Since the dawn of video games, board game companies have been trying to port their titles over to the electronic medium. However, when compared to full-length RPGs and platformers, board game adaptations have never pushed the limits of story depth or graphical prowess, and have became a tough sell when costing $50 or more. The audience for such games simply was not there, and adapting a board game became a sure fire way to lose money.
With the arrival of mobile app stores, though, developers have been given an easier road to success. Mobile apps can be programmed inexpensively by small teams, and have very low distribution costs. This is allowing board games apps to exist in a marketplace that caters to small consumer niches. Board game fans are now experiencing a golden age of video game adaptations, as countless classics are available for $5 or less. Today, I’ll be giving capsule reviews of some great board games available in the iOS App Store:
One of the all-time greats of modern board gaming, the highly strategic worker placement game Carcassonne comes to the iOS platform with a deluxe edition. The features packed into this game include online play, avatar support, and user rankings. This app was also recently upgraded to support the higher resolution iPad screen, and supports "play by mail" between users on any device. Make this game your Words With Friends replacement!
Some of the new electronic additions even improve the game, such as the app’s ability to track placement of tiles. This allows players to monitor what is left in the deck and determine whether a spot has been permanently blocked. This greatly increases the level of competitive play, and makes Carcassonne a must-buy.
Winner of the Spiel des Jahres 2007 (think the Academy Awards of board gaming), Zooloretto brings some recent prestige to the mobile board gaming world (Carcassonne is also a previous winner from 2001). Players will compete to carefully build the most compelling zoo and achieve victory by attracting the most visitors. The game natively supports three players, but can be increased to 4-5 after expansions are unlocked through strong gameplay.
This is a board game that was designed to incorporate strategic decisions while remaining accessible to families of all ages. The cartoonish graphical style keeps expectations in line with its target audience with images are drawn well enough that the game comes off feeling stylish rather than childish.
This game is one of the few mass-market successes stories of the past few years. A tile-placement game, Blokus is a competition between players to get rid of all of their tiles by strategically placing them on the board. The pieces are all fixed shapes made up of blocks, and can only be placed on the board by connecting to existing pieces diagonally. Two of the current player’s pieces may never touch laterally, so as the board gets crowded, it will become difficult to find a spot for your remaining pieces. The player who gets rid of the most tiles wins.
Blokus is made by Gameloft, which is one of the most respected names in mobile game publishing. The first thing to note is that the game looks beautiful. Gameloft has captured the vibrant colors, and gave the pieces the same shine that you would see on a piece in the physical Blokus game (they are made of translucent colored plastic). Blokus controls very well, with an excellent mechanic for flipping and rotating a piece in play. You will never get frustrated by an inability to get a piece where you want it to go.
Settlers is widely considered the best “gateway game” for demonstrating that there is much more to board games than what you see on the shelves as Toys R Us. Players collect resources and use them in a competition to build the most settlements, cities, and roads. The game includes a heavy emphasis on trading, route building, and hand management.
As an app, Settlers of Catan has some serious polish, but that’s no surprise given that it has always been ahead of the class in terms of cell phone gaming. Even in the days of Java applications on phones, or the short-lived Nokia N-Gage, Catan had a top-tier showing. This version builds on the success of its predecessors, and provides players with a laundry list of customizable options. To start, you can tweak the number of players, and add as many humans or computer controlled opponents as you like. Beyond that, nearly every house rule that can be thought of is represented in the optional rules pages. You are guaranteed to be able to play Catan just the way you like it. The only knock on this game is that the AI does not pose a very difficult challenge.