This month, I’m going to look at some board and card games for iOS (plus Android if applicable). I’m only including ones I have played (which means games like Agricola and Lords of Waterdeep are excluded). Also, I only have room on the list for eleven games, so there may be a part II in the future. I will add the disclaimer that I am NOT advocating the elimination of physical games. I’d say that, if anything, most of these apps have convinced me that I want the physical version. But, if you want to play and there’s no one to play with, these are some good alternatives. On with the list!
Alien Frontiers (2010, Tory Niemann, Clever Mojo Games) will forever be known as the game that started the Kickstarter craze. In 2012, an iPad version was Kickstarted, and was released that year. Clint Herron developed the app for Clever Mojo. Alien Frontiers is a worker placement game where players roll dice, then place them in various items to produce resources (fuel and ore), take alien tech cards, steal stuff from your opponents, get more dice, or place colonies on the planet. There’s also some area control as you are trying to have the majority in different regions of the planet, which gives you special abilities. The player with the most points when someone places their last colony is the winner.
The app does a pretty good job of representing the game. It’s only playable in portrait mode, and the entire board is visible at all times. You need some knowledge of the symbols to know what all the locations do, but it’s not too difficult to remember what they are. To find out what a card does, just click it and text will tell you. The space is used pretty well on the screen, not too small and not feeling too cluttered. The AI is pretty good, though it does sometimes take some time to make its decisions (not nearly as long as people do in the physical game). There is no tutorial for the game – clicking on the “quick rules” link opens up a rulebook PDF. The music is very etheral and spacey, and you can just turn it off id you don’t want it.
Overall, I think the Alien Frontiers app is very good. You only get the base game (for now – I’d be surprised if Factions didn’t show up eventually), but there are four levels of AI so you’ll get a different experience depending on the level (I haven’t played the pirate level, but I hear it’s pretty brutal). You can also pass-and-play with it. Take a look - it’s a very good implementation of the game. It’s only available for iPad, and will cost you $4.99.
Amber Route (2013) is one of only two games on this list that is not actually based on a physical game. However, it is still a digital card game, and it’s one that I enjoy, so I wanted to bring it up. The game comes from Mobile Wings Interactive, and is essentially a game where players are making a journey by playing cards. You’ll be accumulating three types of currency throughout – runes, meat, and gold. Meanwhile, you’ll be carrying amber across a map, which is different for each level. You’ll have a hand of six cards, and can pay to play one by spending the indicated currency. Cards can gain you currency, affect your opponent, move you forward, increase your amber, or do other things. You can even spend 20 of one type of currency to purchase a super card which can give you a major benefit or cripple you. Each space along the map has a benefit or negative effect, and you have to take that into account. When you get to the end of the map, if you have completed a victory condition, you win. If not, you sit there until you do or until your opponent wins. Oh, and if you ever run out of amber, you lose.
By all accounts, this is a game I shouldn’t like. It’s very lucky – if you’re not getting the cards you need, you’re out of luck. The super cards are incredibly swingy – you don’t know what you’re buying when you spend your 20, and it could potentially lose you the game right there. And yet, I really like it. There’s a lot of strategy in the resource management, and you have to keep an eye on different conditions to make sure you are in a position to win at the end. Each board has different locations, and you have to be careful where you step. It’s fun, but it’s kind of a trial by fire game – no tutorial is included. Not that it’s that difficult to understand, but still. The art is nice, and there’s a campaign mode, as well as single missions. You can also play it face to face with another player. I’d recommend you check it out – this one’s available on iOS (iPad and iPhone for $1.99) and Android ($13.10).
Ascension (2010, John Fiorillo/Justin Gary, Stoneblade Entertainment was one of the early deckbuilders to come out in the analog market, and one of the first truly successful board game apps. The app was developed by Playdek, and has earned almost universal acclaim since its initial release. The game pits 2-4 players against each other with the goal of earning the most Honor points. Six cards are dealt randomly into the center row, and players take turns playing cards from their hands to try and acquire cards that will get them points. There are two types of currency in the game – Runes, which are spent to acquire heroes or constructs; and Power, which you use to defeat monsters to gain rewards. You play until 60 Honor points have run out, and the player who has the most Honor (including earned points and points on cards in your deck) wins.
The app for Ascension is phenomenal. It plays quickly, makes it easy to find all relevant information (including double-tapping on cards to look at them closer), and has very smooth controls. The tutorial, too, is top-notch – it really is a model of how to teach a game by sending you in and teaching you as you play. The biggest problem I’ve found is that, late in games, the computer player can bog down and take a long time to play. However, overall the app works well. Playdek listened to feedback after the inital release and allowed players to decide how many Honor points you want to play to (which is good – I always feel that 60 makes the game too short), and allows you to mix all expansions together. I’ve said before that I don’t think Ascension is a game I would enjoy in the physical environment – it’s very random and has a few too many moving parts – but for a mindless iOS game, it’s very fun. Playdek will no longer be supporting this app after this year (Stoneblade is doing their own), but for now, it’s FREE for iOS Universal.
Epigo (2011, Chris Gosselin/Chris Kreuter, Masquerade Games) is an abstract game for two players that combines elements of programmed movement with tug-of-war. The app was developed by Red Finch Software. The basic idea of the game is that you have seven numbered tiles on the board, and you want to try to push three of your opponent’s tiles off the board. Players simultaneously choose three numbers, and then simultaneously reveal them one at a time. The higher number goes first, and if it’s a tie, nothing happens. The numbered tile will move in the indicated direction (if possible), and you’re trying to maneuver your pieces so you can knock off your opponent.
Epigo is a very simple game, but has some very deep and agonizing decisions to make. The app itself really does a good job of implementing the game, with smooth controls and a good interface. There are different levels of AI, but even the hardest is not too challenging. You can also play online, which I’ve done once. You wouldn’t think a programmed movement game would work well for asynchronous play, but they’ve found a clever way to do it. You make your choices of your tiles, then your opponent does. After the resolution (which is automatic – no decisions to be made there), your opponent chooses before the turn shifts back to you. That way, you can get two turns done at once, and makes the game go much quicker…some other apps on this list could probably take a hint. Epigo is available for iPad and iPhone for $3.99.
Lords of Waterdeep (2012, Peter Lee/Rodney Thompson, Wizards of the Coast) is a light worker placement game that took the world by storm just because it was a Eurogame set in a Dungeons & Dragons world. The app was developed by Playdek. Lords of Waterdeep is a 2-5 player game where players take turns putting workers in various locations to earn resources that are then spent on completing quests. Resources include money and cubes (the cubes represent fighters, rogues, wizards, and clerics). Along the way, you can also play Intrigue cards to help yourself or hinder others. Additionally, each player has their own secret role that gives them bonus points if they fulfill certain conditions (usually specific types of completed quests). At the end of eight rounds, the player with the most points wins.
I wasn’t completely crazy about Lords of Waterdeep the first time I played it, but after playing it several times through this implementation, I’ve really gained an appreciation of the game. It’s a very tight experience with people battling for resources needed for each quest. The app is really good – it zooms right in on the board so you can see where you’re looking, and it’s easy to zoom back out for a wider view. As with other Playdek games, the tutorial teaches you while you play, which is great. The app is very smooth, and all relevant information is very easy to look up. If you like Lords of Waterdeep at all, I’d highly recommend this app. And if you’ve never played the game, I’d highly recommend this app. And if you DON’T like Lords of Waterdeep…this probably won’t change that. Unless your complaint is that it’s too long and fiddly, in which case you might want to give it a try. It’s for iOS Universal, and you can pick it up for $6.99.
Neuroshima Hex (2006, Michael Oracz, Portal Games) is a 2-4 player abstract tactical wargame set in a post-apocalyptic future. The app was developed by Big Daddy’s Creations. In the game, each player has an army of hexagonal tiles, and takes turns placing up to two of them. These tiles will either have a melee combat, or a ranged attack, or will give you some other benefit. When the board is full, or when someone plays a special battle tile, it’s time for war. The highest initiative numbers will go first, attacking simultaneously, with any destroyed pieces leaving the board first. This goes util you get to initiative 0, which is the bases. Bases have 20 hit points, and it’s the player with the most HP left on their base at the end who wins the game.
I’ve never played the physical version of Neuroshima Hex, but it’s one that interested me even when that was all there was. With the app, I don’t have to do my own accounting and can just let the computer keep track of battles. The tutorial walks you through the game, but you’re not actually playing. The controls are not terrible intuitive – it took me a while to figure out how to pass a turn – but they can be understood. It’s a game I really like (even though I’m terrible at it), and I would definitely recommend the app. It’s for iPhone and iPad, and costs $4.99.
Puerto Rico (2002, Andreas Seyfarth, alea) is the game that ruled the top of the BGG charts for a long time, and the game I still consider to be the pinnacle of European game design. The app was developed by Ravensburger. In the game, 3-5 players try to earn points by shipping goods and building buildings in colonial Puerto Rico. On your turn, you’ll choose one of 6-8 roles and enact its effects. All other players will then get to do the same action, but you get a small benefit for choosing the role. These roles could build your plantations, construct buildings, gain colonists, produce goods, sell goods, ship goods, or earn money for you. When the colonist supply runs out, or someone fills all of their building spaces, or when the VPs run out, the game ends, and the player with the most points wins.
I love Puerto Rico. It’s one of my favorite games. So getting the app was a no-brainer for me. The app, while functional, is kind of difficult to get through. The playing area is kind of cluttered as Ravensburger made the decision to try and get all player information on-screen at all times. As there is no hidden information (other than points), that makes sense, but it results in everything being really small. The app does highlight pertinent information, but it’s sometimes hard to see. You can get advice on different plays to make throughout the game, though I tend to ask for advice and completely ignore it. I would say to give it a look because all the pieces work – it’s just cluttered and small. This one is only available on iPad, and will cost $4.99.
Quarriors (2011, Eric M. Lang/Mike Elliott, WizKids) is a dice-building game where players are trying to cast spells and summon creatures in order to score Glory points. The app was developed by Icarus Studios. In the game, 2-4 players take turns drawing dice from their bag and rolling them. From the results, players can spend Quiddity (the currency of the game) to summon creatures and capture new dice from the wilds. Each player’s creatures will attack other creatures, and if yours survive to your next turn, you score Glory points. When a die scores, you can cull dice from your used pile, which is a good way to thin out the basic dice. When one player gets to a preset number of points (20 in a 2-player game, 15 with 3, and 12 with 4), the game is over and they win.
Quarriors is a game that I was really excited about, and then was underwhelmed by. I found it to be too short and too dependent on luck – luck of the draw AND luck of the dice, not really a great combination. So, when the app went on sale for free back in March, I got it. I find it to be a little better than the original in that it’s much faster, making it not quite as frustrating when I can’t roll what I need. At the same time, I miss the really cool dice in the game. The app itself works pretty well – they keep doing updates, so now it’s not crashing on me as much as it was. The controls work OK, though it is a little annoying to tap a die for defense and have to look at the card for it again. I would NOT recommend the online game – Quarriors does not work in its current format. A player rolls and summons, then has to wait for all opponents to (in turn order) defend. When it gets back to you, you can capture from the wilds, which you may choose not to do. Then your opponent goes, and if they attack, you have to manually defend – defending is required, and you still have to manually doing it even if you only have one die to defend with. It takes SO LONG, and your turns end up taking FIVE SECONDS. TERRIBLE.
So, in summation: Quarriors is an OK app for an OK game. It doesn’t wow me like the Ascension app, but it’s definitely worth what I paid. You can get it for iPad for $3.99.
Small World (2009, Philippe Keyaerts, Days of Wonder) was one of the first iPad apps. It was actually advertised with the first generation of iPads. The game came out, and it was clean and functional and was held up as a standard to attain. However, it was only two-player. Last year, Days of Wonder Kickstarted Small World 2, and update that increased the number of players (you can play with up to five) and redesigned the app. The game itself involves players taking on the roles of different races to rule a small world. On your turn, you place your pieces out to conquer different regions, kicking out anyone who is there. Each player will have a different race and power that give them different abilities, and every now and then, you’ll have to get a new pairing. This is done by sending your active race into decline, then claiming a new one on your next turn. At the end of a preset number of rounds, the player who has scored the most points wins.
Small World is a great light wargame, and the app is really a phenomenal implementation. The first version was great because it pioneered iOS apps for the iPad, and the second version has taken things to the next level. It’s a smooth implementation, with all relevant information easy to find and help remembering what you can do whenever you need it. For example, if you are attempting to take over a region with not enough troops, a die icon will appear to let you know you’ll be rolling if you place there. My only real complaint with the app is that the tutorial is a YouTube video. Nevertheless, it’s a great app and you should get it. The app is for iPad only, and costs $9.99.
Solforge (2013, Stoneblade Entertainment) is the second game on this list that is not based on a physical product, but it is partially designed by Richard Garfield, so I wanted to talk about it. The game is a two-player collectible game where players are attempting to bring their opponents down to zero hit points. Each player has five lanes, and will take turns playing up to two cards (creatures and spells). Creatures cannot attack on the turn they are played, but do damage if they are attacked. Each card has a certain number of hit points, and are destroyed if that is exceeded. If there’s nothing in front of an attacking creature, the player takes the hit. What sets Solforge apart is that there is a leveling up mechanism – whenever you play a card, you get a copy of the next level card for your deck. So you have to think about, not only what’s going to be good for you now, but what’s going to be good in the future. When one player reduces the other to zero, they win.
I first downloaded Solforge when it was first released in beta, and wasn’t too impressed. However, I kept it on my iPad, and after an update, I gave it another shot. And I really like it now. I have not bought any decks, I’m just playing against the computer with the basic decks, and I have a lot of fun. I love the leveling up aspect – it’s a completely new kind of deck building that would be completely impractical in a physical game. The game can lag sometimes, but generally, I really enjoy it. If you want to give it a shot, you can get for iOS Universal for free, or you can play it in Windows via Steam. You can try it out for free (be careful – it’s collectible, so the first hit is free).
Suburbia (2012, Ted Alspach, Bezier Games) is a city-building game where players are trying to get the highest population through different buildings. On your turn, you buy a city tile and place it in your suburb. Depending on its placement, it may increase your reputation (thus increasing your population) and/or your income (thus increasing your cash flow). Other players may end up playing tiles that also increase your reputation and income, and it’s entirely possible that you’ll play tiles that decrease your reputation and income. There will be some shared goals players are competing for, and each player will also have secret goals they are working towards to increase their population. When the tiles run out, the game ends and the player with the highest population wins.
Suburbia is a tough game to play in its physical form because there is SO MUCH to keep track of. The app takes care of it all for you, and that makes it a good way to experience the game in a quicker format. In addition to the solo mode with varying levels of AI and online mode, there’s a campaign mode where you can play through different scenarios to try and achieve winning conditions. Right now, I’m stuck in Essen on easy mode, which is still pretty challenging. The screen doesn’t always scroll well, and sometimes the tiles will get stuck in an odd position. That’s the only issue I have with it. I like the app, and I’m glad I picked it up. It’s for iPad only, and you can get it for $4.99.
One more quick app for you before I go - AppShopper is an iPhone app that organizes different apps and lets you know when things go on sale. I’ve been using it to keep an eye on a number of apps I want to try, including Pandemic, Forbidden Island, Stone Age, Qwirkle, Kingdom Builder, Agricola, Carcassonne, Fealty, Yggdrasil, and Eclipse. It’s let me know about some really good deals so far (including the currently free Warhammer Quest, which I’m really liking), so do check that out if you want to not pay full price for these apps.
Hope you enjoyed this look at iOS games. If you want to play me sometime in any of these, my GameCenter name is asutbone. Thanks for reading!