iOS Review: Tsuro

Tsuro is one of those games that will always be in my game collection. It’s ridiculously easy to teach, it will play up to eight, and a game will take 15 minutes to play, including teaching. The premise is simple – everyone starts with a stone which is on the outside of the board. On your turn, choose one of the three tiles in your hand to play in front of your stone. Move it along the path until it reaches the end of the tile, and draw a new one. That’s it. If you go off the board or collide with someone? You’re out. Last one standing wins.

The simplicity and elegance of this game are fantastic. You’re not going to find a deep brain-blowing thinkfest here, but it’s so satisfying.

Recently, Calliope Games and Thunderbox Entertainment announced that they were working on a digital port of this game. While it seemed simple enough to convert, I wasn’t sure if it was going to hold on to some of the charm of the physical version. It finally came out, so let’s see how it looks!

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When you start the app, you’re greeted by some very soothing music and an image of the box sitting in what looks to be a zen garden. And to start? You actually have to “lift” the box lid. When you lift the lid, the board unfolds, the tiles come out, and you’re prompted to choose a color and drag it to your starting position. Then? It’s time to choose opponents.

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If you choose to play against the AI, you’ll have three different options: silly, clever, and tricky. Simply drag their stones to the difficulty level you’d like them to have, and it’s all set. Then the cards get dealt out and it’s time to play!

Gameplay is…well, it’s Tsuro. You choose a tile, which you can rotate by tapping on, and place it on the board. Then your piece (and anyone else who might be bordering that as well) moves along the path. Then you get a new tile. A perfect representation of the actual game.

So how does it translate? Does it evoke the same feelings as the physical game? It sure does. There’s a lot to love about this app, and one thing to…well…I’m not going to say hate, but I will say strongly dislike.

Since I want to end on a high note, let’s start with that one detractor. For some reason, the developers decided to use Facebook as their multiplayer matching engine. The game connects to Gamecenter, so I’m uncertain as to why they didn’t just use that, and as a result finding someone to play can be challenging. Or, you know, nigh impossible in my case. A major bummer here, but perhaps this will be expanded in the future to include other methods of matching.

But other than that, the game is fantastic. The attention to detail here is astounding. The game board, which could look as perfect as they want it to, has a fold in the middle and looks identical to an actual Tsuro board. When placing tiles, there’s a good chance that the lines don’t exactly match up, kind of like when you play them in the actual game. The small things like that show the care that was taken with this implementation.

IMG_0135There are three different modes of play – you can play the classic “last person standing” mode, one where the player who traveled the farthest wins, or one where you want to loop back over your own path multiple times. I have not once thought about playing Tsuro any way but the normal way, so these came as a pleasant surprise…and they wind up being harder than you would think!

The sounds are pleasing, with a constant relaxing soundtrack and the sound of a stone being dragged over…um…another stone when the pieces move. Player knockouts are well done. If two pieces collide, or if one goes off the edge, it explodes in a shower of color. It’s really the little things that make this app so enjoyable.

And there’s pass-and-play, which works like a charm. In lieu of easy online multiplayer, this works well when relaxing with friends.

So should you get this app? Well, that depends on how much time you’re going to invest in solo or pass-and-play games. If you live to play other using multiplayer, you might want to hold off. But if you’re content playing this on your own? I wouldn’t delay at all. This is easily one of the nicest apps to come our way!

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Tsuro is available for $4.99 in the App Store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tsuro/id957124541?mt=8

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iOS Review: Splendor

When it was announced that Space Cowboys was teaming up with Days of Wonder to release a digital version of Splendor, I knew it would be an instant purchase for me. The game, while having the most pasted on theme of any that I’ve played in years, is an excellent engine builder and I was very excited to see how it translated to a digital form.

SplendorSo let’s talk about the gorilla in the room right away – Splendor, as of now, does not feature online multiplayer. It has pass-and-play multiplayer, but that’s it. But, you know, it’s Days of Wonder. They aren’t going to let that one just slide by the wayside. The Ticket to Ride multiplayer is great, and I’m sure the Splendor one will be just as good.

Now that we’ve gotten the multiplayer bit out of the way, let’s chat about this app.

Splendor offers you three different styles of play: the aforementioned pass-and-play, a regular mode against up to three other AI opponents, and a solo campaign which will offer challenges which make each game a little different.

The app is well done, and the user interface is quite intuitive. You tap on the gem chips to select them, and can change your mind mid-draw if you’d like. The cards are selected the same way. One tap and you’ve got it in front of you, to reserve or purchase. And if you’re looking to reserve a card from the draw pile, the stacks are contained within slots in the tabletop.

Splendor

Your gem count is easy to read as well. There will be a number on top of a stack of chips to represent how many chips you have, and a card shaped indicator with a number in it to represent your tableau of cards. Any cards that you reserve go to the right of your gem count. It’s well thought out and very easy to get the hang of.

The pass-and-play and the regular game play…well…they play like a game of Splendor would if you were sitting with the actual game in front of you. That’s a pretty major compliment. With four different levels of AI to choose from, you can expect a different experience from game to game. The only downside I’ve seen is that you can’t seem to reserve a card if you have the gems available to purchase said card. I’m sure they’ll fix that, and it’s a minor issue.

SplendorBut where Splendor is really quite awesome is in the single-player challenges. There are currently three different regions that you can go to, each with six different challenges. Each challenge will change the basic rules of Splendor, turning the levels into a puzzle of sorts. Sometimes you’ll have no chip taking limits, and other times there are no chips at all but you start with a tableau of cards. The goals are different for each one and you’ll find that a few of them are quite difficult, requiring multiple tries before you can complete them.

All in all, Splendor is a marvelous app. This is a game that was really quite easy to take to a digital platform, and Days of Wonder knocked it out of the park. Yeah, yeah…there’s no online multiplayer yet. But it will come. And when it does this will be looked at as one of the best board game apps out there.

Splendor

 

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Splendor is available for $6.99 in the App Store. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/splendor/id971215921?mt=8

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iOS Review: Galaxy Trucker

It goes without saying that there are obvious differences between a physical board game and a digital version that you play on a tablet. I’ve often said that while they aren’t substitutes for in person gaming, apps allow you to play games when you normally would be unable. And, you know, it’s a LOT easier to set up. But you do miss out on the social aspect, there’s no doubt about that.

So when I heard that Czech Games was making Galaxy Trucker into an app, I was a little hesitant. If you’ve played the cardboard version of the game you know that the ship building phase of the game is chaotic and crazy, mostly because everyone is simultaneously pulling from the same pile. I wasn’t sure that you would wind up getting the same feeling from the app, and that’s a big part of the game. But I do enjoy Galaxy Trucker, so I made sure to pick this one up when it was released.

IMG_0096There are two main modes of play here – singleplayer and multiplayer, and you can choose several styles of play within those modes. If you choose singleplayer, you’ll have three options: Campaign, Custom Game, and the Tutorial. Since I’m fairly certain you’re all familiar with what a Tutorial is, I’ll skip to the other choices.

The Custom Game will allow you to play against three different levels of AI, and they’ve done a pretty good job with each one. You can also choose the number of flights that you’ll participate in, from one to three. But the best setting of all is choosing between a real-time or a turn-based game.

The real-time mode is just what it sounds like and plays much like the board game. You grab one piece at a time and choose whether or not to put it on your board. Once you drag another piece over the top of your spaceship, the previous one becomes “welded” there and is now permanent. Each player is doing this simultaneously, and when you’re finished you pick one of the turn order tiles.

The turn-based mode uses an action point system to drive gameplay, with each action having a cost associated with them:

  • Turning up a new component – 1 action
  • Add a component to your ship – 2 actions
  • Store a component for later – 1 action
  • Look at the card stack – 3 to 5 actions depending on flight level

Each turn you receive 10 action points (except for the first player on the first turn – that player receives 7 points) and may spend them as you see fit. Each player may also hold back no more than three action points for future rounds. As pieces are revealed the will move onto conveyor belts, and when it is your turn they will show you which ones you’ve revealed and which ones others have revealed.

It’s really quite slick.

If you’re looking for something that’s a little more story based, you can select Campaign mode. In this mode, you wind up going on missions with specific objectives which will lead you to bigger ships and better equipment. For example, you’ll have to escort a business man from one planet to another while arriving with a certain credit amount in cargo. They aren’t easy, and there are many hours of fun in the campaign mode as the paths are branching instead of linear.

IMG_0093Since I’ve already gone into detail about how the turn-based game operates, you should be able to guess how well the multiplayer mode works. This was the thing I was most concerned with, and Czech Games handled it brilliantly. Designing a new way to play the game that preserves the spirit of the original while allowing for asynchronous play was a huge undertaking and they crushed it. Of course, if you’re able to find willing opponents, you can still play real-time using the classic mode…or just do a pass & play with some friends in the same room.

The app also allows you to change which card deck you use…the standard one that comes with the game, a digital version that has more cards, or the Hardcore deck which will challenge even the best Galaxy Trucker players. This, along with settings for “autopilot flight”, number of flights in a game, and many others make this app one that you will play for many many moons before you find yourself bored.

Settings aside, the presentation is top notch here. The graphics are exactly what you would expect out of  a Galaxy Trucker game, and they’ve paid attention to little details like asteroids and slavers, making them really come to life. The ships animate when defending themselves or moving to the surface of a planet, and it really gives a whole new spin onto the flying phase of the game.

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Between the extremely robust single player campaign and the ability for asynchronous multiplayer, this app is one that will be hard to beat. CGE really did an excellent job preserving the fun of the board game while giving us so many options and styles of play that the game will be fresh for years to come.

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Galaxy Trucker is available for $7.99 in the App Store. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/galaxy-trucker/id904013027?mt=8

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Digital Version of Castles of Mad King Ludwig Announced

Well, the title about says it all – this morning Bezier Games announced via Twitter that a digital port of Castles of Mad King Ludwig would be hitting devices later this year:

 

 

This is fabulous news, and we aren’t going to have to wait for over a year to see this hit the streets. As Bezier has already put out a digital version of Suburbia, and these titles have many similarities, I’m guessing that this design process was a bit simpler…hence the short wait. It’s nice to see that they are putting it out for both iOS and Android, and the addition of a campaign mode will make things interesting. In the “we’ll wait and see” department, I’m very curious about the development of an AI for single player matches. The decisions the Master Builder is making every round would require a lot of forethought from a developer’s standpoint.

As this has been one of my favorite games of this year, this will be a very welcome addition to my iPad!

iOS Review: Qwirkle

Of all the types of board games that have been made into apps, abstract games seem to be especially suited for digitization. The rules have no grey area, gameplay is typically simple, and scoring is very straightforward. Abstracts tend to be rules light and strategy deep. All of these factors add up to a format which can be easily played on a tablet or smartphone. The digital version of Qwirkle, by Mindware Corporation, proves this point.

Qwirkle is a very approachable abstract with simple rules. The game is made up of 108 tiles, each of which has two identifying characteristics: one of six different shapes and one of six colors adding up to three complete set of each.

On your turn, you will either play tiles or swap tiles, refilling back to six at the end of your turn. If placing tiles, you must build in a line off existing tiles (except, of course, when you place the first tiles) and must continue in a straight line which can not duplicate either shape or color. That sounds more confusing than it actually is…but it’s easy to pick up.

Screen captures are tricky when piece are blinking - hence the black squares.
Screen captures are tricky when piece are blinking – hence the black squares.

After you’ve placed tiles, you calculate the score of that move by counting all tiles in a line that you built upon, regardless as to whether you played them or not. If, on your turn, you complete a line of six tiles of the same shape or color? You score the normal six points for the line, and an additional six points for having scored a Qwirkle! That’s pretty much the whole game.

Upon loading the app, you’ll be able to choose between playing against the AI, pass-and-play against people in the room, or online through the Game Center. There are four different levels of AI, and they’ve done a fairly decent job with them. Online play is solid, and they seem to have ironed out the kinks that were there when this app first launched.

3D mode!
3D mode!

The visuals in the game are quite nice as well. When playing, you have your choice of backgrounds – a wood grain table, beach sand, tablecloths, and…clouds. Cause, you know, I often play this game while floating. Although, I HAVE played this app while on an airplane, so I’ll have to remember that option for my next flight. There is also an option to switch from 2D mode to 3D mode – which is nice…but also seems a little pointless.

Placing tiles is intuitive and the app will even help you out a bit here. When you drag a tile out onto the board so you can place it, the screen will show you the various places that are open for legal placement. Hell, it’ll even tell you if you’re able to use that tile to score a Qwirkle. Swapping is simple as well, just drag the tiles over to the bag and complete your turn.

Let me just take a second to rant here as this is one of the most important features for any board game app – confirm and undo. There are some great apps that are infuriating because they won’t allow you to confirm a move before it is made and there’s no way to take back a mis…um…click? Press? Tap? A mistap? Sure. We’ll go with that. But in Qwirkle, you have the chance to undo your move and need to click the “done” button prior to ending your turn. High marks for that.

QwirkleLaziness being what it is, there are some things that make this app a little more desirable to play than the actual physical copy of the game – you have someone keeping score for you, there’s zero chance of playing a tile illegally, you always know how many tiles are left…nitpicky stuff, but it’s nice that they included it in here.

All in all, Qwirkle is an app that is worth owning – especially for the three dollar price tag that it has carried for a while. It’s going to give you a visually pleasing app that can be played in a variety of situations. And isn’t that what we’re after?

[well]Qwirkle is available on the App Store for $2.99. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/qwirkle/id684932119?mt=8[/well]

iOS Review: Talisman

The world of digital board game implementations has been growing quite steadily over the past few years, and gamers with tablets and smartphones have been reaping the benefits. About a year ago Nomad Games released a digital version of a classic board game, and since then I’ve been wandering the world of Talisman on a weekly basis.

Talisman is a game that has been around forever, enjoying staunch support from a loyal fanbase and plenty of new content coming from Fantasy Flight Games. It is a game that hasn’t enjoyed a huge influx of new players because it has a tendency to be quite chaotic and very luck based. Combine that with a setup and play time that can drag out (especially with newer players) and it is approached with caution.

Talisman iOSOne of the benefits of a digital version is that setup time is reduced to…well…whatever time it takes you to open the app. And the app does all the messy housekeeping for you with rules, tracking life points, keeping an eye on item limits, and so forth. Of course, this will be true of any app, but with Talisman this is certainly a selling point.

Simple bookkeeping benefits aside, this is a beautiful port of a board game. The graphics are absolutely top notch…to the point where the actual board game falls behind a bit. I mean, I don’t have the time and patience to paint any of my figures, so that alone puts it above the physical copy in my book.

The developers did an excellent job with making the gameplay quite intuitive as well. I guess this wasn’t ever a game that left you burned out from 10,000 rules, but it’s nice to have everything laid out properly and helpful hints the first time you play. Combat, which could grind most tabletop versions of this game to a halt, is sped up as the app handles all of the “well, I’ve got a sword, but also the Holy Lance, and this is a dragon so I should…” for you.

Talisman

Talisman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, that’s not to say that this is a perfect app by any means. There are a couple flaws, one that could be taken care of and one that, well, cannot.

The first has to do with the AI. There are times where it will make sensible decisions and times where it is an absolute idiot. I have seen it enter the Portal of Power only to exit on the next turn…about six times in a row. It will use an axe to create a raft, sailing across the river…and then cross back over in two turns. Again, this isn’t a constant thing. But when the AI goes off the rails, forget about it.

The second issue is mostly a personal thing. When you play Talisman, especially with a group of friends, it turns into a storytelling event. You wind up laughing at your misfortune, you make grandiose excuses for why you pissed the farmer off, and the time flies. Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate with the app. The AI isn’t exactly looking to have a beer with you.

As a side note, I haven’t played the online multiplayer version of this yet. Pass-and-play, yes. I’ve heard there are some minor bugs with it, but I haven’t encountered any on the solo side of things.

Talisman

Perhaps one of the best thing about this app are the expansions. Nomad has already released four expansions to date and they are working on more at the time of this writing. Along with the standard expansions, there are also various characters that you can purchase. When new content is released they also tend to put the existing stuff on sale, so paying full price for anything isn’t necessary if you’re patient.

But, those small things aside, this is a great app worth adding to your collection. Now you can enjoy the Talisman experience, well most of it, anytime you want!

[well]Talisman is available on the App Store for $6.99.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/talisman/id681942253?mt=8[/well]

iOS Review: Carcassonne

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hile face-to-face gaming is an amazing way to spend time with friends, sometimes you don’t have a willing opponent at hand. Thankfully we now live in a world where there are alternatives to just sitting and staring longingly at the games we aren’t able to play. Both the iPad and Android tablets have seen a bevy of board game ports giving gamers the ability to scratch that itch without having to put on a pair of pants.

A few years ago one of the elder statesmen of the board gaming world received the digital treatment – and Carcassonne has never looked so good.

Carcassonne hit the board game scene in 2000 and has had a very steady following since then. Okay, sure, it has seen more expansions than the waistline of a college freshman. And yeah, other games have come along that are deeper and more involved. But good old Carcassonne had new life breathed into it once this app hit iOS devices. Not too bad for one of the steadfast gateway games, right?

But let’s be honest here, this game isn’t really a gateway game. Not once you see it for what it is. If there’s a gateway here, it’s more like an iron portcullis operated by a dwarf standing on a three-legged stool who is suffering from alcohol withdrawal. He’s five minutes from ending his shift and wants nothing more than to quiet the voices in his head with another round of ale.

And you just made eye contact with him.

Carcassonne AppThe app is, in a word, stunning. From the moment that you load up the app, you are greeted by pleasant music and a very intuitive menu. You can start games with others via Game Center, can do a local game with others on the same network, or even play a solitaire game.

If you are new to the world of Carcassonne, there’s a very detailed tutorial that will walk you through the game and teach you everything you need to know about this classic.

Once you start a game, you find that the graphics and user interface are just as good on the inside as they are on the main menu. All of the tiles have been faithfully reproduced and look just as good as the ones that come in the actual game. The meeples are vibrant and perfectly shaped, and the “table” you play the game on has a beautiful wood grain.

As this is a digital production of the game, the developers were able to add functionality that the face-to-face version lacks. Worried that you’ll never get the one tile type you need to close that city? Pull up the list of tiles and see how many are left. Not sure where to put the tile you were just handed? No problem! The app highlights the spots on the board where the tile can legally be played. Once a space has become dead (no tiles left in the bag that will go there), an “X” appears on that spot so you know that it’s a goner. These features aren’t for everyone, and purists can choose to shut them off in the settings.

The developers are quite dedicated to getting new expansions out.
The developers are quite dedicated to getting new expansions out.

Of course, no Carcassonne app would be complete without some expansions. To date there are seven expansions available (for a small fee, of course) and they range from the simple ones like The River to the gameplay changing Inns & Cathedrals. Each expansion has been meticulously recreated in the digital format and brings a little something different to each game.

Now you might be saying “well, sure…that sounds fine. But it’s still Carcassonne. Isn’t that a little…….boring?”

Let’s chat for a second about that. When was the last time you played Carcassonne? Chances are fairly good that you used it to introduce new gamers to the hobby. Or maybe you played it with your family on a holiday at home? A nice friendly game with your mom and your sister?

Well, friends. This is not your old beat up copy of Carcassonne that forlornly watches from your shelf as newer, sexier games come in and take its place on the table. This isn’t the friendly game where everyone sets off on their own to build cities and roads, ignoring all others. This is most certainly not the game where whiny gamers start slapping house rules onto the game to make the decisions “more meaningful.”

When you play this app, especially online?

This game is war.

End game scoring summaries show you just how badly you got beaten.
End game scoring summaries show you just how badly you got beaten.

Every tile that gets placed is immediately beset on all sides by the other players, trying to horn in on your sweet city building action. Roads are usurped. Cloisters pop up together to the point where they should be called “Clusters”, as everyone tries to make other people do the work for them. And farms? Hell, playing a farm in this game is like painting a target on your forehead. Within two turns you’ve lost majority and been blocked off from all hope of rejoining.

After a while, it makes you stop and think about that sweet little gateway game that you once brought out to show people just how different board games could be. This can’t be the same game, can it? This brutal, take no prisoners, screw over every other person at the table, shark tank of a game? Oh, it is. And then you toss an expansion in the mix it becomes even more amazing.

Time will go by and suddenly you’ll look at Carcassonne differently. You’ll see that this is truly a chameleon of a game. A conflict averse group can play an entire game without bumping into one another and be perfectly content. A more aggressive group? I can guarantee that the first f-bomb is dropped by turn three.

So go ahead. Pull Carcassonne out some night soon. Dust it off. And be a complete bastard. It’s quite fulfilling. And if you can’t? Well, it’s a good thing this app exists.

 

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Carcassonne can be found in the App Store for $9.99. Don’t worry. It’s worth it.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/carcassonne/id375295479?mt=8

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Carcassonne App
A game using all the available expansions, plus the new Winter tiles.