Welcome to yet another round-up of board and strategy related apps being released on the iOS platform. Big-name releases seem to be coming in almost weekly, and I’ve also managed to catch up on a few older titles with this round-up as well. As usual, I’m starting off with the more boardgame related titles and end with other strategy-oriented titles that may be of note for gamers around these parts. It continues to be nice to see that most titles are now including online play in some form or another, and many titles are also including achievements of various types. These are the kinds of things that help give a mediocre (or even good) title more “legs” and increase the time they are enjoyed before being set aside for the next new thing.
FITS ($1, Universal, 1p iPhone, 1-2p iPad)
I’m a bit biased, as I am a big fan of the boardgame FITS, so was very pleased to see it come to the iOS platform. The Tetris-like gameplay that combines planning, a bit of luck, and fun little plastic pieces (unless I’m playing the portable mini version) hits a sweet spot for me in gaming. Players attempt to fill up a grid of spaces completely with a set group of Tetris-like pieces presented in a random order. Points are gained for complete rows and lost for “holes” in the board. More advanced boards include spaces that penalize further or reward extra points for being left open. FITS on iOS is what you would expect, the board game ported onto an electronic interface that handily keeps track of all the pieces and scoring for you (although scoring in the app is highly inflated, scoring 1000 for a complete row for example). The iPhone version is basically a single player experience similar to a puzzle oriented app where you go for a high score. I especially like the two player mode on the iPad where each player can play simultaneously on their side of the board. There are eight boards included in the game, which any FITS fan will find familiar (I seem to recall four in the basic board game) and the solo play experience has players calculating their score after progressing through each one (although one can jump directly to play any favorite.) High scores can also be obtained and recorded via Game Center. With the 8 boards provided in the game, I feel the game provides good value, especially for anyone looking for an entertaining, low stress, two player abstract game. However, I suspect that the game itself isn’t going to attract me back time and again simply because the gameplay itself can be a bit repetitive. I would love to see an expansion or two released as an in-app purchase, possibly even a 4 player mode on the iPad – although it would be a bit cramped I admit. As things stand, this is a nice implementation for anyone looking for a nice, casual game to play. The eight boards provided with entertain long enough to provide decent value, and I intend to keep this on my iPad for occasional 2 player games even if I no longer frequent the single player game.
Caylus ($3, Universal, 2-5p local and online, 8 AIs in 4 levels)
The biggest Eurogame release for me this winter is Caylus. I was a huge fan of the game when it came out and even though I played it quite a bit I never quite satisfied my urge to explore all the different possible victory paths. This is Caylus presented with a nice visual style and a fairly good interface. A few minor criticisms include a failure to be able to access ALL boardgame information at ANY time. (For instance, I can’t access the game board state when trying to choose how many castle sections to build.) It would also have been nice to have an undo feature while selecting favors from the favor board (I’ve made a mistake a time or two – especially when thinking I had resources to build something when I didn’t or the building I wanted had already been built.) To keep the game moving, many menus will try to help you select the obvious play, but in a few cases this can happen without a warning (I’ve auto-built nothing in the castle section more than once, even though I had enough materials to build…) The AI in the game is decent, although I seem to be beating the highest level AIs fairly easily with a strong favor-based strategy (and the AI I played against tended to do a lot of building.) I wouldn’t recommend the game to anyone looking for a challenging AI. A friend with the original iPad has seen a number of crashing issues but I have seen none with my iPad 2, so original iPad owners beware (for now, anyway.) Finally, there is no good tutorial in the game, and my general impression is that this game is great for anyone who already knows Caylus and would like to fiddle with it a bit solo or play electronically vs other people, but newcomers to Caylus will have a bit of a steep learning curve through the game and interface. Thankfully, once that is mastered, the interface keeps things moving and enables speedy play rather than getting in the way of playing the game. Anyone wanting Caylus on their iPad, or even a cheap way to add the boardgame to their “collection” should not be afraid of a purchase. It’s a good value and I have no intention of removing it from my iPad anytime soon.
Loot & Scoot ($3, Universal, 2-4p local play)
A nice implementation of the filler-type dice-based board game, Loot & Scoot. Players set up a dungeon and then take turns “adventuring” by trying to roll 6’s to defeat each other’s monsters and earn gold, which is then used to hire more adventurers, improve them, or hire cast-away temporary hirelings. I had a good time playing against my nephew on my iPod over Christmast but it kept crashing all the time. That seems to be working better now (haven’t seen a crash in awhile) and makes for a nice, fun pass and play game. Nothing too deep here but the theme still comes through enough for some fun. I don’t recommend choosing to set one’s dungeon up in “manual” mode as that seems to take far too long – just go with an auto-setup and get off an running. This is a good buy for any fan of the game, people who want to test drive the game before buying a physical copy, or any fan of more lightweight dice-dependant games. Not a game for someone looking for a deeper strategy experience.
Titan HD ($8 iPad, 2-6p local play with AI players available)
I have fond memories of the very few times I played a physical game of Titan. A group of friends spent the better part of a Saturday moving little chits of cardboard around the board full of hexagons. Titan HD arriving on the iPad is simply amazing to me since I am now able to play an actual game of Titan without having to give up an entire day to do so (something that is just not happening.) With Titan on my iPad, I can play a 3 or 4 player game vs computer AI in almost half an hour. I would be highly tempted to try playing a game with live players on the iPad if only to reduce time fiddling with all the little cardboard chits, combat mats, etc… The interface is pretty good, with the nice graphics of the most recent edition of the game. Most things a player wants to accomplish can be done in one or two taps of the screen and (very importantly) all the game information is accessible at almost all times. There are a few caveats I’d love to see improved. The game board fits nicely on the iPad screen, but I’d love to be able to zoom in and look closer at the occasional stack, but there is no option for zooming the main screen. The main drawback of the computer version is that gameplay goes by so quickly it is tricky to remember what creatures are going into which stacks. In the physical boardgame it is vitally important to keep track of which stacks are most likely to contain a titan. While the game does display any recent additions to a stack that occurred the previous turn, there is no way to go back a turn or two to see what a stack did. It seems to me that it would have been somewhat simple, and amazingly helpful, to be able to access the “history” of any given stack back to the start of the game. Some sort of family tree of all known additions with notes marking when the stack split off. This would allow a player who isn’t paying close attention to try to catch up a bit when it becomes more important just where everything is. Even some way for me as a player to “mark” a given stack with some information for later retrieval would be handy. As things stand, I’m tempted to keep my iPod touch or a piece of paper handy to keep notes of important developments in the game. While I don’t claim to be a Titan expert, the computer AI seems reasonable although not devastatingly good. I’ve won a few games and lost my fair share (although CLEARLY the losses were the result of bad luck and the wins were due to skill). Any fan of Titan deserves to give this a serious look. However, the rules and the introduction (except for a video tutorial available that will be included in a future update) are fairly sparse. Players entirely new to the game will need to have someone or some reference handy to give them the overall gist of the game, as leaping blindly into the game would be a very steep learning curve.
Magic Isles (Free but in-app purchases available, iPhone, 1 player levels and 2-4 player vs online only)
I was intrigued by this game at first, but after some time with it I was no longer enamoured with it. It is mostly an abstract game where players move wizards about on hex terrain, trying to avoid being forced into a corner. Since a turn consists of both moving, and then eliminating any one hex on the board, the game moves pretty quick and players do need to think ahead. However, it soon felt much more like a puzzle and less like a game to me. There were a few bells and whistles present like blocking terrain and magic spells that could be cast by moving to specific hexes to gather magic resources, but they weren’t enough to keep my interest. Surprisingly, I could have given the game a bit more life if I played against a friend, but only online play was available for multiple players, no local multiplayer options were present.
Wizard Hex ($3 Universal, local & online 2-6 p)
Wizard Hex is quite a nice looking abstract game consisting of a hexagonal board and six styles of tokens representing various elements (air, water, etc…) Players take turns placing tokens (from limited stock) onto the board to try to claim the largest area with their own tokens when the game ends. All tokens placed must trace a path back to their “home” side. Where strategy starts to come in is that a token can be “upgraded” into silver by placing a second token on top or even “upgraded” again to gold with a third token. This uses up precious tokens but allows one to move into and attack other, adjacent tokens that aren’t as upgraded. The second spin to the game comes because a player can use and place their own element tokens AND the two adjacent elemental tokens, although only one’s own tokens count for scoring. In addition, adjacent element types cannot have their tokens attack one another so they can become very useful blockers. I felt the game was presented very well and it should be a definite look for fans of abstracts, especially if played in a local game against other players. However, the computer AI didn’t seem all that great, even on the highest settings (or I’m far more of a wizard at the game than I know…)
Reiner Knizia’s Lines of Gold ($1, Universal, 1p puzzle type game)
How many puzzle-games or game-puzzles can Knizia produce on the iOS system? Well, at least another one. In this game players must place coins onto a 3 x 4 grid in order to line them up with similar properties along the diagonals or across the rows. Coins come in copper, silver, and gold. They also display from one to three circles, bars, or cups. When three coins are placed in a row or diagonal, you earn points if one or more aspects match. You also increase point values over time by never completing a row or diagonal without something matching. Of course, as the game progresses more and more coins of different types appear (you won’t see any cups or gold coins to start.) What limits the game is your limited number of coins. Play starts with a set number, but more can be earned by matching three in a row by color (bronze/silver/gold with the rarer metals worth more). In an aspect for which I didn’t care, matching three exact coins opens up a mini game – depending on the coins matched. This allows players to earn several more coin tokens or big bonus points. However, most mini games are a sort of push-your-luck (like opening chests until you get a skull) affair. Since high scores are tracked on Game Center, a particularly good game might only be the result of decent play and some very lucky mini games. The one big of planning available is in a “holding” spot that opens up a bit into a game where a spare coin can be stored until later. This can help get those tricky three-in-a-row lineups or help a player avoid particularly bad coin runs. I had fun with this little puzzle/placement type game for awhile but due to the randomness of the mini games I’m not pulled in deep enough to really strive for particularly high scores. It’s a solid title with few problems, but there are so many games of this type around I simply can’t recommend it as a must-buy. Fans of Knizia may want to check it out or buy it simply for completeness sake, but otherwise I suspect most gamers can pass this by without missing much.
Journey of Fortune: Dragon’s Fire ($3 iPad, $1 iPhone, 1-4 player local)
Don’t buy this game “for up to four player”. It reminded me of the gameplay of Chutes and Ladders, but was more frustrating and presented in a far more garish fashion reminiscent of a pinball game on steroids. Dragon’s Fire is a sort of roll and move game, interspersed with “combat” resolved by spending mana and spinning a wheel to find a result. Spin a few times and you may defeat the enemy (of that section of the board) and earn a bit a gold which you could use to upgrade your character if you were so lucky to land on a store space. Lose against a monster and you’re sent back to the start of the game (Did i mention you have to “roll” a specific number to even leave the start?) After a few (many?) failed attempts across the board someone will be lucky or patient enough to reach the end and win the game. In no part of the game did I feel I had a chance to make a meaningful decision or influence the outcome in a significant way. The only pleasure I had with this app was in finally deleting it once my review was completed.
Brawl (Universal, 3 Free decks to play, 3 to buy $2 each. Play vs AI (3 speeds) or online.)
This is an iOS implementation of the real-time card game, Brawl. Players race through their deck of cards one at a time, placing “hits” on their own sides of markers and “blocks” on the opponents side. When one deck runs out, the three (or less) markers are compared to see who has more “hits”. The player with the most hits wins that stack, the player with the most stacks wins the game/round. The price is right here, free. It is a fun little game that can be played vs AI – I wish there were a local 2 player version though. It seems a waste that a 1 on 1 iPad version isn’t available. Players can duel online or play against 3 “speeds” of AI – the higher speed AIs are quick vicious. The interface is straight forward, and players have access to 3 different “decks” which have their own play style. I’d pay a bit for this game, so as a free app I give it a good recommendation. However, there are three additional decks available for purchase in-app at $2 each. That seems to be a bit steep for the value returned (making it a $6 “complete” game), but since everyone can try before you buy, and just get the decks they want, I have no problems promoting this app.
Elder Sign: Omens ($7 HD iPad version, $4 iPhone version, 1-4p local play only, no AI)
I mentioned this release last round-up and have now finished up my thoughts on the game. It is a nice implementation of the dice-based Arkham Horror themed boardgame. I particularly enjoy how they managed to include the moody theme of the game through graphics, sound, and background/flavor text. It only takes a play or so to adapt to the interface – the default appearance adds to the mood but is a bit less informative than I prefer but all the information I want is within an easy press of a button. This isn’t an exact implementation of the board game, there is only a single Ancient One in the game, and a few other tweeks are present, but it makes for a smooth running game and seems to make the game just a tad bit more difficult than the board game version. Now, I do miss the tactile feel of rolling physical dice, but other than that minor loss, this is a great presentation of a fun little game.
Dominion by Donald X. Vaccarino (Free, Universal, Online and 1p vs AI Local play)
I recently came across an implementation of the card game Dominion. It is a non-official implementation but seems to be unofficially sanctioned (ie. ignored by the powers that be) while it is free and at least until the official iOS port arrives. This version has a pretty simple AI to play against and only the basic set of cards. It works great on the iPad and is worth the download. I believe its strongest value is the online play, but as I rarely play boardgames online against people I do not know, I haven’t checked it out too much. It would have been nice to have a local play option of some sort (I realize hiding hand cards might be problematic) but you can’t beat the price.
Food Fight iOS ( $4 Universal, 1-4p local and vs AI, 2-4p online asynchronous)
Just released, Food Fight is a nice little card game based around a food war. The game is played in two parts. First, players draft a set 9 cards to use in the war from which 5 cards are chosen to fight (action cards and leftover army cards remain in one’s hand.) Second, players choose a meal location at which to fight (breakfast/lunch/dinner – each will have a point value for the round) and then their five chosen cards are shuffled and compared one by one. The higher point value card wins that “serving”. Win the most servings at a location and gain the points for that battle. Once everyone fights their battle (if no other player is at a location, the player present competes against a dummy “dog” deck) players rinse and repeat by drafting 9 new cards. The first player to 10 points to win the game. The game is interesting due to the the card interactions. Some cards are more valuable at specific meals, others increase the power of later cards, and then there are the action cards that can be played during combat to affect the outcome. Looking for cards that play well with others for the meals with the highest point values is the most interesting aspect of the game. The combats are slightly out of one’s control since they occur in a random order, but clever use of instant actions can help mitigate poor shuffles. Overall, I’m quite a fan of this little game. The art is really greasy and funny, bringing to mind the classic greasy diner establishment. The interface is quite intuitive and game play is presented through a handy tutorial. This wasn’t a game high on my radar when I came across it, but after a few plays it has earned a place on my iPad for the foreseeable future. I expect to play against the AI occasionally, and it could be quite fun in a local multiplayer mode with the right audience. My highest praise for the app would be that I’m seriously thinking about buying a physical copy for the occasional game night.
Robo Hero (Free, Universal, $2 to unlock full game *supposedly increasing to $4 soon*, 2-4 players local, online play promised)
My wife and I are big RoboRally fans, and Robo Hero is an app that has come very close to presenting a similar play experience. There are differences, but the basic concept of programming in moves for one’s robot and then letting them run loose in a crazy board of obstacles remains. The game can be played solo or with up to four players in two different modes. The single player story mode operates like a puzzle campaign, slowing adding complexity and giving a 1 to 3 star rating for performance while the solo arena mode pits players against AI robots. Additional strategic decisions come into play before each game when players can buy special ammo and other upgrades for their robots. For me, the jury is still out on the game. You can’t beat free, so that makes it a recommended download. Shelling out money to unlock the full game is worthwhile for fans of the genre. I miss the chaos of the crazy weapons, boards and upgrades in the classic RoboRally, but Robo Hero is awfully close and is so much easier to set up and play. It feels much more combat oriented than the race-oriented RoboRally, but seems to fill the void for me for the present.
Legion of the Damned ($5 iPhone, 2-4p vs AI as well as local & online modes)
This is a pretty detailed hex-based wargame containing a nice tutorial (which is actually slightly challenging in parts), a campaign mode that slowly introduces many of the units, as well as skirmish modes against AI and people (in online and local modes). One of the first things one notices about the game is the detailed cut-scene with voice acting that introduces the game. The game presents a somewhat dark look at the future (prisoners “forced” into armies after harsh punishment, etc…) but that also means there is a significantly deep back story. In fact, there are links in the app to quite a few fiction books written about this setting. The game itself relies heavily on fog of war combat with mixes of troops used to capture and/or hold strategic points. Games tend to have set armies (as opposed to any new recruits coming in mid-game) and often require players to make good use of scouts in order to create match ups of fighting units for a player’s best advantage. While the tutorial does a good job of introducing the mechanics of playing the game, it will take time for players to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the various unit types and be able to play well. The user interface is pretty good, although the scale of battle is readjusted when displaying the result of opponents’ turns (thus you don’t always get a clear picture of the larger battle). I’d also love to see a universal version for play on my iPad since, even scaled up, the health value of units on the field is often difficult to make out. I’d say this game is worth a look for fans of unit-based combat on hex grids (Warhammer 20K, etc…), especially wargamers who enjoy a nice campaign arc in their game. The skirmish modes extend the life of the game giving some vs AI opportunities as well as play vs “real” people.
Samurai Blood Show ($5 Universal, 1 & 2 player modes, Free version available)
This is primarily a single player computer game based around playing cards from a deck to serve as defenders in several rows. The computer armies attack from the right along five rows, and one can play cards from one’s hand to create place units in the left side of the rows. When units meet, they fight – doing damage until one or both units are eliminated. An army card can be placed on top of a unit to upgrade it to the next level, which also heals the unit entirely and is an important tactical move. Managing cards is also important as the deck is limited. When it runs out that’s all the units you have for the scenario. Cards can only played from one’s hand and one must buy new cards with gold from defeating incoming armies. Units can move up and down and back and forth on the board, but only slowly so planning ahead is important. Defeat all the attacking armies without letting one through and you win the level and are awarded a new card for your deck. Cards may be similar to ones already owned or new types with new properties that may let them attack further, move faster, defend better, etc… Once a player has a few new cards it is possible to customize the deck of army cards before a scenario. This gives the game a bit of a role-playing aspect which did hold my attention a bit longer than otherwise. While most cards can be earned over time, players can also purchase them in “packs” to upgrade their army deck from the start.
Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion ($5 Universal, 1p campaigns)
Ravenmark is a fantasy/ancient warfare wargame in an isometric 2D perspective. It is a very beautiful presentation of turn based combat where one has limited action points to direct troops. By employing ongoing “programmed” options for units, a player can effectively command quite a number of units at a time, only spending one’s action points for changing specific units actions. A big part of maneuvering includes lining up up to three units in a row and linking them to gain special benefits (such as additional attacks for archery or defense for melee troops) in addition to being able to command them with a single action point. A very thorough campaign is included in the game that starts out with a nice tutorial. The skirmishes start out easy but quickly become challenging. Since unit movement and attacking is programmed in at first and then units move in initiative order, I seemed to frequently become frustrated that the computer somehow managed to respond to changes in combat status far better than my own troops. Wargamers who like tactical battles where unit management is key (spearmen beat cavalry beat archers beat heavy footmen beat spearmen, etc…) should check it out. While Universal, I found the iPhone screen to be a bit small for my comfort and I almost exclusively played it on my iPad. The price seems to be reasonable, but (even better) there is a free trial version to let everyone make their own decision.
Crimson: Steam Pirates (Free – iPad, $1 – iPhone, 1-2p)
Crimson: Steam Pirates is a nice little pirate-themed combat game with a healthy dose of steampunk. Through a solo campaign one manages a pirate crew through 8 chapters of story, while learning to manage (and grow over time) a small fleet of ships. Combat is programmed in a turn at a time, and then the ships move and fire on each other. Crew can help improve (repair, increase speed, etc…) a ships performance from time to time, but the primary goal is typically to remain broadside as much as possible and avoid being broadsided. Most ship decisions are fairly automatic. There are a few two player scenarios available for a pass and play mode and two more complete story modes (of about 8 chapters each) available as in-app purchases. The game manages to carry off its theme quite well so folks interested in a nice steampunk diversion on the lighter-side of strategy should check this out. If you’re more into realism or heavy duty turn-based strategy the naval battles probably won’t quite deliver enough tactics and strategy to keep you happy.
That ends this season’s rundown, but before I end I wanted to mention some of the game-related utilities, recent app upgrades and in-app purchases of note in the boardgame and strategy app realm.
Keltis HD ($4 iPad, 1-4 players Local w/ AI, and online play)
OK, this is a full new game, but only because it is now available on the iPad. You can play up to a four player game (with or without AI players) in a pass and play mode, or a nice table mode where each player sits on one side of the iPad and it doesn’t need to be passed around. There is also a campaign mode and a set of “new challenges” which can be purchased as a $2 in-app purchase (the new challenges can even be played in local multiplayer). High scores are recorded and achievements are available through Game Center. Enough has been included in this version to make it attractive to someone who already owns the iPhone version (and isn’t particularly a Keltis fanatic.)
Ticket to Ride Pocket ($1, iPhone)
In addition to providing local WiFi play, the very inexpensive (it was even free for a day!) Ticket to Ride app for the iPhone had added in an online asynchronous gameplay mode through Game Center. You can now challenge friends and play through a game of Ticket to Ride over the course of several days! The full iPad app remains the only iOS way to play over the Days of Wonder matchmaking servers, but this is a great addition for those wanting an even more on-the-go version of the game.
Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer ($5, Universal)
The Return of the Fallen expansion is now available as an in-app purchase. For $3, you get a bunch of new cards to work with (I believe playable as a stand alone or mixed together with the standard game). Along with the expansion release, the main game was slightly revamped for a few new multiplayer options as well as a bit nicer user interface experience. As Ascension was already one of the best user interfaces around, this is impressive. The in-app purchase is a no-brainer for fans, but gamers on the fence will still need to decide whether to spring for the new cards. They definitely breath some new life into the game but probably aren’t going change one’s main opinion of the basic game.
Other Utilities of Note:
Any fan of Heroscape shouldn’t be without the free HS-Aholic app that keeps track of one’s armies and is a great help both for organizing and choosing units before a combat.
While the Arkham Horror Toolkit won’t replace the entire boardgame, but it is a very handy manager for many of the little fiddly bits in the game. Unfortunately it is iPhone only, no Universal version, so the screen real estate can be pretty cramped. I found it most useful for taking over a single aspect of the game (character tracking, managing exploration cards, etc…) rather than trying to use all of its information bits at once, that way it was a much handier reference.
Players of Magic: the Gathering, should check out the recent deck manager put out by Wizards of the Coast – Magic: the Gathering Toolbox. It can keep track of your collection, your decks, has links to online articles, has options to reproduce any random numbers needed in a game, and can even operate as a life counter! Served up free, it sounds like a great deal. Unfortunately, its getting a bit of a bad rap at the moment as being somewhat slow at times and not as handy as some third party apps. Since I’m very much a casual player nowadays I can’t attest to it. As a free app, I call your attention to it and will let you make your own conclusions. I’m keeping it around for the handy life counter for the moment. Too bad it isn’t Universal either, since it tries to be a handy way to link articles for reading.
Perhaps my biggest trial this “season” has been trying to decide the showdown between the space exploration/combat titles Ascendancy ($5, Universal) and Starbase Orion ($8, Universal). So far, I’ve found Starbase Orion to be an excellent adaptation of a space game with a Master of Orion feel. However, Ascendancy is definitely appealing with a very 3-D look (even the tech tree is 3D) and an organic feel. I need to give both of them a bit more time to make my decision. If I had to make a call at present I’d give Starbase Orion the nod simply because it is easier for a new player to hop in and play while I think Ascendancy sets a far better mood and organic play experience – with 3D maps of the universe, even 3D space combat within star systems. I guess that’s enough teaser for now, you’ll just have to wait for my next report to find out which one earns a permanent spot on my iPad!