iOS Buzz: Small World, Neuroshima Hex

It’s been a while since I covered some of the iPad apps I’ve been playing, so here’s two more for you.

image by VGG user blindspot

Small World was one of the first board game apps to be released for the iPad, and it still stands as one of the best.  It is based on Days of Wonder’s very popular 2009 game designed by Phillippe Keyaerts (DoW also developed the app).  Small World was a redesign of Keyaerts’ 1999 game Vinci that added a fantasy theme, simplified the rules, and improved the components.

If you’ve never played Small World, here’s a brief rundown of how the game plays.  Each player (the game supports 2-5, though the app is only for two) takes a turn in which they can spread their forces around the board.  At the beginning of the game, you’ll choose one of six available race and power combinations (you have to pay for any one that isn’t the first choice).  This combo will determine how many tokens you’ll have, and you’ll set about conquering regions of the map.  It costs two tokens to conquer an empty space, and an additional token for every piece of cardboard also in the space – this includes mountains, lost tribes, and opponent tokens.  If you don’t have enough to conquer a region, you can roll the reinforcement die to try and get enough.  Once you’re done, you redeploy your pieces and score – one point per region you occupy, plus any special bonuses from your race or powers.

On future turns, you can either continue to conquer regions or you can go into decline.  After going into decline (which takes an entire turn), you can choose a new race and conquer some more regions.  You’ll still be scoring points for your in-decline race, but you can only have one in-decline race at a time.  After a set number of rounds, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.

Selecting races – image by VGG user chaosbreaker

One of my biggest complaints about Small World is all the little pieces.  I like having so many races and powers, I just wish there was a better way to store it.  My fingers are too big for the awful insert included in the game, and my replacement Plano box isn’t completely ideal either.  This app provides the same gameplay experience, but you don’t have to fiddle around with so many pieces.  Additionally, it takes care of all the bookkeeping, and it provides a good reference for each race and power as you’re selecting them so you don’t have to keep going to the reference sheet.  The user interface is very good, and the app has a nice feature that it can be used with side-by-side play (flipping the board for each player so they are seeing their own pieces right side up) or across the table (as with an actual board).

My biggest complaint about the app is that it’s only for two players.  With more, I realize that you’re probably going to have to make the board even more cramped.  However, there are times I wish I could play it with more.  It works very well with two, and the AI you can play against is also pretty good.  There’s no tutorial, but the rules are pretty well laid out to learn the game.  You can even pit the AI against itself to get an idea of some strategies.

Overall, I think Small World is a great app for a great game.  If you haven’t played the board game, I think this would be a good introduction for you (with a couple of expansions available as in-app purchases).  If you have played the board game, I think you’ll still get a lot of enjoyment out of the app, which is $6.99 in the App Store.

image by VGG user thequietpunk

Neuroshima Hex is based on the 2006 board game designed by Michal Oracz and published by Portal Games.  The app was developed for the iPad and iPhone by Big Daddy’s Creations (who also produced the Caylus and Army of Frogs apps).  Oracz is a designer from Poland, and game was set in the RPG world of Neuroshima.

The game is played on a hex grid of 19 hexes, and 2-4 players will be fighting for dominance.  There are four different factions, and each will have a faction-specific “deck” (so to speak) of 35 tiles, including your HQ which you place on the board in player order.  On your turn, you’ll draw up three tiles, discard one, and strategically place the others around the board.  Some will be units that you can use to attack with ranged or melee attacks; others will be modules that give bonuses to other board tiles; while others will be instant action tiles that provide an instant bonus, but do not remain on the board.

When one player plays a battle tile, or when the board fills up completely, it’s time for a fight.  Battles are resolved in initiative order.  Each unit has a number from 1-3, and the higher numbers go first.  There are modules that increase initiative by one, so it’s possible that there will be some threes that go before others.  Each unit in the same initiative order attacks simultaneously.  Units can make attacks as indicated on the edges – short arrows are melee attacks (only against adjacent enemies); long arrows are ranged attacks (hit the first hostile in a straight line from that edge, even over friendly units).  Some units have nets that disable adjacent units; others have armor that reduces the strength of other units; others have toughness that gives them extra hit points (normally, a unit is destroyed and removed from the board after one hit).  After the each initiative phase, the casualties are removed and you move down to the next phase.  After phase 1, the HQs get a chance to do a melee attack in all directions (phase 0).  You then continue play.

The game is over when either all tiles have been played, or when only one HQ has not been destroyed (HQs have 20 hit points).  If no HQ is destroyed, then the player who has the most health remaining on their HQ is the winner.

In Play – image by VGG user celiborn

I had never played Neuroshima Hex before buying the app, and I have to say that I’m really enjoying the game.  It’s essentially an abstract, like Chess, but it seems much tighter and much more tactical.  There are a ton of different abilities, and reading the symbols can be a barrier to entry for the game.  However, the app allows you to click on an information button to see what each tile does.  This can be useful when choosing which tile you have to discard at the start of your turn.  I also have to say that I really like the programmable aspect – unlike games like RoboRally where you’re programming movement, you are instead placing tiles to program how the battle will go.

The app is not without its flaws.  The tutorial is just a video that teaches you the basics – I prefer tutorials that give you hands on experience in game play.  The UI is not always intuitive, and the information on the tiles doesn’t always explain the vocabulary used (such as armor or toughness).  The flow of the game is kind of clunky, and if you press pause, your entire turn gets reset.  However, the game is beautiful to look at, and it does play very well.  All the battling is taken care of by the app, and you see how each individual battle goes.

As I think about it, the pairing of Small World and Neuroshima Hex was kind of appropriate.  Both are battles over a relatively small map, both feature lots of variability, and both are probably a little easier on the iPad than in person.  However, unlike Ascension and Elder Sign (from my first iOS post), I think the potential of these games is probably fully met in their physical form.  There’s something to be said about being able to manipulate everything by yourself, and while I think both apps are very good for getting a chance to try before you buy, I do think the board games are probably preferable.

Thanks for reading!

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