iBoardgaming – Fall 2012

Essen has come and gone, but for the rest of us who aren’t world-travelling gamers it will still be a few weeks or months (sometimes years) before we get around to playing this new “crop” of games. Now that Dale has finished reading rules on his iPad, it’s time to think about putting some actual boardgames on there! The boardgame releases had slowed a bit at the end of the summer, but have made a big push here in fall again so that there are now quite a few new (or at least new to me) opportunities for gaming on the go. Here is my rundown on some of the newest (newish, or downright old but I finally got to look at them) titles.

As always, “Universal” means it works on both iPads and iPhones with one purchase. Assume local play means a “Pass & Play” mode unless otherwise mentioned, and nearly all online play is now through Game Center unless specifically mentioned otherwise… Prices were current as of the time I write this introductions so could easily fluctuate in the future. For the price-conscious among you, I highly recommend http://www.Appshopper.com to flag titles of interest and you’ll be sent an email whenever they go on sale (you can even check if they’ve been on sale in the past and save a bit of money if you’re patient enough to wait for the next sale…)

Take It Easy ($2, Universal, 1-4p local or online – no AI available)

I must admit I wasn’t a particular fan of the boardgame, Take It Easy. While it had nice, pretty colors, it was too abstract for my tastes. However, I was pleasantly surprised to be sucked into the iOS implementation of the game. It fits perfectly into that short-play style / thought provoking type of app in which the iOS platform excels. With the exception of a lack of AI provided for head to head bouts against the computer, this is a very well produced and polished game. There are local and online game modes for both classic and “puzzle” game play against human opponents, but what has really sucked me into the game are the solo play modes. Solo play contains classic (place tiles one at a time to achieve a high score), puzzle (try to accomplish the set goal of the puzzle which could mean reaching a particular score or creating specific shapes), and a progressive mode (place tiles with a time limit to reach a minimum score and advance to the next level, extra time is added to future levels.) While the puzzle mode is enough to attract my attention, what kept me playing longer than expected was my pursuit of the rather arcade-like internal achievements in the program. Rather than arbitrary point totals, some of the achievements actually unlock features of the game (some of the solo play modes in particular) which are a nice little reward for initial success within the game. At $2, I consider this a very nice combination of puzzle and abstract multiplayer game app. Recommended to anyone who would enjoy either aspect of the game.

Reiner Knizia’s Qin ($5, iPad, 2-4p pass & play and online modes, 4 levels of AI)

Knizia finally gets around to releasing an actual, physical boardgame but of course it should also be an iOS app. In Qin, players take turns placing tiles (1×2 squares) onto a gridded game board. When a group of 2 or more squares of the same color (there are three colors) are connected, a player may place a pagoda. Make a group of 5 or more and a second pagoda is placed (which protects that area from takeover.) In addition, there are city tiles and the player with the most pagodas directly adjacent to a city may also place a pagoda in the city. Players alternate turns until one player runs out of pagodas to win the game. While it is fairly easy to place about 1 pagoda per turn, making good use of city tiles to place additional pagodas is important. While more difficult, managing to take over enemy groups and (even better) enemy occupied cities is particularly satisfying as one both places one or more pagodas and also knocks pagodas back into the opposing player’s placement pool. The interface is quite polished and very beautiful, although I would have loved some sort of “undo” button in solo game play – there is no way to take back an accidental incorrect move. The initial main menu is a very pretty layout of a game box and board. While nice, it is a bit confusing when first playing as there are no “buttons” or menus to select. I initially had no idea how to even start a game – it was a good thing the tutorial automatically kicked in. It reminds me of the Ticket to Ride interface – very pretty but not easily maneuverable at first. After figuring what item is what, there are no problems. The game also contains a tutorial but is somewhat lacking in details. While I could begin to play the game after the tutorial, a run-through of the rules was necessary to completely understand how to win. As a two player game, it seems quite satisfying. It is quite abstract, so isn’t my favorite genre but it does look like there can be some long term strategy to develop. I’m not so sure what to make of it as a multiplayer game as I seem to want more control than I am given if I’m only placing a tile every 3 or 4 turns. Included in the game are two different board layouts, a beginner one and a second one with a slightly more complex starting set of terrain.

Bottom line: This is a pretty nice abstract game that was clearly produced both by a designer and a development house that know their stuff. It isn’t going to be my favorite game (iPad or otherwise) but I do plan to explore its depths a bit more – perhaps even work my way through some of the stronger AI players as I do. It has potential as a pass-and-play game, although I think I’d try to forgo the hidden information of a player’s 3 available tiles just to avoid having to hide my eyes between turns.

Alien Frontiers ($5, iPad, 2-4p local with 4 levels of AI)

I have had access to a physical copy of this dice-based game for some time now but just couldn’t find the time or the right crowd to get it to the table. I’m so glad I can now experience it via the iPad. Without hidden information, Alien Frontiers is an excellent candidate for an iPad translation. While the board is a bit crowded (I wouldn’t want to play this on a new iPad mini), all the important information is there at a glance. The game does not have any sort of tutorial, but any gamer can pick up the game from a quick read-through of the rules. For more casual gamers, the learning curve may be too steep. My only complaint with the interface would be the lack of an easy way to reference the details of some of the various special powers in the game. In some places (the cards) it is easy to check their mechanics, but in others (planet locations and other abilities) I needed to jump back to the rules repeatedly to figure things out. Once the game is learned (one or two full games) pictorial summaries on the board help players remember. At $5, this is a nice price point for a casual game to play vs AI opponents or for a pass and play game.

Dominant Species for iPad ($5, iPad, 2-6p pass & play with 3 AI levels)

I have been wanting to dive into this game for some time, but its long play time has always been a hinderance. With the new iPad implementation I’m able to get a taste of the game without having to spend my time all in one big chunk. With the iPad taking over all the bookkeeping I can play it faster than ever before. The game starts with a nice introduction that helps to familiarize one with the mechanics of the game. It allows new players to get a feel for the flow of the game before jumping in or even reading the full rules. However, reading the full rules will be necessary. There is simply too much going on to grasp with a simple short introduction (notice I didn’t even call it a tutorial.) New players will need to frequently flip back to the rules to figure out how things work. Thankfully, simply touching a phase area on the screen will immediately jump a player to the rules for that phase, making quick reminders easy to accomplish.

The user interface is clean and most actions are obvious, though it simply represents the game board and pieces rather than try to use the iPad graphics for any additional interface improvements. As for the game’s intelligence, I cannot claim to be anything but a neophyte but even the lowest level computer players fail to make completely stupid moves. The harder AIs obviously have a difficult time making extremely long-term strategies work but are definitely passable for users who want to learn the game, have a mild challenge, or add in a computer opponent or two to balance a game with fewer players. It is a complex game that is implemented well. It will serve fans of the game well as a way to play solo or even around an iPad to speed up gameplay. However, the game is not a good match with the general public as I don’t see them spending the effort necessary to learn how to play. For me, $5 is a great price to give this recent hit a try.

Can’t Stop ($1, Universal, 1-4p local play with 2 levels of AI)

Can’t Stop is a universal implementation of the classic push-your-luck dice game. The game is presented and played simulating a 3-D representation of the physical Stop Sign game complete with cute little animations (which at least manage to avoid distracting this curmudgeon gamer.) The game interface is straightforward to use and doesn’t get in the way. In addition to standard 2-5 player modes with optional AI players, the game contains a time attack solo mode where “pushing your luck” too far causes a loss of time. Yet, the game strangely does not have a leaderboard or even save high (low) scores for the time attack mode. One of the better parts of Can’t Stop is rolling the physical dice, and that is lost in this electronic version but for only $1 this is a great way to add yet another short game option onto one’s iPad for those spur-of-the-moment gaming sessions.

A Fistful of Penguins ($2, Universal, 1-4p vs five levels of AI but only 1 human player)

The iOS version of A Fistful of Penguins is missing all the cool bits found in the boardgame, but it manages to preserve the brightly colored feel and theme. Once again, a dice based game loses a little bit of edge when played without the tactile feel of real dice but it still makes for a fun little game. The user interface is very well done – intuitive and easy to use, and I was particularly glad to see a nice bunch of appropriate achievements to attempt. This is only an implementation of the “standard” version of the boardgame, and not the more advanced “gamer-y” rules. As such it is lightweight fun but does have a limited appeal since it can only be played vs the computer AI. The solo mode provides a bit of challenge until one realizes there is a realistic maximum score to be achieved and a high score only requires lots of patience and enough repeated plays. Despite the limitations, I did enjoy my time with the game and consider it a decent game for $2. However, this game could be so much more if a pass and play option were added or (dare I dream) implemented the more advanced “auction” form of the game.

Café International ($5, Universal, 1-4p local play vs 3 levels of AI)

On a board gridded with tables, place patrons at tables according to their nationality. However, patrons typically sit between two tables and every table must strive to contain equal numbers of males and females. When a table is filled it is scored, with more points awarded for the occupancy of nearby tables and the uniformity of the scored table’s patrons. Thankfully, the game comes with a short tutorial to get you into the game. I found the game decent and well implemented, but it didn’t personally grip my attention. The iOS implementation has three modes of play: classic (played against other players), solitaire (where one tries to make the best of the patrons and tables dealt out), and timed (like solitaire but with time constraints.) There is also a local leaderboard for each game version. I’m not a huge abstract fan, and this game felt a bit dry to me, but anyone who likes the card game should be pleased with its implementation here.

San Juan ($8, Universal, 2-4p local and online with 3 levels of AI)

A handy tutorial gets anyone new (or rusty) to the game up to speed and then its off to the races in this classic card game derivative of Puerto Rico. San Juan just doesn’t get to the table much anymore and I enjoyed my stroll down memory lane by playing a few rounds on my iPad against the computer. Even the moderate AI isn’t all that strong, but playing against multiple opponents on the strongest AI provided me a fairly decent challenge. At $8 it is pricier than other games reviewed here, but it is also one of the more polished games. It has GameCenter online play as well as a host of achievements and the ability to “challenge” friends to compete against high scores. Its up to the individual to decide if it is worth half the price of the physical card game.

Magic 2013 (Free – Full game $10 & Expansion $5, iPad, solo and 2p online modes)

Magic: the Gathering has come to yet another platform. As a free download, the only thing preventing you from trying it out is its huge size (almost 1.2GB!) The free download is enough to play for an hour or three and give the flavor of the game, but for any extended play the full version needs to be purchased. At $10, the in-app purchase is a bit steep but that is a good price to pay for the many options unlocked including the option to play Magic online. This isn’t quite free-form Magic as one can only customize the included decks within specific limits, but it isn’t bad. As one could expect from the memory footprint, the cards and other graphics in the title are top notch. If you’re willing to fork over the $10 to unlock the full game (including puzzle modes, a campaign, 2-headed giant modes, and other goodies) there is a very compelling game here. At least you’re not forking over cash to purchase any virtual booster packs or anything.

Hacienda HD Family Boardgame by Wolfgang Kramer ($6, iPad, 2-5p local with 3 levels of AI)

I’m a bit late to the party with this title, as it released some time ago, but that’s OK because I hadn’t gotten around to playing this tile placement game in its physical form before either! Thankfully there is a nice tutorial that provided most of what I needed to know and was then able to jump into a game. As a neophyte to the game, I feel the solo game could really use an undo function if a tile is misplaced due to user interface (or simply user) error. Everything needed to play is displayed on the screen – with the exception of the available tiles and cards which are shown on the side in two alternating screens which can be changed with finger swipe. After a bit of play against the computer the newness wore off for me and I became a bit wary of the somewhat abstract nature of the game. In its benefit, there are two different maps available on which to play. Despite the hidden information in the game, I could see this getting some use in a local pass and play mode.

Whoowasit? / HD ($3 – iPhone, $6 – iPad, 1-4p at three difficulty settings)

Winner of the 2008 SdJ-Kinderspiel, I had not encountered this cooperative game until tryign it out on the iPad. Players move about a castle in a sort of Clue-like manner trying to discover food items and then feeding them to the animals present in order to be given clues to the traitor within the castle. Find the traitor and open their respective chest before time runs out and win the game. Despite this being a kid game, I found it to be rather difficult to win. I’ve played it with my young boys (preschool and kindergarten) who thoroughly enjoy it, but we have yet to win a game (probably because I’m not overly serious in tracking all the information as it is gained). Along with the main game, this app can operate in “Chest Mode” and replace the talking portion of the physical boardgame with the iPad. The game tracks its own style of achievements and that can give a nice reward for players who aren’t necessarily winning every time.

The aMAZEing Labyrinth ($4 iPhone, $6 iPad, 1-4p local)

The classic game is here on the iPhone and iPad where players slide tiles into the sides of a set of tiles in order to adjust the maze displayed. Create a path for your wizard to reach the item he or she requires and then retreat to one’s home base when enough items are collected. I found it to be a fine implementation but the game itself left me rather indifferent. I could possibly see it as a nice kid-friendly game, particularly for my eldest who has just recently taken a shine to mazes in general.

Masters Gallery ($3, Universal, 3-5p only verses 3 levels of AI)

Yes, this is the reskinned Modern Art: The Card game implemented on iOS. You can now buy the game with your preferred art, the classic game or art from old masters. While the game isn’t all that new, this implementation does have some improvements specifically for the iPad 3 (better graphics and takes advantage of some additional speed). Gamer Center is now implemented although there is not yet any online play available. Where I see a clean user interface, some might point to basic or lackluster graphics. What I like best of the titles by this developer are the attention to the AI (which has three levels of difficulty for each of four different personalities – all of which track their performance in a sort of high score list.) In addition, many interesting stats are tracked for each player (including the computer AI). This gives me some incentive to keep coming back to work on my long-term performance.

Thunderstone Gateway (Free, iPad, solo campaign play, online multiplayer)

This is an amazingly slow implementation of the deckbuilding-genre, Thunderstone. I’m not sure who or what programmed this monstrosity but it clearly was not initially designed for the iPad. It is too bad, as the game has a lot to offer, with a nifty little campaign mode, ways to play multiplayer, and at the right price point (free!) Sure, there are additional card packs that can be purchased for a somewhat hefty price of $2 each (but I <think> multiplayer games only require the host to own the expansion packs), but this implementation isn’t even worth the free download. I would love to recommend this title as there are some really nice features present, and it makes the card game that much more fun to play since all the fiddly bits are removed from the game. However, even on my 3rd generation iPad the game menus, selections, animations, just about everything runs horribly slow and jerky. If you don’t mind playing a card game through molasses, go ahead and give it a download, otherwise I recommend steering clear of this title.

Lost Cities ($4, iPhone, 2p vs 4 levels of AI and an online mode)

Just what the title says, this is an iPhone version of Lost Cities. That might be enough to convince you to purchase it, but $4 is on the slightly higher range for an iPhone title. The game does contain a good number of features – online play, reasonably strong AI at the higher levels, and a set of achievements to work towards to keep solo play rewarding. My only beef with the title would be its lack of native iPad support. I do most of my gaming with my iPad rather than my iPod Touch and I always miss the better resolution and better touchscreen interface found on the iPad.

Catch the Match ($1 – on sale from $3, iPad, 1-2p local play)

Quick disclaimer: Catch the Match is my favorite little-kid game ever. Two cards are revealed always containing the same two-tone objects (out of 4 possible colors) but on any two cards only one object will be colored exactly the same on both cards. Spot that object first to “win” the card. The game requires no reading skills or even manual dexterity, so is great for even the preschool age. On the iPad, it works great with two cards displayed at about the same size as the original card game. In the two player mode, players tap the item on “their” card to get credit for the find, whereas the one player mode only requires a tap on either card’s object. The single player mode has a countdown timer for each card pair (it resets with a “find” but the timer also speeds up over time) with points scored for fast recognition of the correct duplicate item. The game ends when the timer on a card runs out or three “strikes” occur due to picking the wrong item. While I’m not going to claim this is a deep game for adults, it is passably fun, but I will highly endorse it for anyone with younger kids who might find a use for a quick distracting game while on the go with an iPad. At the current sale price of $1, I highly recommend it for almost anyone.

Delve: The Dice Game ($2, iPhone, solo game)

Originally a web-published boardgame, Delve seems like the type of game that could have been developed just for the iOS platform (this is a good thing.) Choose four characters to start (out of 8 from which to choose) and then venture forth on a little “adventure” using dice to defeat monsters along the way. Characters and monsters have hit points. Roll the dice and use any special powers of your characters (damage dealt when a “6” is rolled, or damage several monsters if three of a kind is rolled, heal comrades on a straight, reroll abilities, etc…) to damage the enemy monsters. Any surviving monsters are then allowed to try to damage your characters back. When the monsters are defeated, the party moves on to the next challenge, culminating in a slightly harder “boss fight” at the end of a series. It is a fun little diversion to explore dice combinations using the various characters available, and a bit of luck can either add to the challenge or help you set a higher score. In addition to simply working through the various scenario chains offered, the game also includes achievements on Game Center to help keep one’s interest. At $2, it is more than a throw-away $1 app, but there is some fun to be had here. Again, I wish iPad native graphics were implemented, but the game does fine with what it has.

And that’s just about all the iOS boardgames I’ve managed to squeeze in to my time in the past couple of months or so. I’m very overdue for taking a look at some of the non-boardgame strategic games available, so expect to see a rundown on wargames, space strategy games, role playing games, and possibly a few other bonus titles in the near future!

About Matt J Carlson

Dad, Gamer, Science Teacher, Youth Pastor... oh and I have green hair. To see me "in action" check out Dr. Carlson's Science Theater up on Youtube...
This entry was posted in Commentary. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to iBoardgaming – Fall 2012

  1. Joe Huber says:

    Spending $1 on Can’t Stop currently can only be justified if you believe (1) it’s going to be fixed, and (2) it’s going to increase in price. It’s got two fatal flaws, at present, in my opinion. First, it’s buggy – you aren’t offered valid choices for using the dice you roll, sometimes losing out because the program can’t add four dice properly. And second, the AI is horrible. While I haven’t seen the AI pass without rolling, others have, and with the AI on hard it makes terrible moves – not just wrong decisions in tough situations, but obviously awful choices.

    To this point, I regret having spent a dollar on it, more because of the time I wasted playing it before I discovered how bad it was. Which is really unfortunate, as Can’t Stop is a great game.

    • Matt J Carlson says:

      Wow, good to know. I played somewhere between half a dozen and a dozen games and didn’t run into any of those problems… (Well, not sure how smart the AI is, as I played more the solo/timed game than vs the computer after a couple wins…)

    • Matt J Carlson says:

      Came across that “not valid choices” bug… In the game’s defense it was on the 2nd roll after my son got “doubles” on the first roll (scored the same point twice, using up only one white marker…) In our case, during the second roll he could have chosen to only use up one of the two remaining markers but was only presented with the choice to place both. This does fit one of the variations of the game whereby players must place white markers down if they can (they can’t continue to choose things to minimize the number of markers placed…)

      However, I also noticed today that there were cases where, if you had not yet placed all 3 of your markers on the board you were often not allowed to stop and were forced to roll. This was even the case when some lines were “finished” and thus it was possible to fail the next roll – but it wasn’t an option to stop.

  2. huzonfirst says:

    All the more surprising, since Jim Cobb’s unofficial PC implementation of the game (called “Roll or Don’t”) has an excellent AI.

Leave a Reply