up the cash, and if he’s not killed by a wandering monster will escort it back to your castle where you can put it to good use again… So, it is a great little hands-off kingdom sim where you (indirectly) control the typical set of fantasy heroes. Pretty much the entire classic (circa 2000) game of Majesty is here, put inside a (moderately) small screen. While I’m not sure I’d want to play it on a small, iPhone screen, it runs pretty well on an iPad. There’s even a free “lite” version out there to give it a spin. Try it, I bet you’ll like it…
Now I’ve gone even farther afield from boardgaming and talking about a platform/puzzle game. In Contre Jour, you play as a little black ball that sticks to things – especially dangling ropes, etc… You move the little ball primarily by adjusting the surrounding terrain (yes, you can even do a little “slingshot” effect). It rolls around on the screen, grabbing some dangling bits for some Tarzan like moves as well as general bad guy avoidance. The goal, of course, is to maneuver him to the exit. This is almost a standard setup for a platformer, but where Contre Jour stands out is in its artistic style. It really oozes a sort of artsy-fartsy black and white look that makes for quite a relaxing change of pace over most of the more intense focus games I play on my iPad. The game is even uppity enough to remind you to “use headphones for the best audio experience”. I have to admit that, for a nice low price, one gets a very nifty, almost relaxing, moody puzzle experience.
So if Contre Jour is moody, Osmos is REALLY moody. I enjoy this title immensely, and almost want to assign the game as homework for my physics classes…. You are a little transparent ball on a large field of other balls. You move by touching the screen and that causes your ball to spit out parts of itself that direction, causing it to move in the other direction (with momentum issues, etc…) The goal, typically, is to collide with other, smaller blobs onscreen in order to absorb them. However, if you collide with something bigger, you’ll be absorbed (they’re marked in red to help you keep track.) This sounds simple, but remember you shrink when you move (you’re spitting out bits of yourself) in fact, the larger you are the larger bits you’re spitting out. Some levels even have a bit of a puzzle element where you purposely spit out bits of yourself not to move, but to have your ejected matter knock other blobs the further away! The game can get even more trickier when gravity is added to the picture – when turned on, blobs have their own gravity and thus can attract each other – whether they want to or not. Other levels have blobs that are active, trying to grow like you do rather than passively floating around. Some of my favorite levels have a central heavy blob serving as a “sun” and most of the level is played in “orbit” around this central sun. Get large enough and you can absorb the “sun” and win that level. To help make the game less tricky, the game has a fast forward and slow-down mode that can be accessed by swiping two fingers across the iPad. Slow down for tricky maneuvers, and speed up on those levels where you’re orbiting but need to wait for just the right moment to make your move. (Don’t move willy-nilly or you’ll end up shrinking yourself to an unsustainable size!) One of the most unique games I’ve played this fall, and probably my favorite non-boardgame at the moment. Highly recommended!
Other iOS News:
Since I’m only able to cover so many titles in one sitting, I had to put a few on the back burner for my next report. Rather than make you wait all that time (really just a few weeks, I hope) here’s a preview of titles coming down the pipeline as well as other expansions, sales, and items of note.
Leading up to Christmas, there are a huge number of sales going on in the app store. A few strategy titles that just hit a new low include the semi RPG Companions ($1), the iPad version of Civilization: Revolution ($2), the empire-building Second World War (admittedly it regularly drops to $1), as well as family-friendly things like the entire line of Sandra Boynton books (Moo Baa La La La, Going to Bed Book, etc.) which I find to be some of the best ebooks around for young kids at storytime… and Astronomy geeks might lik StarWalk for iPad for only $3. Tikal, Medici, and Ra had briefly gone on sale in November and I had hoped to mention them here, but they went back up in price on November 28th. I recommend using a site like Appshopper.com to track their changes so you can try to get in on any future discounts. There are simply a TON of discounts that have gone online to promote their apps through the holiday season.
Recent boardgame releases in the past couple months include:
The most recent news (just this week) I have is of Wars of the Roses ($4). Just released, it looks to be an abstract, area-control game played on a chess-like grid. However, players also have a small hand of cards that help dictate options.
Forbidden Island – I hear it’s pretty good
Elder Sign: Omens – I like it. It doesn’t have everything found in the boardgame but it is kicked up a notch slightly in difficulty.
Ticket to Ride Pocket – Now you can play on an iPhone (not online) but my favorite aspect is connecting it (via WiFi or I think Bluetooth as well) to other iPhones or iPads for a game where everyone has their own screens!
The aMAZEing Labyrinth – I haven’t played the boardgame but am looking forward to trying it on the iPad.
Tigris & Euphrates – A classic game (I’ve had my beef with it, but that’s just personal taste) that should be good (sounds good from initial impressions) based on the developer’s track record.
Imperial – This is a small-budget translation of the game that had a few initial bumps in the road, but I’m still impressed (initially) with what was accomplished.
Keltis HD – I played and enjoyed the iPhone version and expect this one to be a good translation of the game
FITS – LOVE this boardgame and glad to see now I can take a 2 player version with me on the go!
Loot and Scoot – Another boardgame that casually interested me and now I can give it a try to see what I think without having to find an opponent to teach me or spending money on a hard copy.
While they aren’t all that new, I’m also checking out a few older titles (new to me) like: Ubongo, Ravenmark (a fantasy-themed, lightwieght, turn based strategy game), the Arkham Horror Toolkit, and a couple of space sim strategy games (Ascendancy and Starbase Orion). Watch this space (well, this site) for updates in the coming weeks…
Finally, if you missed out on getting Scotland Yard when a non-approved version appeared on the app store, it is back and re-titled Detective’s Chase. It is VERY similar to Scotland Yard, so you’ll have to make your own decision on whether to support it while we all wait for an official version that is supposedly forthcoming.
The Opinionated Gamers were apparently too innundated with Essen releases to pay much attention to iOS gaming lately, so if they (or you) have any input you want to share about your current (or past) gaming choices, feel free to sound off in the comments below!
Until next time…