Welcome back to iBoardgaming, it’s been awhile. (Amazing what adding a third child into the family can do.) A good crop of games has arrived in the past few seasons and it’s more than time to give them a proper send-up. While I have had very little time to write, I have managed to get my fair share of iOS gaming in between parenting duties, and there are some good ones – if you haven’t already hopped over to the app store and picked them up.
Keep in mind, as a parent I take my gaming where I can find it, so I am more concerned about solo and pass and play opportunities. I typically only play online with friends and most asynchronous online games can be a stretch to finish if there are too many stops and starts within a turn.
As a reminder, I do my best to estimate the prices of apps as of this post, and try to give a heads-up when the price has been significantly less in the past. Apps marked “iPad” can only be played on that platform, while “iPhone” can be played on an iPad and iPod as well – but the iPad version will only be scaled up to the screen size. New this time around, I’m abbreviating the “Pass and Play” mode as PnP. WiFi will indicate it is possible to play it locally without having to go through an online server. It is assumed that games listed as having AI can be played solo, so the indicated number is for players (human or other) allowed in a typical game.
Galaxy Trucker ($8, iPad, 1-4p, PnP & online, several AI for each of 3 levels)
What is going to be in most top boardgame app lists of 2014, Galaxy Trucker is out and it shows a level of depth and polish one could only hope to see in other boardgame translations. In order to adapt the game to electronic format, new options have been provided. One can still play various speed “real-time” games online (currently private games require a bit of a kludge), but now there is another option for asynchronous play. Players are given action points which can be spent to “turn over” new tiles or attach to one’s ship. This gives the question – do I possibly expose a great tile for my opponent or spend points attaching this sub-optimal part I have now? Since turns are governed by action points and not time, online games can be played asynchronously. Add in a deep and fun (I expect it to provide enjoyment over repeated plays) campaign mode and some achievements to unlock and you have a game that hits all the high notes flawlessly.
Sentinels of the Multiverse ($10, iPad, 3-5 heroes, PnP only, no AI needed)
With it’s bright, comic book style and lack of any needed AI, Sentinels of the Multiverse is a no-brainer translation to the iPad format. Having the game playable without all the pieces, cards, and fiddly-bits makes for a great opportunity for those who want to try the game solo. Of course, removing all the physical bits is also it’s main downfall. It can be tricky for one person to keep track of everything going on in a 4 or 5 hero game. The user interface does help (just click the “meanwhile” button) and a very robust undo feature is included – a lifesaver for me in my first few games. A well designed tutorial leads players through the basics and the rulebook is also provided. Yes, the game can be played multiplayer via pass and play, but I find that limited since players can only access their cards and decks one hero at a time. Multiplayer can be done, but it doesn’t recreate that group based cooperative style of the physical version. Perhaps if a WiFi version existed to allow each player constant access to their own cards. I don’t understand why the game won’t let players see the “back side” of villain cards and I have encountered some pretty major hangs and/or crashes that even forced me to powercycle the entire iPad to resolve them. I am glad to see this app come out, as it has finally given me the chance to play the game enough times to start to explore the many hero/villain combinations available. Fans of the physical game will probably be aware of the handy Sentinels Sidekick app for $5 that provides a handy way to keep track of most of the fiddly bits during a physical game. IAP in the Sidekick app runs $1-$2 to bring in various additional art packs.
Leaping Lemmings for iPad ($3, iPad, 2-6p, PnP only, 2 levels of AI)
One of GMT Games first forays into the iOS world, Leaping Lemmings is a nice implementation of a family-style strategy game. Players attempt to move their set of 10 lemmings across the board to get them to leap off the cliff to score points. (*An aside I can’t resist mentioning: the whole lemmings leaping off a cliff is a hoax started by a Disney film of all things.) A card is flipped and all players may move their lemmings using that value. Two “eagle dice” are rolled and the active player may (must) move the Eagles to a new location – eagles eat exposed lemmings, of course. The app is not going to win any awards for graphics or overall production, but it seems to be a rock-solid design. All pertinent information is clear and easily accessible, the game is taught through a quick tutorial, and how many pass and play iOS games do you have that can go to 6 players? Folks looking for a nice looking, casual, family “race game” with a fun theme will find plenty to like here – those who require lots of graphical bells and whistles in their apps may want to look somewhere else.
Province ($5, iPad, 2p, PnP, 1 level AI)
I don’t recall just how I stumbled across this title, but it sits in a very curious slot in my iOS app hierarchy. Province is a very basic, fast playing, worker-mancala sort of building game that has a clean, simple interface. Players take turns moving meeples around a 3 piece circle, activating an ability (money or work). Each worker (the game starts with 3) moves only one space, so players can initially only gain three total resources. Money can be saved over turns, but not work. Players used money and work to build buildings which grant victory points as well as special abilities. More points are gathered by completing randomly generated “quests” which are flipped up in succession (examples include saving up a specific amount of money or generating a certain amount of work in one turn.) I feel the “quests” that appear might be a bit unbalancing, but it is difficult to tell since the only AI provided is not very good at all. I’d love to try the game out in a Pass & Play mode, but haven’t found a good chance. At $5, I find it a tad over-priced for the cut-throat world of iOS apps, but the app sorely tempts me to purchase some sort of small, portable implementation of the physical game.
Mars Needs Mechanics ($1, iPhone, 2-4p, PnP only, 1 lvl AI)
Mars Need Mechanics is a no-nonsense, plain implementation of the game. I was unfamiliar with the game, and unfortunately the tutorial was just a set of rules and images. Fans of the game should find the app just fine for their needs, but the game itself just didn’t grip me. However, the huge lack of an “undo” button in the app was a dealbreaker for me. Far too often (even after I learned the ropes) I would mis-click during the selling phase and pretty much shoot myself in the foot for the rest of the game. It would have been nice to see some sort of undo button after selling and perhaps at the end of each phase. It isn’t like I’m playing some anonymous person asynchronously over the internet.
Kahuna ($3, Universal, 2p, solo & online, many lvls of AI)
Kahuna is a good iOS implementation of a rather abstract game. As I’m not a fan of abstracts, thus my personal opinion is not as high as this app deserves. The game has a nice, self-consistent graphical style and all the pertinent information for a player is there and easy to see. The “campaign” system of note is a series of normal games against better and better AI (the game even tracks your rating over time.) Despite the vanilla style of the campaign I still found it interesting to try and see how far my skill could take me. The major issue with the game’s implementation is the lack of any kind of save or resume feature. Just going back to the main menu will cause a loss of a current game.
Suburbia – ($5, iPad, 1-4p, PnP & online, 6 types of AI)
The iOS version matches the clean, modern graphics of the the physical game. While that may not be as “pretty” as some may prefer, I like the physical game’s style of graphics as they allow a player to easily and quickly scan the board for important information. The tutorial is decent and quickly gets one up to speed. While the game can be played against several types of AI (I have found some of them decent but none are exceptionally brutal – although it has been slightly improved since its initial release.) Where I think the game shines is in its puzzle-like campaign mode. A series of challenges, based off city locations can be attempted at three different levels of difficulty. A given challenge may be to end the game with at least some minimum amount of money and a positive income. Each location serves as a fun little puzzle that challenges players to think about the game in new ways… How can I maximize my population but keep my income at a high level?, etc… Each challenge is loosely based on city situations in the real world – connecting Essen to the local restaurants or arranging Indianapolis for GenCon in only a short period of time, etc… One small problem arose in that campaign/puzzle games can only be “left” by quitting them entirely, there is no way to “save” during a game. If you like the original game, or are a fan of turning boardgame play into solo puzzles, this is a strong recommendation. (*Note, the physical game has ties to several OpinionatedGamers writers, myself not included.)
Quarriors! – ($4, iPad, 2-4p, PnP & Online, 2 types AI)
When Quarrior! first arrived on the app store it seemed a decent implementation, however the computer AI was just plain bad. However, the update for the first expansion (Quarmageddon, for sale at $2) provided players with a much better AI. I’m still not sure if its the improved AI or a sign of the underlying randomness of the game, but it is no longer uncommon to be defeated when playing one or more AI players. The game has nothing like a campaign mode, but includes achievements to pursue for those that like an additional goal when playing (however no “player statistics” are tracked.). Since no player information is private, the app makes a good way to play the game without having to deal with all the “fiddly bits”. However, some may argue that rolling physical dice is the best part of the game. Those players may soon tire of the digital app.
Reiner Knizia’s Razzia – The Mafia Board Game ($3, Universal, 2-5p, PnP &Online, 3 lvls AI )
I was previously unaware of this implementation of Ra with a different theme but lacking disaster tiles. I found I’d rather play the Ra version but this iOS implementation of Razzia is reasonable. The AI is decent, the theme is consistent, and the graphics help support the theme. Personally I’m rather ambivalent about the theme. I am glad to see the game has achievements to pursue (something that always adds a bit of longevity to a game). Other than being rather blase about the game, my main complaint focuses on the problem of somewhat indistinct cards in the graphical display.
Kingdom builder – ($5 – as low as $3, Universal, 2-4p, PnP &Online, 3 lvls AI)
While it provides a wide variety of possible games, I found the physical game to be a bit too abstract and difficult to attract the attention of newer gamers. That said, the game has made a successful leap into the virtual world. The graphics as exactly like the physical game, and are clear enough to play on an iPad zoomed out to see the entire board at once. For those on an iPhone the game has a couple of zoom options. The higher level of AI (there are 3) is good enough to be competitive to a new-ish player like myself. My largest complaint would once again be the lack of an “undo” button. It is far too easy to mis-click on a space when placing pieces on the board – especially when playing in the handy full-board view. The powers of the “special” spaces can viewed during the game, but I found accessing them to be slightly tricky – again wishing for that undo button. While I traded away my physical copy, the iOS version is good enough to earn a lasting spot on my iPad.
Las Vegas! – ($3 – as low as $1, Universal, 2-4p, PnP & WiFi & Online, 3 lvls AI)
This is the strangest game I’ve recently reviewed. The gameplay is fine (a dice fest which I often enjoy, but not in this case) and the game lends itself to a good pass and play mode. The AI was a bit weak, although this could be the random factor of the dice creeping in. The weird thing that struck me the most was the strange way the “scenery” of the game was implemented. One rolls the dice on a nice green “felt” like board which made me think of a craps table. However, the points tracking columns were displayed as “buildings” which surround the game board. Since the perspective is right at table level, I kept wanting to crane my neck up in order to see the buildings. A silly thing, to be sure, but it affected my experience (and my neck) enough for the game to lose its place on my device. On the plus side, the game does include the “white die” variant and tracks a player’s overall winnings over time – something that would be entertaining for fans of the game.
Mr Jack Pocket ($6, Universal, 1-2p, PnP, 3 lvls AI)
Mr Jack Pocket is a great candidate to bring to iOS. With a small footprint, it displays well even on an iPhone. The simple rules and short play time allow pick up and play games in short bursts. There are several modes of play, including a “blitz” mode where one attempts to win as many games as possible within a two minute time limit (I did mention the quick play time, didn’t I?) I like the game a lot, and can tell there is more strategy here I can explore over time. One feature or drawback would be the otherwise good tutorial. The tutorial eventually lapses into a sort of puzzle mechanic, with the last one or two “tutorials” fielding quite difficult solutions.
妖精奇譚 – Fairy Tale (“Free”, Universal, 1-5p, PnP & Online, many lvls of AI to unlock)
One cannot complain about a “free” game unless it tries to nickel and dime you with in-app purchases. Fortunately, Fairy Tale provides the base 100 card deck free (with a few ads) and then allows players to pay to unlock “Expert” sets of cards for $3 each to stretch the game out to 100 and 110 cards respectively. (The “expert” cards coincide with the more advanced cards in the game – such as the “Hunt” and I believe the “Book” cards as well. Buying an expansion also disables the in-app ads that occasionally appear.) There are several unlockable levels of AI with which to battle, so I can’t definitively say the strength of the higher levels of AI. The main strike against the game is the continuation of the card game art with almost no accommodation for the platform. I find the cards somewhat difficult to recognize at first and would not like to play the game on the small screen of an iPhone. A new player will also initially have problems remembering which cards pair best with others. It would have been nice to have the art adjusted to make it more tablet friendly.
Stak bots – Battling Robots Card Game ($3, Universal, 2p, PnP or Online, no real AI)
Stak Bots is a card game where two players flip over the top cards of their decks in order to attack and defend from each other. As one might expect the cards allow for a bit of chaining effects so planning ahead can help to win the game. 30 different “bots” are available to play, so there is a variety there for the taking. The art is rather simple and looks rather low-budget, but the interface is usable. There is almost no real AI to speak of so the game must focus on online (“challenge your Facebook friends”) or pass and play.
Yomi ($10, iPad, 2p, no PnP: Online 2p only, 2 lvls AI)
Yomi is a two player duel where each player takes a unique character and plays cards in a sort of rock-scissors-paper sort of fashion to wear their opponents down and “knock them out”. Weaker cards tend to be able to “chain” with others making each card valuable in their own way. As with the physical game, the art is very nice and implemented on the iPad the cards just “pop” right out at you. This is clearly a two player game, but there is a “practice” mode vs two different AI. Unfortunately, no pass and play is available. Gamers who get into the game can spend $9 to unlock 10 more character cards (in addition to the initial 10) for more play options. The designer is well known for his attention to game balance despite each player having different powers and/or initial conditions, while I am not deep enough into the game to know – I’ll accept the “word on the street”. The lack of a more robust solo mode or pass and play opportunity is a killer for me as I didn’t feel like leaping fully into the online matches without having a bit more practice up my sleeve.
The Manhattan Project ($7, Universal, 2-5p, PnP & Online, 1 lvl AI)
I managed to get a free review code for The Manhattan Project at GenCon this year and I am pleased that I did. As a science geek (several of the scientists on the original project came from my college), the subject matter attracted me. I had not tried the game before, but I found it quite enjoyable. However, there are some serious negatives in the iOS implementation. First, the interface is one of the craziest I have ever seen. All the playing pieces are freely moveable around the screen, only “locking” into position when a worker is placed – but then you can start to move them around again! It helps to move things when a bunch of workers are all piled up in a jumble, but it would have been so much better just to display the information in a table. Basically, the iOS version is almost exactly like playing on a table with pieces, lacking any computer assistance with placing pieces. The zoom level maxxes out without allowing the entire board to be shown, so sometimes it is nearly impossible to access another player’s cards because it’s too difficult to scroll one’s worker to that part of the table. There is no tutorial – although I picked the game up rather quickly. Of course, there are some ways to call up additional information about the game’s various parts, but even that is somewhat tricky. Finally, the AI is horrid. It obeys the rules and makes some decent decisions, but other times it makes boneheaded moves. Several times I have seen it purchase something for $3 that it could have gotten for free in a different spot. If you like the game, you can play it – the interface makes it sub-optimal but doesn’t totally ruin play. Unfortunately, if one is not willing to put up with a bit of poorly designed UI, then this is a game to pass over. It is too bad, as I happen to know the game is in one of those catch-22 situations where it isn’t quite in a condition to become a big hit, but the developer isn’t able to put more time into improving it unless it is able to produce more income. I do intend to try it out occasionally as an extremely portable version of the game with friends, but I have had to put any solo play by the wayside as unsatisfying.
Talisman ($7 (down to $1 – Oct 31), Universal, 2-4p, PnP & Online, 1 lvl AI)
Somewhat of a relic from last century, one might say Talisman still has a strong cult following. A roll and move game with role-playing game overtones, players throw dice to move around the board, roll dice to combat monsters, and roll dice to find out the results of visiting a location. (Oh, did I mention the game includes dice rolling as a mechanic?) The implementation of the game on iOS is nearly spot-on. The graphics, while somewhat small, are very reminiscent of the boardgame, and lend as much theme to the game as is possible. The user interface for moving and most gameplay is good, although accessing specific information about locations (especially cards on locations) on the board can be difficult as it often results in a “move” action there rather than a query. New players, such as myself, will need a game or two to figure out how the game is played. During initial play, handy pop-up messages appear to explain how new situations play out. I would have preferred a bit more helpful information up front so I could make better decisions rather than wait for an event to happen before understanding its possible results. As an example, I received a curse that could only be lifted in specific situations, but no helpful hint appeared to help me figure out just which specific spaces would help me remove it. The game features pass and play as well as a real time online mode, due to the frequent player interrupting actions. Fans of the game will be pleased to see there are many expansions available ($5 a pop for the “larger” ones with new features and lots of new characters, and $1 each for a bunch of new starting character types.) Overall, the implementation is good, and I even sprung for the two big expansions when they went on sale. However, I doubt it will see much more solo play. I plan to give the game a go with my younger boys as a fun little boardgame experience where nearly anyone can win. I would think the electronic version of the game beats out the physical one – if only that it would speed the game up to make up for the extreme fickleness of dice.
Star Realms (“Free”, Universal, 2p, *PnP & *Online, *3 lvls AI)
Star Realms made splash last year as a very compact deckbuilder. Featuring four main factions and a mechanic that rewarded faction specialization, it seemed to me to be a streamlined deckbuilder with similar mechanics to Ascension. Admittedly, this may simply be a lack of a bajillion expansions. Star Realms has made the jump to iOS and there is now no reason to avoid trying the game, as it is initially free. The free play introduces you to the campaign mode (also serving as the tutorial). Paying $5 will unlock additional campaigns, pass and play mode, higher level AI, and online play. On the plus side, unlocking the game on any device (iOS/Android/Mac/PC) will unlock the game on all of them. The user interface doesn’t get in the way of the game, and adds a bit to the otherwise thin space civilization theme. For the price, if you have any interest in deckbuilders, give the game a try and the free portions will give you a good gauge of whether you want to spring for the whole enchilada.
You may note the conspicuous absence of any wargaming titles (or for other non-boardgame titles for that matter.) There are so many good boardgame titles now out I thought I’d spare you extra long posts. Don’t worry, an overview of some of the recent-ish wargaming style apps is coming “soon”.
Very helpful reviews – thanks, Matt!