iBoardgaming – Fall 2013 Edition

game_table_ipad_iboardgamingThe holidays are nearly upon us, and for most that means some additional travel. Travel time is rarely a good time to get in some boardgaming, unless you have a handy way to manage the board and all the bits. In comes your tablet/phone device to serve as a surrogate table for the time being. Once you’ve arrived, if you don’t have the space to have brought all your favorite games, you can have an entire library of high quality games in your pocket (or backpack in the case of those tablets!) Several “big name” titles release on the app store today and with just a week away from the American Thanksgiving festivities, it is a prime time to take a look back on the past few months to see what boardgames have been added to the offerings on the iOS platform. Near the end of the rundown you’ll find some wargames and also a few book based “choose your own adventure” style apps since they are only steps away from what one might find in a traditional board game.

Lords of Waterdeep ($7, Universal,1-5p online via PlayDek & pass and play, 3 levels of AI)
Lauded in many camps, the Lords of Waterdeep boardgame comes out today for iOS. It is produced by PlayDek so that means it should have good production values. It does, although it has to resort to a scrollable board in order to fit on the screen the obscenely large Lords of Waterdeep game board. As expected, a nice tutorial is included and the interface is top notch. so I can’t find much about which to complain. My one gripe would be the difficulty of identifying which spaces have already been occupied. Player colors include black and light blue while the available spots are an off-white color. Once the game board was nearly full of markers I sometimes misread which spaces were occupied and which were available. Sure, holding down one’s worker before dragging it onto the board would (slightly) light up the available spots, but I’m just lazy and would prefer my options to pop right out of the screen. The AI is decent – even the medium AI playing a reasonable game, and for those who want a truly hard game, online play is available. It is only through PlayDeks propriatary online servers, so a special PlayDek account (if you don’t already have one) is needed. This makes is a bit more difficult to initially set up games with friends, but I’m sure it only takes a bit to get used to. Games are turn based and can be set to have turns time out after anywhere from 30 minutes up to 45 days. Neither of the expansions are yet available but even before release there were rumors of their possible quick implementation. I’m a bit worried about the small screen real estate found on the iPhone, but as I primarily play on my iPad, it isn’t an issue for me. Fans of the boardgame will find it a must-buy. Anyone wishing they had time or ability to try out the boardgame will find $7 a cheap way to get a reasonable game experience. (I’m still fascinated by the inexpensive cost of access to boardgames in the app store. I play games with my young sons and rather than have the small screen be a hindrance, having the game take care of all the details is a huge plus.) The original Lords of Waterdeep, despite being from a rather large “corporate” type source was seen as a critical success, this implementation takes nothing away from that.

Drive on Moscow ($10, iPad – iPhone in the works), 1-2p Online & pass and play, 2 versions of AI)
Yet another “big release” for today is Drive on Moscow, the sequel to the very popular Battle of the Bulge. As with the previous title, this is a hex based wargame based on a single map but containing several battle scenarios that can be played separately or as part of a glorious whole. The game focuses (obviously) on the Axis attempt to take Moscow through three scenarios. The Axis attempts to claim as much area as possible (preferrably surrounding and/or taking control of Moscow) before the ever-increasing Soviet troops can destroy enough Axis units to claim a victory. As expected, the game is insanely polished and comes with a wealth of background information (both text and some photos) of the historical background of the battle. This makes the game useful just for curious historians of the era. Multiple AIs have different play styles rather than just changing difficulty, and robust online play is available over Game Center which includes chat features and leaderboards. Hard core gamers may enjoy being able to play back a complete played game just to see where they went particularly wrong or right. I’m not a huge wargamer, but I enjoyed my first few plays of the title. The rules were straightforward enough so that I quickly understood what I needed to do and how to do it. In my first game I did rather well, and while I lost I felt I had just about made it. I then tried a new strategy and had my head handed to me on a platter. It is a testament to the game that I didn’t find it frustrating but rather made me want to “give it just one more go”. Focusing on a single battlefield might seem to limit the long term enjoyment of the game. Instead, the designers have focused in to create a more balanced game and provided the resources casual gamers to put the battle into a larger picture if they so desire. It doesn’t provide a huge world-spanning campaign, instead focusing down to provide a very satisfying look at a single aspect of the war.

Peloponnes($4, iPad, 1-4p pass and play, 1 level AI)
Having only played the boardgame once, I was excited to play Peloponnes on my iPad in order to delve into the game’s intricacies. The entire game is here, complete with an optional $3 IAP to gain access to all the expansions (Helas, Sea tiles, Goats, Athens, and Traders.) The AI does a decent job, although I eventually grew to win nearly every time – I began to measure my wins by their margin. However, I was completely absorbed by the solo version of the game. Played without any opponents, one repeatedly plays through the game up to five times while demanding a larger and larger score to progress to the next level. To help along, each cycle through the game grants the player a bonus resource of their choice to help “kick start” their civilization. However, each run through the game also places another tile on the tableau into the “pricier” category slimming down a player’s options (or at least making them more expensive) as they go to higher levels. Rather the a problem, I found the menu text translations amusing. They were nearly always clear in intent but often had atypical words or wording to reveal it wasn’t translated by a native English speaker. The UI is decent and orients to allows pass and play players to play around the board or all play from a single side. The one thing for which I can’t forgive the game is the lack of an undo button. There is no need to leave one out (information is nearly always public and almost never changes after a decision.) It is primarily horrid as gamers can make terrible decisions (choosing cards they can’t afford, etc…) without so much as a warning pop-up. Without an undo button my first few games were an exercise in frustration as I would forget some of the basic rules and, as a result, completely waste my turn. There is nothing to hinder anyone from enjoying this implementation of the game. There aren’t any special bells and whistles (like Game Center online play, achievements, or leaderboards) and the undo function may get you from time to time, but the game is very playable – I especially recommend giving the solo game a try.

Pandemic: The Board Game ($7, iPad, 1-4p pass and play, 3 levels of difficulty)
Yes, Pandemic has come to the app store. It is a good implementation, go away and buy it. If you want more details, the game appears to be the “new” color scheme/version of Pandemic and offers the expected options for game play. It doesn’t include online play, but can handle up to 4 players in pass and play modes. Things run along at a decent clip, all the information a player might desire is easily viewed on the screen – even at the highest zoom level (showing the entire map) the game is still very playable. Local play might be a slight pain for those not wanting to show off their cards, but as it is a co-op this isn’t a big deal if you don’t have someone trying to play for everyone else. My only other negative comment would be regarding the infection cards. Since they are no longer a physical presence on the board, I find it a bit more difficult to get a feel for how many were shuffled back into the deck and what countries they were. I could imagine a cute little animation showing the number of cards in the stack that get reshuffled and placed back on the deck. Shoot, there could even be a beginner/cheater version that reminded players which countries were on the cards (by displaying them face up before shuffling them.) Other than those minor quibbles, there isn’t anything to detract from the game. Since it can easily be played solo, I find it an excellent choice for gamers who are not fans of the world of online gaming.
Tanto Cuore ($3, Universal, 1-4p online (PlayDek) & Pass and Play, 3 levels of AI)
Another title for which I was unfamiliar before playing on the iPad, the deckbuilder Tanto Cuore is best known for its not quite risque anime art of girls dressed as maids who are then “employed” when purchased and added to one’s deck. I find its main stand-out in the field of deckbuilders is the opportunity to spend “actions” on one’s turn to sequester cards out of play for the rest of the game. These cards are then worth points at the end of the game, with specific maid combinations or majorities awarding bonus points. As expected from PlayDek, it is a polished card game with few, if any, UI issues. I personally did not find myself getting engrossed in the game, but it should be a fine choice for anyone looking for an electronic implementation of the game.

Sheepland ($4, Universal, 1-4p Online & Pass and Play, 3 levels of AI)
I would rank this as a middle to high end implementation of the board game. The user interface is good and easy to navigate and all the relevant information needed to play is onscreen at a glance. The game and its board seem to make a great fit for the iPad as most information is easily accessible and the game can be played without hopping through hoops to check up on variables. If you like the game, the implementation should be fine. However, I found that the game was a bit too dry and abstract for my taste. This does not affect the iOS implementation, which is solid, just my opinion about the actual game.
Chicken Cha Cha Cha ($5, iPad, 1-4p Pass and Play, 3 levels of AI in 2p mode)
I still have young kids and this is a great app that takes the cute little memory game of Chicken Cha Cha Cha and makes an even more cuter iOS game. The game is a great match for its audience as even in the game select menu, the number and color of players are decided by dragging the chosen color of chicken to the nest with the appropriate color of eggs. You can turn off the sound by tapping on a bird, and checking out the credits will reward you with floating balloons that you can pop. When the start button is pressed, the chickens hop up onto a wooden chute and slide off to play the game. While the physical production of the boardgame is excellent with quality, thick cardboard pieces and fun little wooden chickens, on the iPad the game still manages to be pretty cute. The central memorization tiles are shuffled and laid out face down, but even here care has been taken that they are not simply arranged in a grid. They appear in a slightly irregular pattern that is different each time (or at least a significant number of possible arrangements.) To top things off, there is a “hidden” menu (accessible by following the directions given when tapping the “for parents” button. This menu can be used to adjust the game’s difficulty (placing fewer or more tiles in the central area.) In a first sighting for me, there is even an option to adjust the playtime allowed – whether kids can start one or more games after the first one, etc.. My only complaint lies in the game’s use of AI controlled chickens exclusively in 2 player mode. Thus, one can’t play against multiple AI opponents and cannot introduce AI opponents in a pass and play game. Other than this minor quibble, this is an app that does a kid (and adult?) game right. Highly recommended!

Wits & Wagers (Free – $3 to remove ads, Universal, up to 4p via Facebook
This is a fast playing version of the popular trivia/party game. The app uses the “big bet and little bet” version of the game where players only ever lose points if they bet extra on the last question. I would have liked to see more options (such as Game Center) for arranging games with friends, but allowing the app access to your facebook account is required. If you choose to avoid that (as I did) you are restricted to games with random opponents. In the games that I played with strangers, matches were quickly put together and played along at a nice pace. I enjoyed the game overall but would have loved a way to play with Game Center to arrange games with friends, possibly even take advantage of some of the voice chat possibilities. The game does have IAP in the form of coins (which are also earned in the game.) Coins can be used as a sort of “power up” in the game – allowing one to see other folks bets, eliminate two of the answers before betting, etc… I worried that this might upset the balance of the game via “gimicky” IAP, but I didn’t see any problems in the online games I played. One can also pay $3 to get rid of the ads that appear at the end of each game, but they were not too intrusive so I have yet to bother. Free is a great price point for this faithful translation of the party game. The game contains an ongoing ranking “chart” (sort of like gaining experience to go up levels) as well as a wealth of achievements to accomplish. A fan of the game will find those features to draw them back for more. While I haven’t over-played the game, I have heard that the question set is not nearly as large as the physical game (*I’ve been informed this is inaccurate the app actually has about 10x the number of questions as the physical game), for the price it is a fine deal.

Card Warden ($2, iPad, X players, Online vs Game Center & Pass and Play, no AI)
Not a game in the true sense of the word, I stumbled across this gem of an app through various iOS boardgame forums. Card Warden is essentially an app designed to manage all the details of playing any card based game. To use the game, one scans in all the appropriate cards (including the backs), then sorts the cards into specific decks. These decks can be used to play a game. In the game interface decks can be called up, shuffled, flipped over, drawn from, moved around, sorted through to select a particular card, and so on. It is best described through examples. I took all the cards from the solo game Friday and scanned them into the computer. I then imported the cards (through a straightforward but slightly putzy manner) into one of the programs game slots. I made separate decks in that game slot to correspond to the main decks in the game. I can now play the game Friday anytime I want using this program now that I have the cards scanned in. Other popular games implemented by gamers include Legendary, Dominion, Lord of the Rings, and even the Pathfinder Adventure Card game. Games like Legendary and Dominion are particularly nice, as many cards are present in multiple copies and thus only need to be scanned in once. The user interface for playing games is pretty good, although occasionally can be touchy. There are extra expansion slots on the sides where a player’s hand could be held in a pass and play game where hand cards are secret. Game Center play has even been implemented so that multiple players can connect up to play through a connected game. Folks continue to be more and more creative with the program (and the programmer continues to improve things). Recently, I’ve heard of folks getting Mage Knight up and running by using cards with transparent areas on them. Other folks program in _some_ of the fiddly parts of the game (like Lord of the Rings central scenario stuff) but then have each player use their physical cards for the rest of the game. Card Warden is a very powerful tool, but it has a few limitations. The limitations on the number of game sets and the size of the unique card pool continues to improve, and while the card importing is slowly getting better it remains a very tedious and/or putzy endeavor. In the meantime, I’m going to go back and get in a couple more games of Friday.
Street Soccer ($4, Universal, 1-2p, Solo, Pass & Play, Game Center, Play by Mail, 4 levels of AI)
Street Soccer is an app that is a bit more than what one would expect from a smaller profile developer. However, the game has a high attention to detail and a very pleasant graphical presentation. In Street Soccer one rolls a die and uses players on the gridded game field to try to move a ball up and down the field to score. Roll high and you can move your players (and possibly the ball) much further. Turning corners is difficult so it is key to try to out maneuver one’s opponent before making a rush to the goal. I’ve decided I’m not a huge fan of the game, but I do appreciate its nice design. The game board is represented by cute little meeples in from a top-down perspective, allowing for easy assessments of the game state. However, one can go into the menus and completely customize the look of one’s team. Players can be named, and the meeples’ jerseys, skin color, hair, shorts can all be customized with a huge range of colors and even patterns. This is the sort of thing that would draw in more hard core soccer fans if they can recreate their favorite (or maybe hated) team. I’m not a big soccer/football fan (this app or watching a real game on TV), but I must admit that this app is extremely well done.

Monopoly zAPPed edition (Free download, but $15 for the bits – usable with both  iPad and  iPhone, 1-4p)
I had the chance to check out this fun little hybrid game of iPad and regular Monopoly bits. By purchasing the bits (basically a full Monopoly game without the money), one can then place an iPad or iPhone in the center of the board and use it to keep track of players cash. I like the idea of having an iPad help take up the slack of some of the fiddly bits of Monopoly but unfortunately the designers went with more gimmicky ideas rather than things that made the game go smoother. The classic monetary system has been “upgraded” to prices so that “dollar” amounts end in C, M, and “K”. Thus players need to realize that 2M is the same as 2000K. Players have little credit cards which must be “scanned” before any transaction. The iPad reads the card vis special pressure points on the bottom to recognize the identity of the card, but it can at times be a bit fiddly. I don’t mind that community chest and Chance have now been replaced with minigames (getting out of jail is now successfully launching one catapult style over a fence), it kind of adds to the fun of a computerized version. However, what I find unexcusable is the entire lack of using the iPad to help keep track of money. As mentioned, every transaction uses those silly credit cards, BUT with the exception of the “Go” space, almost none of the standard transactions are preprogrammed. So if I want to buy a property, I need to look it up and type in the cost before it is deducted. The same for having to pay rent to another player. How hard would it be to simply include a library of property cards on the tablet and allowing players to point and click to automatically find the appropriate cost/value for the wanted transaction. Instead, players have to deal with all the funny monetary suffixes, doing a little song and dance anytime money needs to change hands. While the credit cards are a fun little toy, when all is said and down, this implementation makes the game even MORE fiddly in its very intrusive way that it forces gamers to take care of all the monetary actions. I have to admit that despite its flaws, my young boys still enjoy playing the game (and admittedly removing money gives us one less thing to lose) but I can’t help but feel that Monopoly Zapped gives us a much more physical presence than an electronic version of the game, but strangely provides almost no additional support to help reduce the effort spent in resource management during the game.

Spellshot zAPPed edition (Free but $10 for the bits , iPad, 2p game)
Another little physical/electronic game hybrid. Purchasing the bits provides one with four different little “elemental” figures and a set of “spell cards”. Start up the game and place your figurine on the board to start playing a two player match. Players alternate casting spells (one of the three on their cards) to affect the playing field in an attempt to take over the most area. What sounds like it might be a fun little strategy game with entertaining “bits” is really just a dud. The spells are not that exciting and the strategy felt about as fun as playing tic tac toe. I simply cannot recommend the game to most boardgamers as there isn’t really any strategy there.

Empire: The Deck Building Strategy Game ($3, Universal, 1p, solitaire game)
Empire: The Deck Building Strategy Game is one of the truly unique titles I’ve come across lately. It is a civilization/empire type explore, expand, and upgrade style game. Players start with one city, improving it through three levels of buildings while simultaneously scoping out the surrounding area and creating up to two additional settlements. There are many unique aspects of the game, all leaning towards the tragic fragileness of one’s country. While cities improve their infrastructure over time (you can add up to three levels of buildings, choosing only one upgrade per level – thus missing out on some choices as you get larger), they also slowly deplete their surrounding land. They not only gain less and less resources but also deplete the land itself making it more and more uninhabitable. This can be alleviated somewhat by disbanding a city and starting over in a new location. However, this means you have lost the benefit of your nice three levels of buildings in the original city. In another diversion from standard games of this type, there are no opponents to conquer. Instead, a viral infestation of monsters appear on the worst of the land types, and must be dealt with (attacked) quickly or they will slowly become more powerful until they finally start launching their own attacks at your cities The drain on resources and ever present growth of enemies means you are guaranteed to fail at some point. The goal of the game is then to accumulate the most points before dying. The deckbuilding mechanic comes via combat. There are three types of units available: infantry (strong but not mobile), cavalry (not as sturdy but a larger area of attack), and artillery (very fragile but has a wide range of attack.) When combat is initiated (by entering an enemy space), all the involved units line up on their side of the board. Sides then take turns marching towards each other, making attacks whenever an enemy unit comes into range at the end of their turn. By default, there is no way for units to move up, down, or backwards on the field of battle so the range of attack is somewhat key to the battle. The deckbuilding aspect comes in via cards played during combat. Players gain actions each turn (which can be saved) that are used to play cards from their hand (up to 3 per turn). Cards vary in ability from direct attacks on the opponent (typically costly in actions) to simple maneuvers of one’s own units (oh so important to get those attacks lined up while avoiding one’s opponents.) Winning a combat rewards a player with points (for the game end) as well as a selection of cards that can be added to one’s deck. Losing the battle gives players a useless card that simply clogs their deck, giving fewer available choices during the next battle. The useless cards can be removed from the deck through city upgrades, but that detracts either from other upgrades or the opportunities to use cities for additional points. The three types of army units along with the various cards, while not always balanced, provide an opportunity for players to try out different strategies of play – making the game more than a one or two shot wonder. Due to the continual oppressive nature of the slowly increasing power of local monster hives, the game has one of those “just trying to squeak by with minimal resources” feelings. I highly recommend the game as a unique experience, however the fatalistic knowledge that you WILL eventually die off may be off-putting to some gamers. The game is a labor of love for the designer so it is receiving frequent upgrades, including the possibility (I believe) to find an acceptable option for gamers to “win” at the game.
A Brief History of the World ($4, Universal, 1-6p Online & Pass and Play, 4 levels of AI)
A fairly straightforward implementation of the board game with a decent UI and functional graphics but nothing new or sparkly over the physical game. As a newcomer to the game, I did feel a bit of confusion on how scoring works, despite the handy tutorial. By the end of my first game I felt I had finally grasped the gist of the scoring but still had to regularly check the scoring values of the various areas. Newcomers to the game are going to feel a bit lost at first, especially since the interface doesn’t handhold you as you try to figure out how different decisions will affect your scores for that turn. The computer AI gave me, as a newbie, a decent run for my money (ie. kicked my but at first) even at the slightly easier levels, so hopefully the AI isn’t a complete waste of time for more experience opponents. The game comes with ELO scores, so competitive gamers can try to outscore their Game Center friends, or simply rise to the top of the world-wide ladder. I think the boardgame is simply not quite my cup of tea, but this app does a decent job of porting it to the small screen.

Great Battles Medieval ($10, iPad, 1p, solo game vs AI )
Another game by the very slick production house of Slitherine. Known for their many wargames on the PC, these are the guys who put together the 3D polished, turn based Battle Academy app. Here the game is based around medieval times complete with knights, archers, and infantry (“more than 20 different units accurately researched and carefully modeled in amazing detail” as the site claims.) Battles are fought by each side giving orders and then letting them simultaneously play out. One is also granted a limited number (increasing with time) of “battle cards” which can be used once per scenario to grant bonuses or special abilities to units. The simplest example is a battle cry type card which grants a single squad a temporary boost to most of their stats. The game is more than a simple Medieval wargame, and has significant RPG elements, allowing one to specialize troops as they gain experience. Troops can improve or gain a wide variety of skills and have a large selection of equipment (armor, weapons, etc..) available. Again, the creators claim to have implemented “the most detailed and realistic medieval combat model ever created.” As one with no clue as to judge that claim, I’ll just let it be. From a casual gamer standpoint, I felt the game and the scenarios were very reasonable – starting a bit simple in the campaign to give familliarty before ramping up in complexity. I also always enjoy a bit of RPG type upgrades to my units to help me become more involved in the story and battle progression. However, as with Battle Academy, I felt the 3D nature of the game detracted from my enjoyment. There was simply “too much” eye candy. Either I zoomed in and had a great view of individual unit battles but didn’t have the bigger picture or I had things zoomed out but that made it harder to identify the various units and their types. Gamers who are a fan of the (now “old”) 3D combat games on the PC will feel right at home, while grognards who love their little cardboard pieces because it gives them an instant grasp of the overall situation may be a bit more frustrated.

Wargame Poland 1939 (Free, Universal, 1-2p pass and play, 1 level AI)
One can’t argue with free. This is a free old-school wargame, complete with a hex-based grid and what looks like cardboard counters. Fog of war and terrain effects are in place during this combat where one player defends Warsaw and the other tries to capture it. I don’t claim to be an expert wargamer, but I felt the AI was rather weak. It looks like it would best be played between two more dedicated wargamers. The graphics were acceptable but still a little pixelated. What we have here is a reasonable, one-scenario wargame with no graphic flourish. However, I did mention it was free, right? Can’t go too far wrong with that if you enjoy the cardboard chit days of wargames or want to check out the setting.

Tank Battle: 1944 ($1 Free trial available, Universal, campaign vs AI & 2 player pass & play)
This is a standard hex-based wargame with an emphasis on tank combat (not exclusively, but most scenarios have some tanks running around.) The graphics are decent, they don’t take away from the game. Maps contain a variety of terrain which limit lines of sight. Personally I felt that the range of attacks were a bit short, and tanks could easily move pretty far but then be unable to shoot (for all I know it is probably more realistic this way.) Three types of scenarios are available: Attack (kill a number of enemy units without losing too many of your own), Defense (survive a set number of turns), and Control (occupy or pass through all the enemies control points.) Thematically, the game provides the American with what feels like slightly outgunned resources, but with the advantage of air power. Meanwhile the Germans are better equipped and typically defending with the occasional blitzkrieg. For the price, it was a pretty good game, with lots of IAP available to stretch out the available battles from which to choose. However, I’d rather spend a bit more money and get a game with slightly higher production values or one that feels a bit more complex. A free trial version is available so there is no cost of entry for grognards to give the game a go before investing (all of $1 – I’m still amazed at the price of gaming nowadays.)

Civil War the Battle Game ($3, iPad, 1-2p Pass and Play, 3 levels AI)
As the name states, this is a civil war game representing three (non-linked) battles from that period (Brandy Station, Chickamauga, Fredericksburg). Three types of units are available – infantry, cavalry, artillery. The game plays out in an I-go, You-go setting with each side moving all their troops and attacking before the next player plays. Maps have a hexagonal grid and movement and combat take into account terrain, roads, towns, etc… I personally just didn’t feel the depth of the game and felt it was rather slow moving. Admittedly, this is the Civil War and units didn’t just fly around the map. Speaking of the map, it is a nice large one that can scroll around but the expected pinch to zoom feature is not implemented. Insead, an overview map can be called up to get a bit better picture of the larger battle. Despite my claim to eschew graphics over gameplay, I have become spoiled as of late. Civil War the Battle Game has gone with a low-res pixelated look that I did not find appealing. The color scheme is very drab and the units can, at times be overlooked in the terrain. On the upshot, the game is nearing a 2.0 release which will contain 3 additional battles as well as several options for online game play. The game is not broken by a long shot, and fans of the civil war should still check it out, but unless there is something additional to draw you to the game, casual players will probably find it doesn’t stay on their device very long.

Empires II: What Would You Risk for World Conquest? ($2, Universal, 1-6p vs AI, Local Wireless, Game Center)
This is essentially a slightly fancier version of Risk. Starting on one of two different Earth maps (one with larger countries, one with more countries due to smaller divisions) players attempt to take over the world starting from a single home country. Rather than have a single army type, players have the choice of spending their resources (money) on armies as well as ships and fortifications, giving a slightly more advance feel than vanilla Risk. One of the more unique aspects of the app is the ability to play in co-op teams, making it stand out from the sea of Risk clones on the Apple store.

Sorcery! and Sorcery! 2 ($5 each for One and Two, Universal, Solo experience)
The classic story/game books have now returned in app form. Play as the lone hero going out into the unknown world to save one’s village. Alternating between text choices, and the occasional combat, reader head through a branching adventure (that branches out then comes together at times). Combat is done through a sort of rock/scissors/paper sort of bluffing (how much energy to spend – whoever spends more does damage, but also has less to spend later.) On the whole, I thought the combat was entertaining but not overwhelming the story choices. (Too frequent of combat will wear down your health reserves over time.) When allowed by the story, spells are available through choosing the correct 3 symbol combination. The game has a nice set of “undo” features to jump back to previous points if a “wrong” turn is taken. However, I would like to be able to just back up a single poor decision, rather than jump back to the start of a “chapter” every time I wanted to try a new route (or undo a dumb decision.) The game state is backed up in The Cloud, so it can be read/played over several devices. The sequel, which just recently came out, is a continuation of the first story – complete with extra bonuses/advantages to characters who did specific deeds in the first “book”. With the new sequel out, the first book now has an improved spell interface along with the option to play as a female character. Having started but not completed the Sorcery! books way back in the day, I was glad that now I could pick these apps up and go through them at a much faster, and easier, pace. The original series was 3 books, I believe, so look for the final app in the series sometime down the road.

Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf ($5 – optional $10 IAP, Universal, Solo experience)
I was a fan of the Lone Wolf series of hybrid choose your own adventure/RPG books back in the 80’s. The series stood out not only due to the fairly decent storyline and rich world background, but also because one could customize their character (between a few abilities) and have a slightly different experience in the book. This app, consisting of an all new storyline, is still primarily a text based decision tree but with a sort of real-time, turn based combat. (Make your combat choices within a specific time limit or lose your turn.) Combat is in a prettified 3D setting, so text purists may be put off. However, gamers not necessarily tied to the text will find the combat (and the transition to combat) very pretty. The game still allows you to customize your character through skill choices – and thus gives different play experiences depending on initial choices. Its primary drawback may be that it is only the first act of several to be released to form a full story arc. Presumably they can be purchased separately as they come out, but you can purchase the lot of them (I think 4 total) for an additional $10. This may seem a bit steep, but this carries on the tradition of the original books. Each stood alone reasonably well, but also had seamless transitions between each book so that one felt like they were part of more of an epic adventure. Don’t think of the title as yet another book in the old Lone Wolf series but something more like a modern upgrade. If you are convinced that “old school” is always the way to go, you’ll want to skip this app, but if you don’t mind a bit of graphical eye-candy and a bit of action-y point and click, fans of the original should still be pleased.
Frankenstein, for iPad and iPhone ($5, Universal <duh>, Solo experience)
OK, there isn’t a game here at all, it is a straightforward “chose your own adventure” sort of app. This app/book is written from the perspective of you speaking with Dr. Frankenstein, and then later playing the monster itself. However, to call the app “a book” does the app injustice. You get to choose the decisions of the current protagonist and see how events unfold. Making new decisions is easy, as the UI allows quick jumping back to earlier decision points. In addition to the text, there are multiple illustrations that have that Victorian feel to help set the mood. Obviously, the story doesn’t follow the original verbatim, but comes fairly close (depending on your decisions.) This is a must-see app for those looking for what can be done in an app to create a new form of “interactive literature”.

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And that’s all the boardgame news from here.  Before the holidays end, I hope to put out a quick rundown on some of the more interesting non-boardgames I’ve come across in the past few months.   Feel free to nominate any iOS boardgames or other iOS games that need to be checked out in the comments below…

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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...
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