iBoardgaming – Summer 2015

game_table_ipad_iboardgamingFor most, summer means a bit slower pace and the possibility of some vacation travel, a perfect opportunity to give some of the more recent boardgame/strategy titles available on iOS.  Whether your summer is winding down, or is still in full swing, it’s time for me to share a few of the more interesting titles I’ve been messing with this past summer.

Splendor ($7, Universal, 1-4p, PnP, four types of AI)

Splendor is known for its elegant, heavy poker chips that give the somewhat abstract game a nice tactile feel.  While an iPad can’t simulate the weight of a poker chip, Splendor on the iPad does do a very nice job of providing a rich game environment.  I’m not a huge fan of the boardgame due to its abstract nature, but I’ve found myself thoroughly enjoying it on my iPad.  Playing solo vs the computer gives me a quick game that hits the right spot, avoiding my need for additional thematic window dressing.  The best part of the app is its challenge mode.  Three series of six challenges are provided, each with slightly different rule sets and winning conditions.  Now that I’ve gone through all 18 challenges, I find I am playing the game less.  However, both regular and challenge games are scored (for speed, winning conditions, etc…) and those scores are also put onto GameCenter leaderboards.  Trying to better my high score on levels or earning more achievements keeps me coming back for more.  Pass and Play is also a welcome option here, since the game (as played) has no hidden knowledge.  I have other iPad boardgame apps I will use in pass-and-play modes more often, but I expect Splendor to also see some use.

Dice Town ($4, Universal, 1-4p, solo play only, 5 levels of 4 AI each)

I have to admit that I’m not a fan of the boardgame.  It just seemed too random and hard to control one’s fate.  That said, this is a nice implementation of the game.  The AIs are pretty decent (with more advanced ones unlocked through winning easier games.)  The beauty of an iPad app lies in my ability to play any game much more quickly than on a physical board.  This makes Dice Town a reasonably enjoyable app since a bit of bad luck will only last a short while.  The interface is decent, but has a few minor issues.  The tutorial does a decent job of explaining the game, but some cards have non-intuitive use.  The worst is the card that allows keeping multiple dice for free.  It needs to be chosen after the dice are chosen (in my mind, after I decide to use it) and so I often find I click on it, only to have the result of NO dice chosen (for free!) that round.  The other poor decision is the lack of a resume feature.  Back out of the game to the menu for any reason and you will need to start a new game again.  The lack of a multiplayer pass-and-play mode is just enough to tip my opinion far enough that I expect to remove it from my iPad in the near future.

Santiago de Cuba ($5, iPad, 1-4p, PnP – local WiF – and Online, 1 AI available)

I literally knew nothing about this boardgame when I first started up the app.  While I burned through the tutorial, the game was complicated enough for me to miss some of the details.  This hindered my first few games as I slowly figured out some of the details I was missing.  That may have clouded my overall view of the game, or it may simply be I’m not finding the game up my alley.  The presentation is beautiful, but there are enough little details going on in the game that I felt it difficult to keep up with all the options available and those chosen by the computer players.  I respect that the game can be played solo, pass and play, locally on multiple devices, and even online.  That’s the sort of full service multiplayer I can respect.  The AI (vs a beginner – me) was reasonable, although I was able to start beating it after a half-dozen games or so.  I can recommend the app to anyone who enjoys the physical game, but it may not last on my iPad as playing this game in electronic form isn’t drawing me in.

Card Crawl ($3, Universal, Solo game, no AI needed)

Card Crawl might best described as morphed version of the card game solitaire.  With a hand of four cards, one must play three of them before your hand is refilled back to four.  Cards are either diamonds (points), monsters that damage your life, potions that heal your life, swords that damage monsters, shields that block monsters, and a few special power cards.  As is common in solitaire games, your play area is very limited.  Your character may only hold two objects, and is allowed to store one for later use.  Monsters played cause damage, shields prevent damage, potions restore health, and swords are played from your play area back up against cards in your hand.  Most cards disappear when played, but swords and shields stay until used and potions take up a spot until your hand is refreshed.  One must get through the deck of cards without “dying” to win the game, with any diamonds played giving extra points. The game thus consists of trying to min/max one’s efforts (exactly healing, fighting, etc… without spending more than you need.)  There are also occasions where several bad cards appear all at once, making survival through those times a bit dicier.  One’s hand can be redealt, at a cost of some health.  The game is fast enough so that it can be played in a few minutes, adding in some unlockables and trackable high scores has me keep the game around for the occasional play.

Heroes of Might and Magic III HD ($10, iPad, 1-8p, PnP, four types of AI)

This is a faithful port of the original game, which is a civilization building game where each city has its own buildings which can be built, depending on the race of that city.  Building more buildings opens up the possibility of recruiting higher powered troops.  Cities also provide income as well.  What sets the game apart from other civ-like games is its reliance on heroes.  Rather than lots of little army units roaming around, creatures are stacked in one big army that is lead by a given hero.  These heroes can then journey around the map, earning experience, special boons, and equipment in order to become more powerful.  Combat is then resolved in a turn based scenario between two stacks of creatures.  Laying siege to cities is particularly difficult due to a big wall that must be breached along with other city defenses.  It is a great game, and I have many fond memories of playing it.  However, the micromanaging of several heroes and cities all at once slows the game down too much for my taste (and I don’t want to even think about a game with 8 live players.) Those who don’t mind a longer investment of time (think PC strategy games that take hours to play one game) will find a very beautiful (HD, after all) game that has many different options – including several campaigns that takes one through a bit of story-based linked games.  There are LOTS of one shot scenarios to play,as well as tracking of high scores and achievements.   I might keep it around for the occasional in-depth game, but its large footprint  What is going to remove it from its spot on my iPad is its large size, just over 1 GB.  For fans of the origina, this game delivers in spades, but I suspect its slow pace (especially for an iPad game) will be too much for gamers expecting something quicker from an iPad game.

Pike and Shot ($20, iPad, 1-4p, PnP, four types of AI)

Yet another wargame on the iPad, Pike and Shot focuses on combat in the 15th and 16th century, when (obviously from the name) guns were just beginning to be regular feature of combat.  Its subject matter is the game’s most unique attribute.  Combat is performed with each unit granted AP (action points) for moving and shooting, with some responsive combat allowed on opposing players’ turns.  As is common for the era, a huge part of combat is positioning with engaged troops, flanking, and charging options all quite important for a successful battle.  If you enjoy the game, there is plenty of gaming material.  Three historical campaigns, randomly generated skirmish battles, and free user created scenarios should provide enough gameplay for even the most dedicated player.  While I felt the game was well done, I found I prefer a bit more abstracted battles where I deal with fewer tiny details for each unit.  These up the pace of the game and gives me a quicker wargaming experience, which is what I’m looking for when I turn to a wargame on my iPad.  However, for those wanting a wargame that stands up to teh a decent wargame found on a PC, Pike and Shot should do the job well.  Its focus on a more unique setting should stir the interest of more hardcore wargamers.

Golem Arcana (free/$60, Universal+physical game, 1-4p, Play on board,)

There is a huge learning curve with any of the popular battle games involving miniatures.  I, for one, don’t have the time nor the money to buy lots of little minis, paint them up, and then learn what can be quite complex rules all in order to join in on battles of this type.  Golem Arcana can be seen as a sort of introduction to the world of gaming with miniatures.  This is done through use of a tablet to keep track of all gaming information.   Each figure, location on the map, artifact card, and miniature “pilots” is tracked via a pen reader.  (The pen reader examines the tiny patterns of dots which are barely visible, similar to the electronic pens that are used by kids in some early reader book systems.)  Since everything in the game is tracked via the app, one doesn’t have to know (or track) all the tiny bits of information in the game.  The app even provides gamers with estimated to-hit and damage totals for a given move.  Dice purists can even roll their own physical dice and the input the results to the app if preferred.  In my initial plays, using the pen took a bit of getting used to, but things improved somewhat when we began to use the handy reference cards for each figure rather than “tapping” the figures on the board directly with the pen.  Aside from getting to know the peculiarities of the pen, the largest drawback of the game will remain the price.  The game still uses (prepainted) miniatures, and they can cost a pretty penny.  The base set comes with 6 figures (for 3 vs 3 combat) and then additional ones get expensive quickly.  Sets of three figures can run over $30, while special huge figures can cost upwards of $60 each.  One the other hand, each figure can be “fitted out” with a different “driver” as well as artifacts and other modifications so a given figure does have quite a few variations on its basic options.  The stylus also allows for variations on a set game map (more maps available for purchase) since the computer can keep track of special locations – even hidden bonuses or traps.  So, even though figures can be a large investment, each figure can go a long way towards adding variety.  Even though the variety of options exist, I simply can’t get past the large price tag for playing the game.  The models are somewhat competitive in price for other miniatures games, and Goblin Arcana is a great introduction to that segment of the hobby, but at the present I’m not looking to invest that much money in this genre of gaming.

Pikomino ($3, Universal, 1-4p, PnP and online, six types of AI)

Heckmeck (or as I know it and is found in the apple store, Pickomino) is one of my go-to games for playing with non-gamers.  I keep a game in class at school for those rare times we have 15-20 minutes to kill for one reason or another.  Its easy to explain and quick to play.  As such, the electronic game provides yet another way for me to pull out the game and play.  It lacks the great physicality of the nice dominos and dice, but keeps the push-your-luck gameplay.  I do have a tiny travel version of Heckmeck, but whereas I might not always keep that in my pocket (and the pieces may be prone to loss, depending on where I’m playing) the iPad version can be a good substitute.  While I would typically only use the app for multiplayer play (pass and play is my preferred choice) the game does have the option of pursuing achievements and online leaderboards.  I see Heckmeck as a good multiplayer second option to Can’t Stop on my iPad and I don’t see it leaving anytime soon.

Sopio ($2, universal, 1-4p, solo vs AI only, 18 AI characters)

I’m unfamiliar with the card game, but it conjures flashbacks of playing Fluxx.  This is not a good thing.  Players have a hand of five cards and play them on themselves or the other players.  Cards typically provide or subtract points from the person on whom they’re played.  Many cards also have special abilities (stealing cards, elminating scored cards, etc…)    While there is no changing of goals (as in Fluxx) card play seems almost random.  You try to hurt the person who’s winning and hope you can do enough damage by the end of the game to pull off a win.  As is the case with this sort of game, it is reduced to saving your best cards as long as possible in order to play them in a rush at the end of the game.  The game goes very fast, the AI plays quickly, and that is the only thing I can say for the game.  I guess if you like the game enough to play it with a computer this will do, but without the trash talking of a face to face game I just don’t see the point.  Not a game I like, far too chaotic, so it won’t be sticking around for long.

Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager ($10, iPad, 1-4p, solo or PBEM (play by email), 3 levels of play)

You may have heard of the “game” Kerbal Space Program (not available on tablets.)  In it, players design and launch ships so that their “Kerbals” can explore the solar system.  Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager (BASPM) is similar in theme, but has quite a few differences.  The Kerbal program focuses on designing and building the rockets (with other technology and support options) while BASPM is a simulation of the entire space program.  Rather than focus on rocket building and launching, BASPM focuses in on hiring and training personnel (astronauts, researchers, mission control employees)  and budgets.  Specific goals are on offer, and achieving them provides prestige which then translates into an increase in one’s budget in later years.  A specific goal is chosen and then work on improving the payload and rocket is begun.  Researchers speed up development depending on their statistics for each specialty.  Over time, the reliability of each part of a mission increases, with smaller gains occurring as the reliability increases.  You choose when to launch the mission, deciding just how high of a reliability factor you need to be comfortable.  The missions are then launched and you gain prestige for success or even lose some if it is a failure.  Successful missions also provide small reliability bonuses for the craft used.  (This is the only way to increase reliability past certain research maximums.)  The game provides three campaigns (Russia, USA, and a fictional Global Space Agency) where one has to manage budgets and personnel.  Note that the game can snowball, as more prestige early on grants more money early on, which then helps accomplish more and gain even more prestige.  There are two things that will probably be the death-knell for the game on my iPad.  As with others reviewed, the game really feels like a slower, more thoughtful PC game.  Progress is somewhat slow, especially when taking baby steps as a new player (later games I could see one setting a few things up and then just pressing the “next season” button again and again to jump forward to the “interesting stuff”.)  Second, this is another game with a big footprint.   It claims to be a 400MB download, but is taking up 1.2GB of space on my iPad.  I think I would keep it around to fiddle with occasionally, if it weren’t taking up the space of 3 or 4 other games.


Aside from Splendor, not too many high excitement euro-games appearing lately, but from what I hear, this fall should be an exciting time.

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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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