Perhaps a surprise to the hard-core boardgamers, there are strategic apps on the app store that are NOT direct ports of boardgames. Here’s a selection of various game apps (including wargames and collectible card games) that might be worth a look. Pick one up to entertain you during your holiday travels.
First we’ll start with a large set of wargames that are available, followed with a couple of collectible card games, and will end with an eclectic set of titles I simply found intriguing.
BattleLore: Command ($10, Universal, 1-2p, PnP & LAN, 1 lvl AI)
Fantasy Flight has released yet another very polished iOS title. BattleLore has a pretty user interface and lots of depth due to an included campaign along with skirmish modes (five different types each can be set up with different sized armies.) Fans of the game will notice that command cards are used in a different way – players have access to all the basic cards but they are “used up” when selected until a player chooses to use the “one army and refresh” card which resets all the cards to be usable again. I like this as it seems more player-friendly and reduces some of the randomness (although the evil dice still plague me!) While the graphics are “pretty”, at times I was mildly annoyed I couldn’t keep everything as an overhead minimalist view so that I had a better view of the battlefield. (Attacks automatically zoom in for effect.) I could always zoom back out to what I wanted but it was yet another step. The two glaring omissions (I don’t mind no internet play – LAN is good enough for me) are the lack of a save game. One can save progress in the campaign, of course, but no saves during battle. Second, there is no undo button (why do developers avoid this?) Particularly when learning the game and the interface players may press a wrong button or perform something they didn’t intend. If no new information changed – why can’t there be an undo. Several times I was perusing the available command cards and chose one when I was just trying to “swipe” the cards to the side to check out my options. All in all, a very solid game that fits well with its (for iOS) higher price point.
Panzer Corps ($20, iPad, 1-2p, 2p Online only, 5 lvls AI)
Slitherine knows its wargames, and Panzer Corps is no exception. Launched about 3 years ago for the PC, the game attempted to be a modern homage to the classic PC game, Panzer General. Panzer General had armchair leaders playing through scenarios and campaigns. The campaigns were where it was best, as one would slowly build up a core of units that would follow from battle to battle gaining experience along the way. Panzer Corps has much of that classic gameplay and I’m glad to report the port over to iOS has gone smoothly. The graphics are great and present appropriate details in a clear manner. There are tiny details I’d change (an even wider zoom level, if possible) but on the whole the user interface feels very natural on the iPad. I’m also at a loss why the game takes up 1.2GB on my iPad when it’s listed as coming in at 600MB on the iTunes store. $20 is a bit steep for an app, but this is a complete port of a mature PC game. An initial tutorial campaign brings players up to speed and then 4 full campaigns are available, along with a wealth of scenarios. Players wanting more can purchase some steep IAP options. $15 will net you an Africa or Allied expansion, while addition campaigns are $5. In love with the game? $60 will get you all 10 linked campaigns, 200 more scenarios, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Space hulk ($10, iPad, 1-2p, PnP and Online)
A huge game (1.8gb), the turn-based combat-heavy Space Hulk has a fan base in miniature circles. I’ve not played the boardgame but this implementation seems to capture much of the mood of the game (a lightweight minis game), translated into 3D video game form. (I believe the rules are still the same – turn based using action points, facing, the alien player having hidden movement.) I had some issues with the interface. Much of the white text was hard to read over the background. Ironically, I also found the rest of the game rather dark, making the characters and game board hard to see without cranking up my screen brightness. I expect the game to be very pleasing to fans of the miniatures game, but it didn’t grab me personally. Fans will be pleased to see there are additional campaigns running $3 to $5.
Desert Fox: The Battle of El Alamein ($10, universal, 1-2p, PnP and Online, 3 types of AI)
The third game in Shenandoah Studio’s “Crisis in Command” series, Desert Fox provides pretty much the experience one would suspect. One very meticulously created battleground that allows several different scenarios (short to long) against pretty decent AI. Online play is robust with many available opponents. My personal favorite is the additional content provided that flesh out the historic importance of the battle. The short review is “no surprises here”. One single map (if that matters to people) but executed very well.
Magnifico ($5, iPad, 1p, solo 3-4p vs 10 AI characters)
Based on the boardgame Da Vinci’s Art of War – Magnifico, I found this to be a fun little game the mildly reminded me of Axis and Allies and other games of that style. Graphics are plain and two dimensional, but I found them to be good enough to pass on the theme of the age. Players have three army types available – infantry, tanks, and planes (as dreamed up by Da Vinci.) These can all be upgraded throughout the game. Players also build buildings which earn extra income, improve defenses, and/or produce victory points. Each round players gain income, collect new armies, and then have a blind bid on “project cards”. This is the heart of the interesting part of the game. These cards provide instant benefits (such as discounts on the current turn) or provide the unit upgrades. After winning them in the bidding, players must then also pay for their research cost – which then provides an ongoing effect for the rest of the game. Managing one’s money between new troops, buildings, and upgrades is an important (and fun) part of the game. The dice rolling in combat favors the attacker, so there is no room for a boring “turtle” strategy. (Also, tanks and planes don’t even defend at all!) Players who enjoy the game can spend $1 on various IAPs which provide new maps or new “tech” cards. I recommend the game to Axis & Allies fans who want to try a slightly different take, set in a much more unusual setting.
Musket smoke (Free <$3>, iPad, 1-2p game, solo and online)
Musket Smoke is a wargame with an online focus. The free level lets players try out a single solo training map and play “mini matches” (which are automatically set up and started – don’t select it until you’re ready for a game.) A $3 IAP purchase provides many more maps (including solo play) as well as the ability to play “hard core” campaign games where battles may rage over the course of 8 maps. As one could deduce from the name, battles are fought with muskets, cavalry, and cannons. Setting up formations, flanking, and worrying about unit facing are all important to the game. The visuals are a nice balance between nice 2-d graphics and communicating all the needed information. In the end, the online focus was the sticking point, as I don’t have a big interest in facing off against unknown online opponents when I’m gaming on my iPad.
Frontline: Road to Moscow ($3, Universal, 1p, solo, 3 lvls AI)
Strictly a single player experience, Frontline: Road to Moscow provides a linked series of battles as the Germans driving into Russia. One campaign (Barbasrossa) is included with two more campaigns (Battle for Moscow and Battle of Kursk) available at $2 each. I like the interface and visual style – sort of a drab wintry theme.) The game includes building up an army that slowly gains experience and abilities – a feature I always enjoy. Resources can be spent during battle to purchase new units that arrive near cities or can be used to “heal up” a unit. However, “healing up” experienced units reduces their level unless extra resources are spent. Very reminiscent of the classic “Panzer General” game of the 90s, which is a good thing in my book.
Open Panzer (Free, Universal, 0-2p, Pass and play, 1 lvl AI)
Speaking of Panzer General, Open Panzer is a community attempt to recreate and modernize the original game. It’s free, there are a huge number of maps (scenarios and campaigns) provided. More scenarios are added all the time. With 2000 or so unit types representing 30 countries, one should be able to find the battle for which you’re looking. Unfortunately, you can tell it is a volunteer supported project as there are occasional bugs (still rare) and not all scenarios are going to be balanced. Since it’s free, I see no reason a Panzer General fan wouldn’t at least give it a try – it may not be for everyone but if it is a good match for you, you might never have to buy a wargame app again.
Dream Quest ($3, Universal, 1p solo game)
Last summer, there was considerable buzz about this rogue-like game with deckbuilding mechanics. It is well known for being a gripping game with horribly out-dated simple graphics. I consider myself a gamer who likes content over splashy graphics so I put my money where my mouth is and bought a copy. It instantly occupied far more of my time than appropriate. I may be bad at the game but that doesn’t stop me from flinging my various characters at the dungeon trying to make it to the bottom. Basically, you start with a simple card deck (that depends on your character class) and then adventure through a random dungeon gaining experience from defeating monsters. New cards (and some abilities) are gained through leveling up, finding treasure chests, and spending your hard-won gold at stores. Since dungeons are randomly generated, some expeditions have better luck than others (depending on the cards one finds.) As one might expect, finding ways to delete cards from one’s deck is especially nice. Lots of things to unlock (character classes, new cards and abilities, etc…) keeps the game fresh for quite awhile. And then those hardheaded folks like me will waste (enjoyably) far too much time beating their heads against the wall trying to figure out how to make it to the end boss. (I may have to resort to advice from forums at some point.) The price is right for this unique game, just be warned: have low expectations for the graphics and high expectations about the game.
Card City Nights ($2, Universal, 1p campaign)
Another deckbuilder / CCG game on iOS. I like the fact that there is a nice campaign – defeat various characters to gain more “booster packs”. However, I don’t mind (much) the goofy cartoon feel of the app, but the game itself is somewhat “meh”. It consists of playing cards out on one’s grid in “3 across” fashion trying to affect the cards on the other player’s grid. As an experienced CCG player I found the game too slow to develop decent interesting card combinations. I can’t really recommend it unless you are big on the whole “adventure within a CCG universe” type of game.
HearthStone (Free, iPad, 1p online)
Hearhstone can be found on PC as well as iOS – and thankfully both are linked to the same account. As befits Blizzard, they took the CCG genre and made an attempt to streamline it to make it more appealing to the general public. Players have a hand of only 3 cards and all resources (ie. land & mana in Magic the Gathering) are automatically handled (every round you have access to one more than the previous round.) In addition to building a deck, one must pick a “class” as well. Classes have access to exclusive cards and have their own reusable ability (which costs “2 mana”.) Win games to earn in-game currency through completing “quests” such as winning 3 games as a specific class. Overall, I like what they’ve done to make this style of game approachable to the masses, and don’t think they’ve watered it down too much for strategy to fall by the wayside. However, I have some serious gripes about the overall experience for the average gamer. One can play in open or ranked play – with ranked play recommended for beginners as then one’s opponents will be similarly “ranked.” This is great in theory, but in practice I found many “beginner” opponents sporting high level, hard to get cards in their decks – something no true beginner should really have access to. These rarest cards are the most frustrating, since they are so powerful they easily swing any game in which they appear. A player can focus in on a very specific type of deck and “sell off” their extra cards in order to more quickly obtain these very rare cards. However, those of us who like to dabble in a little bit of everything for the experience will find it a much longer road. A player’s ranking adjusts based on wins and losses. Winning two (or more) games in a row will move one up the ladder an extra step (two steps instead of one for a win.) Once a player “levels out” on their approximate level, they can expect to lose about 2/3 of their games – since winning twice means you have to lose 3 times to get back to your appropriate level. Much of the problems of the “power cards” used by gamers who sink more time and money into the game can be avoided by playing in the “sealed deck” tournaments that are always running. These have their own problems. Instead of strictly regulating how many commons, rares, and epic cards available to each player, there are random factors that could allow a player to gain significantly more of these rarer power cards in their sealed deck. Thus, things beyond a player’s control can still affect their performance in these sealed deck tournaments. Overall, the game is “free” and gamers can enjoy the game without paying any cash (extra cards and expansions range from $3 up to $15 respectively) as long as you resign yourself to losing more than winning until you can “afford” some of the most powerful cards.
Raiding Company – ($3 – sometimes free, universal, 1-4p on the SAME iPad)
This is the title that made me create a post in the “kitchen sink” category. A friend turned me on to this one and it is a great multiplayer game for when you only have a single iPad. Up to four people can play on the same iPad. It is essentially a top-down cooperative shooter where the players attempt to survive successive waves of more and more monsters as you “raid” a tomb. There are 6 distinct characaters from which to choose – each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The control scheme consists of two circle controls (movement and aiming), but thankfully there is an auto-aim function which helps beginners (including me) immensely. If you like to have handy apps for spontaneous multiplayer play on a single tablet, be sure to check this one out.
Tower madness 2 – ($1-3, universal, 1p only)
I am a huge fan of Tower Madness. It was a decent tower defense game but I could play it head to head against my sons on a single iPad. The sequel has a similar look and feel with splashier graphics. Gamers now use “wool” as a currency in the game (collected during play) in order to unlock new towers and upgrade their abilities. It is just a bit of a pain to collect the wool, but if you don’t mind babysitting your iPad while ignoring it, wool can rather quickly be gathered by letting the iPad play advertisement videos. I recommend suffering through a couple at first to give you a boost in your capabilities. There are 4 different worlds (with 10 levels each) to explore in the game – each with their own twist (the winter boards occasionally “freeze” your towers rendering them harmless until you tap on them to free them.) In addition to sheep (your health) the aliens are trying to steal you have one ram available in each game which will run down the path, destroying aliens in its wake – a good way to save the day when things are out of hand. Overall, I do not like this as well as the Tower Madness. I can’t play multiplayer with my sons, there is a pile more micromanagement (clicking on wool, unfreezing towers, etc…) Go get the original Tower Madness and have some fun with that.
Plants vs Zombies 2 (Free, Universal, 1p only)
OK, I’ve already panned this title when it first came out due to its horrid unlock system (if you want to avoid paying for IAP.) However, the developers finally listened and the entire game has been revamped. Gone is the need to gather keys, and the entire game is now a linear progression. It is completely enjoyable now without having to purchase any IAP. There are special plants you can buy with real cash (several dollars each!) as well as purchase several other “currencies” in the game. What currently keeps me coming back are daily little contests. Some are hard, others are extremely harsh. However, complete five of these and you’re rewarded with a funny little “costume” for your plants. I’m back to playing through the main campaign occasionally and it is now a worthy successor to the first game. There is still IAP options in the game, but they can be safely ignored and still have a fun experience.
Stronghold 3 – ($1 (was briefly free ), universal, solo play)
Stronghold 3 is a real-time-strategy game where you harvest resources, build up your village, and then defend or go out and conquer with your built up military. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend the app. The game has a nice tutorial to teach you the ropes, but as the scenarios get larger it becomes more and more noticeable that there is no way to speed up the game. Sometimes you just want to harvest enough stuff to get to the next activity. The user interface is terrible – I suspect translations from a PC version to be the culprit. It is hard to move the map around and selecting units is spotty at best. To top it off, while the graphics look kind of nice, you’re forced into a fairly close-up view (or closer) with no ability to zoom far enough out for my taste. The game has a hefty town simulation feel, but there is also a more military campaign unlockable for an IAP.
Road of kings – ($1, universal, solo )
A mashup of one of those choose your own adventure things with a bit of roguelike exploration. Start off in a hometown as a beginning adventurer and you have 100 days to earn a high score. There are lots of little quests and jobs to do and plenty of followers you meet on the road. More followers means a more powerful group but you’ll soon run out of food. As you play the game you unlock new starting points which then can help you do better in successive games. Thus, the first few tries at the game might end up with less than stellar results. The game receives a lot of ongoing improvements by the developer so it is something to which you can occasionally return to find new content. You are sometimes at the whims of the random encounter tables, but on the whole it is a fun little “experience” game where each play creates a different story – depending on your encounters and your response to each one.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic ($10 (sometimes $5), universal, solo play)
Not sure what to tell you here. It is an RPG in the Star Wars universe, typically thought of as one of the top 5 or better computer role playing games of all time. It translates well to the iPad with the computer’s mouse-click interface now a simple touch screen one. This is an American-style RPG which means you and your companions can slowly improve in a wide variety of abilities in a sort of ability-tree rather than a simple linear improvement model. It has a great storyline and a perennial favorite setting. Why not run out and buy it now? Because it has an install size of almost 2GB. To a Star Wars or RPG fan who has never tried the game, it just might be worth it.
Anomaly 2 – ($5, universal, solo play)
The sequel to Anomaly that turned tower defense on its ear. In the game you control the “minions” roaming through the tower maze and have to protect your caravan through careful planning of your formation and making wise turns to take the best route to the end. I liked the first game, this is more of the same – so some of the shine has worn off for me. Its biggest strike is that it is another one of those huge iPad games – coming in at a 1.2GB installation (probably due to the many, decently voiced, cutscenes). While I might keep the app for occasional play, I can’t justify spending that much memory space for the long term.
Archangel – ($2, universal, solo play )
Archangel is a very pretty Diablo style game – exploration through successive semi 3D mazes where you take out monsters and gather the dropped loot. Role playing elements are there as you decide which abilities to improve when you level up. The controls of the game are somewhat interesting. You can select what sort of power you want to use by drawing a symbol on the screen or flicking your finger. Some powers use a charge-up mechanism, doing more damage the longer you hold on to them. The game has useful game-saving checkpoints on each level – meaning it much easier to play the game “on the go”. The story is rather standard and cliche’ but it is a pretty good game for its genre.
Antisquad Tactics (Free/Premium) – (Free or $3 to $5 “premium”, universal, solo play)
Basically an “X-Com” style 2.5 perspective turn-based squad tactics game with a “wrapper” of base and tech development. Here you play as a strike force trying to take down a drug cartel. I found the battles to have a great set of onscreen information, much better than is common for these types of games. Battle is fairly detailed and includes effects like range, visibility, etc… I didn’t fall in love with the storyline but fans of X-Com style games may want to check out the free version to see if it lives up to their standards.
Shufflepuck Cantina (Gold) – (Free/$3 gold, Universal, solo play)
Another quirky game I came across. This is an RPG that uses air hockey as its primary game mechanic. Play through increasing levels of opponents while you improve your items (pucks, boards, and paddles.) Items can help you set up power-up shots under specific game conditions (and your opponents will also have special power shots as well.) The free version has optional IAP, but isn’t completely necessary to enjoy the game. In addition to simply defeating opponents, you are also presented with special missions such as winning without giving up a goal or other game related achievements. If you like quirky sort of action-RPG games, give the free version a try. If you get into the game, going with the Gold version is a much better deal than trying to get by through IAP.