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iOS Board Games

Among the best things in life is playing printed games in person with family and close friends. When those are not convenient we like iOS Board Games. News, reviews, previews, and opinions about board gaming on iPhones, iPads, iPods and even Android devices. (iPhone board games, iPad board games, iPod board games, Android board games)

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First Look: Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Brad Cummings
United States
Connecticut
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Castles of Mad King Ludwig
Availability: iOS, Android
Price: $6.99
Store Links: App Store, Google Play

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Wed May 25, 2016 7:55 pm
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Developing Castles for iOS/Android phones & tablets

Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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Preorder One Night Ultimate Werewolf now from www.beziergames.com
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Castles of Mad King Ludwig
Castles of Mad King Ludwig debuted at Essen Spiel 2014, and has since gone on to be very successful for Bézier Games, Inc., with several printings and a ranking in the top 50 on BGG. Prior to the analog version of the game’s debut, I was already deep in discussions with Jeremiah Maher, the developer who has done amazing work for Bézier Games, Inc. in the past, including the Suburbia app and the free One Night Ultimate Werewolf app, to produce an app version of Castles.

Throughout this diary I’ll bounce around from “I” to “we”. When I say “we,” I’m referring to the collaboration between the developer (Jeremy) and myself. There are a whole bunch of things that the developer did pretty much much on his own, too, and I’ll try to highlight those as they happened.

My involvement with the app version of the game is pretty much continually hands on; I view the end result of the app as a collaboration between the developer and myself. In many ways, it’s the same relationship I’ve had in my previous working life as a product manager for Adobe, Intuit, Corel and other software companies, but instead of developing productivity applications like Illustrator and payroll software, we get to work on boardgames! My job is to come up with the overall direction for the app, provide guidance on what features I’d like to see implemented, supply all the graphics, rules, and game design concepts from the analog game to the developer, provide input on the UI, design the AI based on my understanding of how the game works, create the framework for the campaign mode, and design all of the campaign levels. I’m also playtester #1, receiving builds at least once a week and running them through their paces and providing feedback to the developer as well as detailed bug reports. The two of us have regularly scheduled Skype meetings every two weeks in which we discuss the current progress of the app’s development, next steps and scheduling, and work through all the issues that have cropped up in the recent builds.

The developer’s job is to do the “real” work…coding and lots of stuff that I take for granted, because from my point of view, it all seems so effortless (because I’m not doing that work). And there’s an amazing amount of work that goes into an app like castles. I really can’t emphasize enough how awesome Jeremy is…he’s an independent developer, with no staff (but with a very supportive family), who did all the development work for Castles by himself in just under 16 months. Castles is a fairly complex game by itself, as you’ll see in this article, and if it was just having a workable game that would be one thing. Instead, it’s a rich app with a giant campaign mode, an amazing AI, and a very polished UI. Considering that there are so many boardgames that STILL don’t have an app, which are being done by much bigger game studios, this is a huge accomplishment. Also, during this time period Jeremy also did a huge update for the One Night app (which again is an awesome piece of cross-platform technology) and created a stand-alone cross-platform setup app for Favor of the Pharaoh.

Initial design and prep work

The Suburbia app had been out for several months when we started the initial design work on the Castles app, and Suburbia had suffered from some initially lukewarm reviews due to (1) a nasty bug that wasn’t caught in beta testing and (2) limitations in Game Center for online play. The bug was fixed quickly, but the Game Center issues continued to linger on. Even with that, the Suburbia app has held steady at 4/5 stars, and sold reasonably well. It continues to sell even now, 4 years after analog Suburbia was released, and more than 2 years after the app was released.

One thing about the Suburbia app which has limited its potential to reach a large audience was that it was tablet-only. There are about 7 times as many smart phones as tablets in the mobile ecosphere, so we were only reaching 1/8 of the possible number of mobile users. We really wanted to make Castles work on phones as well as tablets, and that ended up being one of the chief goals of the UI and graphical design: it had to provide a solid, quality experience on much smaller screens than a typical iOS or Android tablet.

The initial framework for the Castles app was decided early on: It would feature local multiplayer pass-and-play matches, matches against 1, 2, or 3 AI players, and a solid campaign mode. We decided to take asynchronous online play out of the mix almost immediately for three reasons:

1. The potential for issues/bugs is incredibly high on both iOS and Android platforms
2. Because of the Master Builder phase, there’s an additional player switch every game turn that slows things down for asynchronous play
3. A relatively large chunk of development time would have to be devoted to implementing it, resulting in either a delayed release or reduced features for the rest of the game.

The pass-and-play matches would be designed to match the physical board game’s style of play, with all features from the game present. For development purposes, this was the underlying framework of how the game would work in the app, and a logical place to start development. This included graphics, placing tiles so that doorways matched, implementing the point system, and all of the other systems like master builder pricing, king’s favors, rewards, etc.

The AI would be the next step in development. The Suburbia AI was good, but not great, and we were determined to make the Castles AI even better. This is a pretty daunting task for a game like Castles, where players’ choices for which tiles to buy are based on not just immediate points, but also long term structural goals and potential for rewards, and all the different end game VPs (King’s favors, secret Bonus cards, money remaining, and depleted stack points). And there’s another layer on top of that: the Master Builder mode meant that the AI would have to evaluate the other players’ intentions when pricing rooms, weighing the needs of opponents against the needs of the AI.

Finally, the campaign mode had to be really good. The Suburbia app received many accolades for its campaign mode, though it was fairly limited in scope and length. Our goal was to improve upon the Suburbia campaign mode in every way, giving the levels more variety, providing a more compelling system for level rewards, and making it the correct length and difficulty.

Initial gameplay implementation

The first step was getting the rules and graphics to the developer. Jeremy was given a prerelease copy of the game and the rules as a first step. With a thorough understanding of how the game was played, Jeremy then deconstructed the underlying physical structure of the game: The “table” area where the game would be played, how tiles could be placed, and how points were tabulated.

He then set out to make the system within the app for placing room tiles. Dale Yu (the developer on Castles) and I had already done this with the analog game, devising a grid system that all the pieces had to fit into. Each square in the grid corresponded to 25 square feet (a square with the width of 5 feet and the height of 5’), with possible doorways centered on each of those grid squares. This is the secret sauce that allows Castles rooms to fit together so nicely; all rooms (including the round 150 and 500 rooms) fit into this grid. For instance, a hallway is a 1x6 room, while a 100 room is a 2x2 room. Once I communicated this to Jeremy, things began to take shape quickly.

On January 20th, 2015, in our bi-weekly Skype meeting, Jeremy showed me an alpha build of the game. It wasn’t really a game at that point, but instead was a cobbled-together chunk of framework technology that allowed dragging rooms down from a transparent “contract board” overlay along the top edge onto a playfield that was covered with numbers (each number being a square in the “table” grid that served as the playing surface). Even this early, many of the UI elements that would make it into the game were in place: The highlighting of possible placement locations, and the rotate and cancel buttons.

The first build I received, a few days later, had the same things in place, but I was able to test it out for myself. Zooming was already implemented at this point, and I was thrilled to drag rooms around and have them connect. It’s the little things.

A bug is found - in the Analog game

You know how I was just going on and on about how awesome Dale and I were, coming up with that grid system that everything fit so neatly into? Turns out it wasn’t so neat after all. There was an issue that even after the game was printed, no one noticed (and I still haven’t seen anyone report it). The thing is, the octagon rooms are…wrong. Foyers and 600 rooms have their angles cut in the wrong places. The result is more aesthetically pleasing when the rooms are by themselves, but when you try to fit them together, they’re off.

This wasn’t an option in the electronic version; the pieces had to fit correctly. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so simple as to just adjust the shape; the artwork on the pieces was the wrong shape too, and it would have to be changed or the tiles would appear distorted. Fortunately, the artwork had been done in Illustrator, so it was relatively straightforward to modify the walls and contents to make them work in the app. If they had been pixel-based, we would have had to have them both entirely redrawn by the artist.

Initial AI work

The first step in implementing any AI is to get it to follow the rules. The AI works under the same set of restrictions that a human player does. It’s the decisions points, where it can do different things, that things get tricky. The first builds with the AI had the AI randomly choosing a tile from the contract board and randomly placing it on an available room. Not particularly earth shattering, but the first few times I saw it, it already felt like the AI was making decisions (it really wasn’t). Jeremy had implemented it so that if the room that was being placed needed to be rotated, it smoothly rotated from the contract board down to the playing area, a really nice, smooth effect that made it into the final game (though it looks like one of those “polish” kind of things we normally would have done late in the process to make the game look better). After that was in place, there was an option for what he called “rapid play” which took a fraction of the time, but wasn’t as graphically pleasing. This was for testing purposes to make sure there weren’t issues with placement or other decision making that would be implemented soon.

Milestone 1

Two months in, the app had a lot of the fundamentals in place: a random setup of the contract board from a shuffled deck of room cards, tile pricing, Living, Activity, and Outdoor rewards, connection points, placement points, downstairs icon points, and score tracking. It was almost playable. In just two months.

Of course, it was a lot of the details that are in the in game that would extend the development time quite a bit, as we’d soon find out.

Milestone 2

After about 5 months, most of the actual game was in place, and it could be played against a computer AI opponent (who was still just randomly placing things, not much of a challenge) or a human opponent via pass and play. A lot had been implemented in that time period: King’s favors, Bonus cards and Utility room rewards, Sleeping room rewards, Corridor rewards, Food rewards, depleted stack endgame points, Passing as an option, Endgame money scoring, the ability to view other player’s boards on your turn, and a status bar at the bottom of the screen that tracked actions from each player (initially used for bug tracking, but then kept in the game so that Human players could easily review what computer AI opponents had done during their turn if they weren’t paying close attention).

AI Conceptualization

While Jeremy was busy coding, I put together a Castle AI document. This was my attempt to quantify strategic choices, boiling everything down to mathematical decisions. Here’s my initial AI concept notes:

Here are the main vectors for analysis by the ai:

1) Immediate points: how many points is each room worth? What is the cost per point?

2) Favor lead: Similar to what we did with Suburbia for goals. Being ahead on each of the favors is worth X points.

3) Reward value: what is the likelihood of completing a newly purchased room? What is the value of completing it?

4) Future turn look ahead: 2-3 turns out: placing stairs gets the ai no points now, but it will get the ai access to downstairs rooms and a free corridor (by completing the stairs).

5) Value of rooms to opponents: buying a room is not just points for the ai, but also might reduce the number of points for opponents by removing it.

6) Master Building pricing: Pricing rooms out of reach of opponents vs. pricing them just within reach to maximize money during the MB turn.

7) Personal Bonus card valuation: This should always be considered.

That was a very high level look at what the AI needed to do, without any mathematical solutions. I also wrote up another document specifically for optimal AI room placement. You’ll see in the final game that the AI places rooms really well most of the time, particularly using its ability to close off multiple doorways at once with a single room placement. However, there are so many variables and options, that in order not to overheat your device, a lot of shortcuts were put in place, so once in a while you’ll see the AI do something a little unusual, like blocking off a doorway or not leaving itself enough space to place a room next to a doorway.

Quote:
AI Mathematics

When the Skynet AI gains consciousness, it will do so because it understands math better than we do. Until then, we have to provide a computer AI with all the building blocks it needs to make human-like decisions. I wrote up an initial attempt at optimizing computer choices with a formula based on the most important concept in this and many other VP-based games: how many points will you have at the end of the game as a result of each decision you make? That formula is:

End Game Points = Current Points + (potential) In Game Points + (potential) Final Scoring Points
or
EGP=CRP+IGP+FSP

It’s the “potential” points that are really tricky. Each room you place will give you points instantly, but most also have these “potential” points that may be realized later in the game. For instance, when you place a Dining Room, it gives you 1 point, plus 3 connection points if you place it next to a Living Room type room. But it has the potential of giving you additional points: 3 more from placing another Living Room on its open doorway, the points you would get from having an extra turn when the room is completed, the points you get if you obtain a Bonus Card that is either Food rooms or 300 rooms, King’s Favor points, if this gives you enough to move you up a level for those end game points, 2 points if the 300 stack is depleted, and additional connection points from all the room tiles that have Food room icons on them that can be connected to the Dining Room. These potential points change in potential value from the beginning of the game, when there are much higher possibilities that you’ll obtain the other things needed to get those points, towards the end of the game where if you’re the last player to play, they total 0, since nothing can happen after the tile is placed. So Potential points are variable based on time, availability of other tiles, the amount of $ each player will have throughout the rest of the game to purchase more rooms, bonus cards, and other players’ boards (who might be interested in the same rooms or bonus cards that are potential points for the Dining Room).

What this really meant was that all of these things needed to be quantified so the AI could make the best possible decision. Here’s an example: For the Dining Room, the AI has to determine what the value of the Food room completion reward (an extra turn) is. To do that, it needs to figure out the Average Points per Turn it thinks it will get for the rest of the game. This is the math for that:

APT (Average Points per turn) = ((CRP+IGP)/(NTR+NTT)

CRP is the Current Points.

IGP is the potential In-Game Points, which is equal to Potential Connection Points (CP) + Potential Completion Rewards (CR) + Potential Room Points (RP)
CR = NTR/average number of open doorways per incomplete room * Average Reward value of incomplete rooms
RP= NTR * Average value of known + unknown room placements

NTR is the Number of Turns Remaining = (Room cards remaining/number of players) + (incomplete Blue rooms (played or on the contract board)/number of players)+((unpurchased hallways + unpurchased stairs)/2)/number of players)

NTT is the Number of turns taken

All that just to figure out what the reward for a Food room is worth to the current computer player.

And the AI has to compare that Dining Room value to the value of placing every other room that’s available (including stairs/hallways, and the value of simply passing and taking $5), with more math that evaluates the point value of $$ at that point in the game, which is subtracted from the value of placing that room.

The weird thing is that this process seems SO complex when it’s broken down like it is above, but our brains do a lot of this stuff in the background, while we’re talking about an entirely different subject, like is it really worth the extra cash to purchase the amazing Broken Token wood insert for the analog Castles of Mad King Ludwig game (it is, go get it now, it’s awesome).

The good news is that all of this math applies to the Master Builder as well, though he’s got to run through all of these computations for each player, and do some other fun computations to balance the pricing of rooms he wants versus the rooms that other players want.

The AI was continually tweaked throughout the development process, getting better and better. I’m really happy with some of the things that happen in the game, including when AI players collude against a Master Builder (I’m sure you’ll read about this in some cranky player’s online post if you don’t run into it yourself). The AI is not friendly, its only goal is to get the most points, and it will do whatever it has to in order to defeat its opponents. We didn’t program any good sportsmanship in there, and definitely no remorse.

One of the aspects of the AI that I’m particularly proud of is that it won’t buy really high priced rooms unless the value (End Game Points) is appropriate for the cost. This is also quantified in the app, with another series of formulas that takes a whole bunch of things into account.

Despite the fact that there’s a ton of AI computation going on for each decision it makes, the real time that the AI takes is a tiny fraction of a second…computer players take their turns instantly, without you having to wait for them to think through all of these scenarios. Three cheers for living in 2016 where technology has allowed AI’s to make these complex determinations so quickly. In 10 years, we’ll look back at this time as when the AI’s for most games really was good enough for all practical purposes, and that we should have stopped with the technological advances at this time. That is, if the hopefully-benevolent robot overseers of 2026 allow us to dwell on the past at all.


Completing the basics

The core game, including 98% of the rules, a workable AI, graphics, and multiplayer (through pass and play) was in place by the end of August last year. Releasing by the end of 2015 seemed like a reasonable goal, as we only had the following to do: Add the campaign mode, Enhance the UI, make the AI polished, and squish any outstanding bugs.

Each one of those things, however, took about 2 additional months of work. In hindsight, August 2015 Ted was such an optimist!

Campaign Mode

While players liked the campaign mode in the Suburbia app, we knew that it wasn’t as good as we had originally wanted, and that we wanted to do something better…a lot better…for Castles. While Jeremy was busting his butt coding the basics of the game during those first few months of development, I went to work on a campaign PRD that outlined the direction of the campaign; how it would work in terms of different levels, rewards, unlocking, and length, and also the components of the campaign that would make it interesting. We wanted to make each campaign level unique, with different goals and compelling gameplay, so that each new level that players opened up would be fresh and exciting.

The document I created pretty much had everything, including the sink in the Kitchen food room. As I look at that document now, it’s interesting in that very few items made it through to the final campaign, due to time, technology, and design limitations. One of the basic ideas that did make it through was that the tutorial would consist of a bunch of super-easy campaign levels that walked the player through the basics of the game. That stayed, and it’s pretty effective (If you’ve never played Castles before, be sure to take your time and read the helpful notes before each level in the tutorial). Getting through the tutorial gives you a bit of a head start on the campaign, too. In fact, one of the campaign levels can only be accessed if you complete the tutorial…but don’t worry, you *can* zip through the tutorial in less than 10 minutes.

The first thing that Jeremy did with the campaign was to create a campaign building mode for me, so I could have the tools necessary for level design. That was a huge help, as it allowed me to test different scenarios and try out all sorts of things that would have been impossible otherwise. Throughout development, the campaign builder got more and more features, to the point now where it’s really just a tool that takes what I’m envisioning for a level and materializes it in the app, and makes it pretty straightforward for Jeremy to implement in the actual app.

Designing the levels was as close as I got to my game designer roots during this process, as each level really is its own kind of game, bracketed by the framework of the basic Castles rules. In many ways, it reminds me of designing AoS/Steam expansion maps (of which I did a few dozen back in the day), where all you have to do is change one or two rules, very carefully and deliberately, and the result can totally reinvigorate the base game. Because each level can be any size and shape, I created an Illustrator document that allows me to quickly design the base shape, size, and location of key rooms (that’s right, in the campaign, some levels start with rooms already in place). I also designed a spreadsheet that captured all the key information in each campaign level, every thing from number of opponents to which rooms are available to what the specific crown goals are.

Meanwhile, Jeremy came up with the basic concept and “story” of the campaign, which follows you, a novice castle builder, as you work your way up the Middle Rhine in Germany building castle after castle, each of them based on the actual castles that line both sides of the Rhine. I’ve been to several of these castles on side trips from my annual trip to Essen each year, and while the castles you’ll be building are quite different than what’s currently available for touring, Jeremy managed to capture the essence of the historical flavor of those castles, including a little introductory blurb on each one.

How the castles (campaign levels) are unlocked evolved over time. As a game designer, I had originally devised an intricate, completely insane system that could only be understood by someone with a PhD in Mathematical Game Theory. Both Jeremy and I slowly modified this system to a much more accessible and understandable series of rules for unlocking levels. Early on, you need a certain total number of “crowns” to unlock each castle. That changes mid-campaign when you have an option of going in one of two different directions, one which features multiplayer games while the other feature single player challenges. These are accessible only if you gain at least one crown in the previous castle. Complete either of the two new paths, and you can continue with the final leg of the campaign which now requires two out of three crowns to proceed further. The campaign culminates in an awesome giant single player castle, where the final castle you build will have upwards of 50 rooms!

From September through most of April, the tutorial and campaign levels were continuously tweaked and redone, and I’m super happy with the way they turned out. It really adds a lot to the Castle game playing experience and makes the app hugely replayable.

Not only that, but we have plans for additional levels to be added to the game after it is released. I’ve already been working on the designs for a few of them.

UI Enhancements

The UI had been workable up through August of last year, but we had a huge list of things we wanted to add or change to make it better. Little things like how the end game score was displayed, how the player interacts with the new match options, how help should be available, what the background of the tiles should be, sounds, collapsing the contract board so that phone users could have more screen real estate, tapping rooms to temporarily zoom them right on the contract board, and so much more. Dozens of little things that add up to making the app feel as polished as possible.

The amount of work required for each little change, however, can’t be overstated. It’s one thing to agree to implement a UI feature, but then there’s the “how” that feature is implemented, the actual coding to get it to work, the testing to make sure it meets our expectations, modifications to the original design and more coding to make those modifications happen, and then of course fixing all of the bugs which pop up throughout that process.

As the project drew closer and closer to completion, Jeremy kicked into overdrive to make sure every little aspect of the UI was as perfect as possible. All sorts of little extras started appearing in builds…some of these things we had discussed, others he took the initiative on and just did them. Fortunately, Jeremy is one of those developers with a knack for both UI and graphic design, so it was incredibly rare for me to see a new feature and spit up on it….most of the time I was pleasantly surprised, like in the last few builds where a preview of the campaign level screen was shown (I had pinged Jeremy for a while about that possibility, but figured we were too close to release to get that in place), or when the music for each of the campaigns had a different starting point from a very long playlist.

Finally, even though we decided to forego online multiplayer (and in hindsight it was a good decision, as it allowed the rest of the game to be much much better as a result), Jeremy hooked up Game Center (iOS), Google Play Games (Android), and GameCircle (Kindle Fire) to track a variety of achievements within the app. It’s yet another little thing that makes the app feel even more polished and refined.

Polishing the AI

After testing the app for months and months, there were a lot of areas where I thought the AI could be improved. Of course, many of those things, while conceptually little, ended up being exceptions that happened in various circumstances. Getting the AI to place hallways properly, with all of their doorways and possible orientations/locations, was particularly tough, and even now once in a while the AI will place a hallway someplace that makes you scratch your head. The math involved with valuing room tiles that were related to the Kings Favors was another area that needed work: For instance, while it’s worth 2 points to be in first instead of tied for second (8 vs. 6 points), it’s really a 4 point differential between you and the player you’re tying with. If the AI is already crushing that player in points late in the game, the 4 point differential isn’t important, but the 2 additional points still is.

The AI process for the master builder also took some extra time. The math was all in place, but it still would price rooms unexpectedly, which felt random, and not all that smart. That required a lot of tweaking, but now I’m pretty sure that most players will be constantly amazed that the computer player always seems to price the rooms you want either just barely within reach, or, if it’s the perfect room for you, at a price you can’t afford. The only people in real life who do this process that well are your AP-prone friends, which isn’t an issue in the app (none of the computer opponents have any AP issues, fortunately).

All in all, the AI turned out really well, and while a really good human player can win some of the time, you’ll find it to be a good challenge.

Bug Squishing & Playtesting

The longer the development of any software project goes, the more bugs get entered into the game. Well…sort of. In my 20+ years of Product Management experience, it’s not just the time, but the amount and kinds of additions and changes that happen over time that have the ability to make bugs proliferate everywhere, often in places that are unexpected given the nature of recent changes.

Learning from Suburbia, where we did a very small amount of external playtesting, for Castles we brought on a whole bunch of beta testers back in January of this year, and then tripled that number in March. Getting feedback on the app from testers with different devices was great, especially since now we aren’t just supporting iOS and Android, but we’re supporting phones and tablets on both platforms. While we didn’t cover all of the possibilities on Android thanks to the ridiculous number of different devices out there, we had a good cross section that should have caught the majority of device-specific bugs.

In addition to just finding bugs, the playtesters served another, really valuable purpose for us…they helped us get the campaign to just the right level of difficulty. My personal preference in campaign modes in games is that completing them should be really really really hard, so much so that most people will *never* complete them fully, or earn all the achievements/rewards for them, but that some expert players who stick to it will indeed be able to get them. If you aren’t tempted to throw your device across the room because you just can’t quite get a level, it’s not difficult enough. Fortunately, Jeremy isn’t nearly as hardcore, and between the two of us, we brought the difficulty level of the campaign down to something that can reasonably be finished by pretty much all players somewhere in the 5-10 hour timeframe, with a ton of replayability, as each level is totally different from every other level. When you do complete a level successfully, you always have the option to play it again to try to do even better. We also included a reset button for the campaign so if you do complete it, you can go through it again, and see how much better you’ve gotten since your first try. Our playtesters let us know which of the campaign levels were fun, which ones weren’t (some we scrapped and replaced), and if each of them are indeed completable in a reasonable number of tries. The end result is a campaign that’s super-compelling with an ever-increasing level of toughness as you make your way through it.

Release process and publication

To shed a little more light on the release process for apps, traditionally, Apple has taken 7-10 days to approve a new iOS release. Of course, there is the possibly that Apple spits up on the submission because of an actual bug or because one of the multitude of mostly-unnecessary guidelines required from Apple isn't addressed. So upon submission to Apple, we usually expect to have to wait at least a week until the app has been approved and is available in the App store.

Like most developers who plan on launching their product on all platforms simultaneously, priority #1 was getting the iOS version done and submitted due to those typical long review times. So our primary focus with the last few builds had been on iOS bugs and Game Center implementation. Once we had an iOS build we felt was good enough for submission, it was submitted to Apple, and then the focus changed to Android devices, including Kindle Fires. The Google Play submission process is very very fast (within a few hours, usually), and the Kindle Fire submission queue takes less than 24 hours to get an approval, so we gave ourselves about a week after the iOS version was submitted to squish any Android bugs we could find with Google and Kindle devices. And then the unthinkable happened…Apple approved the app less than 48 hours after it was submitted! It turns out that they’ve shorted their review time significantly recently. It’s nice to see Apple putting their truckloads of cash to good use for a change by staffing up the app review group.

As I finish writing this designer diary, there are less than two days before Castles of Mad King Ludwig is released, and we’re stoked to see how players respond to this labor of love. On a related note, if you enjoy the game, please take a few minutes to rate and review the game on the appropriate store…the number of people who rate the game relative to the number of downloads is always a tiny fraction, and for games that the general public hasn’t heard of, those star ratings and customer reviews are their only exposure to what people think about the game. As a boardgamer, I suggest that you do this for all boardgame apps…the more ratings there are (especially for good, solid games), the more downloads of those games will happen, which funds developers allowing them to produce more and better boardgame apps. It’s a way you can help prime the pump and ensure that the boardgames we all love continue to be converted into great apps!

Thanks for reading this…I hope this provides some insight into the development of not just the Castles of Mad King Ludwig app, but other boardgame apps as well!

Castles of Mad King Ludwig is available now:

- iOS Universal, $7
- Android, $7
- Kindle, $7
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Tue May 24, 2016 3:47 pm
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App News: Cthulhu Realms Released on Android and Warhammer 40K: Regicide Arrives on iOS

David Neumann
United States
Whitefish Bay
Wisconsin
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In life you have to do a lot of things you don't f*cking want to do. Many times, that's what the f*ck life is... one vile f*cking task after another.
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Cthulhu Realms Released for Android, iOS Coming Soon
Regardless of what you think of Star Realms, you have to admit they did the digital version right. Not only did they make it so you could buy it once and play it on any platform, but the game itself is quick enough that mobile is a perfect fit.

Star Realms designer Darwin Kastle created another game which is basically Star Realms with a Lovecraftian theme, Cthulhu Realms. It, too, is coming to digital and, in fact, has already arrived for Android. Let's get you a blurb:

White Wizard Games wrote:
Free Version

• Drive people insane everywhere - play across devices.
• Crazyily addictive deckbuilding game.
• Tutorial teaches you how to make people crazy in minutes.
• Awesome, comical art.
• Play VS the AI.
• 8 silly campaign missions!

Full Game Additional Features

• Play the AI on 2 different difficulty settings.
• 8 more fun campaign missions.
• Battle your friends face to face with Pass and Play.
• Play against many more opponents online.
• Challenge a friend to online Player v Player combat


The game is free to download, and an iOS version will be coming soon. For now, pick it up at Google Play.





Warhammer 40K: Regicide Comes to iOS
Yes, there are about 1.24 million Warhammer games on the App Store, but Warhammer 40K: Regicide is the only one that looks and plays like chess.

Yes, chess.

I'd talk more about it, but it's Friday afternoon and I'm feeling blurby:

Hammerfall Publishing wrote:
Regicide is a brutal take on one of the greatest turn based strategy games of all time. The game fuses multiple phases of combat with dynamic action. Maneuver your army into place and unleash a devastating array of tactical abilities to crush your enemies. The game offers two distinct modes:

Regicide Mode:

Plan the attack and command your soldiers through two phases of combat. Open fire on your enemies, utilize tactical abilities and unleash psychic powers to crush your foes. Fight your way through violent single and multiplayer battles to destroy everything that stands between you and certain victory.

Classic Mode:

Sharpen your tactics in both single and multiplayer games based on traditional chess rules, executing brutally violent kills in dramatic battlefield terrains. Select your race and go to war online against opponents from all over the world in the fully cross-platform multiplayer mode.

Key Features:

• 2 unique game modes: Play in both Classic chess and extended Regicide game modes.
• Online and single player: Test yourself against our AI in both Campaign and Skirmish and bring your new skills to bear against opponents in multiple online game modes.
• A cunning AI: Sharpen your skills verse 5 different AI difficulty settings in both Classic and Regicide.
• Local multiplayer: Face off against live opponents in local hotseat matches.
• Asynchronous gameplay: Take your game with you and challenge your friends to multiple asynchronous matches.
• Competitive online leaderboards: Compete against your friends and the world with live Classic and Regicide Leaderboards.
• 50 mission single-player campaign: Join Captain Dracomedes as he fights for Hethgar Prime with the Sons of Sanguinius in the 50 mission, fully-narrated campaign: The Angels of Death.
• 2 unique races: Play as the indomitable Space Marines or blood thirsty Orks, each with their unique strengths, weaknesses, abilities and strategies.
• 11 unlockable Chapters and Clans: Requisition one of 11 iconic Space Marine Chapters or Ork Clans to field in multiplayer and skirmish matches
• 36 exclusive models: Tailor your army's appearance by progressing through Campaign, Skirmish (VS AI) and Online Leaderboards.
• 45 unique player and unit abilities: Unleash an overwhelming array of player and unit abilities to bring devastation to your enemies. Customize your ability loadouts to match your play style.
• Localized in 8 different languages: Play in English, French, German, Norwegian, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Spanish.


You can pick up Regicide for iOS Universal ($4) or on PC where it's currently on sale for just under $5.


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Fri May 20, 2016 9:33 pm
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App News: Castles of Mad King Ludwig Approved and Going Live Next Tuesday

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Castles of Mad King Ludwig Approved, Releasing Tuesday
Earlier this week we found out that the long-awaited digital port of Ted Alspach's and Bézier Games, Inc.' castle-builder, Castles of Mad King Ludwig was getting submitted to Apple this week and then assumed it would be in our hands in 2-3 weeks. We were a little off, as we just learned that it will actually be released for iOS, Android, and Kindle next Tuesday.

We learned a little more about the app as well. It will have AI and pass-and-play multiplayer, and you can combine the two. It will also have a lengthy solo campaign. I could go on, but why not give it to you straight from the Jeremiah Maher's, the developer's, mouth.

Jeremiah Maher wrote:
Any combination of 2-4 human and computer AI players can play regular tabletop matches, as you would with the board game. For multiple human players, it is pass-and-play/hotseat style. There will be no online or local multiplayer at launch.

We've chosen to concentrate much of our effort on the Campaign in Castles. At launch, it will consist of 15 hand-crafted levels, each based on an actual castle site in Germany. Only some levels are truly single-player, while others include computer AI opponents.

Every level is a lesson in history and geography. We used details of each castle's history to create the level. For example, Marksburg was a fortress that had recently come back under Prussian control at the time of our game in the mid to late 1800s. Napoleon had been using the castle as a prison. So our level starts with Downstairs rooms, including a Dungeon, already built. This care and attention to historical detail has been put into every level, and we really think it's something special!

We expect most players will spend at least 5-10 hours on the Campaign to complete it, and more levels are in the works. Before tackling the Campaign, most players will want to work through the 9 level Training map. Each mini "Training Tower" level teaches a key skill or concept.


Castles of Mad King Ludwig will be available on all platforms for $7. We'll have links for you on Tuesday when it goes live!
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Thu May 19, 2016 7:56 pm
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First Look: Pocket Card Jockey

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Pocket Card Jockey
Availability: 3DS
Price: $6.99
Store Links: Nintendo Eshop



For the most part our focus is generally iOS and Android with the occasional PC release. This week, I present and exception. Pocket Card Jockey is for 3DS, yes that fancy paperweight that was all the rage a few years back.

Pocket Card Jockey is small game from the makers of Pokemon, Game Freak, and it has managed to get its claws into me, deep. You play an extremely incompetent Jockey who is trampled to death in your first race. You are brought back to life under the condition that you fulfill you dream to be an amazing jockey. The angel who brings you back also allows you play solitaire instead of actually horse racing, since you are just so terrible at it.




The crux of the game are a series of races divided into a set of solitaire hands. This version of solitaire is basic, requiring only that you put a sequential number on top of the number showing. That being said, you are trying solve these boards as quickly as possible. During each solitaire match you will earn giddy up points. These can be used to direct your horse between matches or sent to a pool of stamina that you will use at the end of the race.



Your goal is to place as high as possible in each race. There are different tiers of races and you will be awarded differently by the tear. On top of all this is a light sim system that allows you to buy items of your horse, retire mature horses, and breed new racing horses. There is really enough to keep a player busy for a long time.



I am not sure I am doing this game justice above, and I just broke my arm so typing this is actually a bit painful. I’ll try to wrap up. This game has grabbed me the way Card Crawl did a few months back. It takes card game mechanics and melds them perfectly into a video game wrapper.

If you have access to a 3DS or 2DS I highly recommend this game. It is screaming for a mobile release (like it received in Japan), so let’s hope that comes. If you don’t have the device, the 2DS just got a very cheap and there is enough software to keep a strategy gamer busy for a long time. Thanks for letting me share this quirky obsession of mine.

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Wed May 18, 2016 3:00 pm
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App News: Castles of Mad King Ludwig Coming Soon and Cadwallon: City of Thieves Gets an AI

David Neumann
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Castles of Mad King Ludwig Submitted to Apple This Week
We heard about the digital version of Castles of Mad King Ludwig back at last year's Gen Con, and that was about it. Since then, it's been relatively silent. Over the weekend, however, we spotted this:



Castles of Mad King Ludwig is being submitted this week, which means we should see it (barring any Apple review issues) within 2-3 weeks. It was being developed for Android as well, so I would assume that it will launch for both platforms simultaneously. That's only an assumption, though, and we know what happens when I assume.

When it's forebear, Suburbia, launched it had both online multiplayer, pass-and-play, as well as a cool single-player campaign. We're not sure what they have in store for us with CoMKL, but we know for sure that there will be a single player campaign (which was my favorite part of the Suburbia app so, yay!).

As usual, we'll let you know when it hits the App Store.



Cadwallon: City of Thieves Gets Solo Player Update
Cadwallon: City of Thieves was released in 2012 to groans of disappointment. It looked fine, but launched with no online multiplayer and no AI, so the only way to play the game was via pass-and-play with someone in the same room as you. Due to those issues, we'll forgive you if you forgot there even was a digital version of Cadwallon.

This morning, I discovered that the app had been updated. This is the first update since the app's release in 2012, so it's pretty weird. Still, today's update brings in one of those missing pieces, solo play. The app now has three levels of AI to play against, or to mix in with pass-and-play games with other humans. There were also some small fixes and what have you, but the addition of AI is the big news.

There might be a lot of you out there (like me) who purchased the game way back when only to instantly delete it when you discovered the shortcomings. It might be a good time to dig through your purchase history and give it another chance. For those of you who didn't fall for it back then, you can give it a go now. It's available for iPad only and runs $3.


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Tue May 17, 2016 7:54 pm
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App News: Descent: Road to Legend App Released, Games Workshop Titles Go on Sale, and more...

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Fantasy Flight Releases Descent 2.0 Companion App, Road to Legend
A lot of folks brought this one to our attention, sadly none of them from marketing team at Fantasy Flight Games. So, we're a little behind the curve on this one. Brad heartily apologizes. Me, I apologize for nothing!

Road to Legend is a companion app for Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition) and will absolutely change the way you play the game. In fact, if you're like me and have Descent 2.0 but don't play it because you don't like the Overseer role in the game, well, get ready to start playing Descent again.

The app takes the place of the Overseer, allowing all the players to play cooperatively as the adventurers. It will fill you in on how to set up the adventure, only revealing what your characters can currently "see", and then run the monsters during the quest.

There's more:

Fantasy Flight wrote:
Monsters aren’t the only danger you will face as you journey into the dark once more. In traditional games of Descent, a hero can be knocked out many times with no negative repercussions, but while playing Road to Legend, your morale is lowered each time a hero is knocked out. If your morale ever falls below zero, you are forced to retreat and immediately lose the quest! Furthermore, peril is always rising behind the scenes. It might seem like a good idea to take a few moments to catch your breath and heal, but every round you spend without monsters on the board causes your peril to increase drastically. You won’t know exactly how high your peril is, but if it reaches too high, you’ll face some truly deadly surprises.


Between quests, the app allows you to visit the cities of Terrinoth to buy new items and gain new skills. The app will track all this, leaving the players free to, you know, play.

The app comes with a four scenario mini-campaign called Rise of All Goblins. There's also a full-length campaign called Kindred Fire available to download. If you own expansions, you can enter those into the app and it will open up more possibilities for more adventures.

Fantasy Flight wrote:
Within Road to Legend, you’ll find a collection manager where you can input exactly which expansions, Hero and Monster Collections, and Lieutenant Packs you own. Then, the Road to Legend app draws directly upon the contents of these expansions to change the flavor of every quest. For instance, if you own the Manor of Ravens expansion, you’ll be able to choose to play as the heroes Alys Raine or Thaiden Mistpeak. If you’ve picked up the Oath of the Outcast Hero and Monster Collection, you may suddenly encounter a group of bane spiders in one of your quests. Ultimately, the more physical Descent products you own, the more you can get out of Road to Legend.


So, I guess they want us to buy more Descent products. Who knew?

You can pick up Road to Legend for free on iOS Universal, Android, and Kindle.





Games Workshop Having Massive App Store Sale
This weekend Games Workshop Ltd. is holding a little something called Warhammer Fest over in the UK. For the life of me, I can't figure out what it's about. Maybe Warhammer? Anyway, I'm not in the UK so it doesn't really matter, but Games Workshop has kept us less fortunate in mind as well by discounting just about every Warhammer or Games Workshop title on the App Store by 50-70%.

There are a ton of games in the list (you can find them here), but I'll just list a few here:

-Talisman: Digital Edition for iOS Universal was $7, now $3
-Talisman: The Horus Heresy for iOS Universal, launch price of $4
-Talisman: Prologue for iOS Universal was $3, now $1
-Warhammer Quest for iOS Universal was $3, now $1
-Warhammer 40K: Deathwatch - Tyranid Invasion was $2, now $1
-Warhammer 40K: Armageddon was $20, now $10
-Chainsaw Warrior for iOS Universal was $5, now $2
-Chainsaw Warrior: Lords of the Night for iOS Universal was $6, now $3



Hidden-role Party Game, Who Lurks, Released for iOS/Android
We all love games with hidden roles or a traitor mechanism and, if you don't, you're probably a Cylon. The thought of playing such a game online doesn't do a lot for me, as part of the fun is watching your friends and trying to determine who's the big fat liar. Who Lurks is a new title that avoids that issue by having everyone play in the same room.

Who Lurks is for 3-6 people where most players are Humans and 1-2 players are Aliens. The point is to repair your ship and escape by playing mini-games while the Alien players are subtly trying to sabotage your efforts.

Like Spaceteam, the app is made to be played with everyone sitting together in the same room. Unlike Spaceteam, Who Lurks is played on one device that is passed around the room.

Who Lurks is free to download with IAP to disable ads and unlock some minigames. Apart from the multiplayer game, there is also a solo campaign which seems like an odd feature in a hidden-role/traitor game.

You can pick up Who Lurks for iOS Universal or Android.


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First Look: Talisman - The Horus Heresy

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Talisman: The Horus Heresy
Availability: iOS, Android
Price: $3.99
Store Links: iTunes, Google Play

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Fri May 13, 2016 2:48 pm
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App News: Nomad Takes Talisman to the Nether Realms and Launches Horus Heresy on iOS, Pathfinder Adventures Gets Much Needed Patch, Sentinels Of the Multiverse Season 2 is a Go, Baseball Highlights Moving to Phones, and more...

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Nomad Games Sending Talisman to the Nether Realm
Late last week, I was minding my own business and skimming my Twitter feed when I stumbled across this:



What? First of all, I wasn't even aware of Talisman (fourth edition): The Nether Realm Expansion and, secondly, how do I get my hands on it?

If, like me, you're not aware, the Nether Realms expansion is a print-on-demand expansion that includes three new endings and only 30+ new cards. Unlike other Talisman: Digital Edition expansions, there are no new spells or adventure cards. Instead, all 30+ new cards are for the end-game and can only be drawn by the sucker player who makes it to the Crown of Command space in the Inner Region. These cards shake things up and include creatures and scenarios that make the end game completely different. Sounds good to me.

The Nether Realm expansion is currently available for the PC/Mac and Android version, and will be available for iOS as soon as Apple's done giving it the green light. It's $2 for mobile, and $5 for the Steam version. You can download the base game for iOS Universal here ($7), Android here ($5), Kindle here ($3), and PC/Mac here ($15).



That's not all from Nomad, however. We also received word this morning that the Warhammer 40K themed version of Talisman, Talisman: The Horus Heresy is now available on iOS. It's been available for PC/Mac and Android for awhile now, but today's the first day that iOS users get a chance to battle it out...IN SPAAAAAACE!

Nomad Games wrote:
Talisman: The Horus Heresy is a digital board game based on the Talisman rule system and set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, during the cataclysmic events of the Horus Heresy.

Up to four players will be able to take control of one or more of the galaxy’s greatest heroes or most notorious villains. Taking the side of either traitor or loyalist, these Warlords will form vast companies of Space Marines, battalions of tanks and battlefleets of Spacecraft. They are the most powerful beings in the Galaxy and their followers are legion.

The new combative team play will appeal to fans of Talisman and the Horus Heresy alike. It’s a unique adaptation of Talisman that has been tailored specifically for digital platforms.

In Talisman: The Horus Heresy the player’s experience of Talisman is scaled up exponentially, exploring not a kingdom but a whole galaxy in the 31st Millennium. No longer will you be fighting for the Crown of Command, but for the very future of humanity…

- Command one of the eighteen Space Marine Legions that fought during the Horus Heresy
- Play as one of eight of the galaxy’s greatest heroes or most notorious villains such as Roboute Guilliman or Angron
- Multiplayer for up to 4 players
- Challenge or team-up with your friends locally and online
- Play against AI opponents


The iOS Universal version is also currently on sale for 40% off, so now's the time to buy. You can pick it up for iOS Universal ($4) here, Android ($5) here, and PC/Mac on Steam ($25) here.





Pathfinder Adventures Receives Major Update, Quest Mode Fixed
It's official: Obsidian Entertainment's digital take on Paizo Publishing's card game/RPG, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is officially taking over my life. It's really, really good and it's only some rather major bugs that were keeping it from being one of the best board game conversions on the App Store.

Over the weekend, Pathfinder Adventures received a major update that fixed most, if not all, of the major bugs. The biggest improvement is that Quest Mode, a mode of play that randomized locations, villains, and henchmen, now works. Before the patch the mode wasn't functional for most due to a lockup during its loading screen.

That's not the only thing covered in the update, however:

Obsidian wrote:
Fixed:

- Quest Mode - Now with more "working!" We found an issue where Blessings were misappropriated depending on party size and would make it unplayable IF it didn't outright crash.

- Duplicate Party Members - Pushing out experienced party members and causing a possible progression block. The Dopplegangers have been smote. Anybody who had a crashed screen will be resolved.

- Daily Gold - Counter should be working properly. More importantly, you can actually collect gold. This didn't affect everybody but it was very annoying to those it did affect. In the near future: We are moving the collection of gold to be on the opening screen in addition to the store's main screen. Since it wasn't delivered on logging into the game and needed to be tapped-on, there was some unintuitiveness.

- Gold Exploit - There was a way to generate a lot of money by taking some highly geared individuals into some low level scenarios and constantly get a one time reward. Making it not very one-time.


If you've been having trouble with the game, download the patch and give it another try. Since I udpated, I've noticed none of the problems I was having with the game at launch.

You can pick up Pathfinder Adventures for iPad 3 or above here, and for Android here. It's free to download with extra adventures and characters available with cash or in-game gold.





Sentinels of the Multiverse Season 2 Kickstarter Successful
About a month ago, the folks at Handelabra Games started a Kickstarter for Season 2 of their hit port of Greater Than Games (Sentinel Comics)'s superhero card game Sentinels of the Multiverse. Today, we received word from Jeremy and John of Handelabra that the Kickstarter has reached its funding goal with 3 days left to go.

What this means for the backers (and non-backers) is that we have another whole year of Sentinels goodness heading our way. Season 2 includes:

- Sentinels of the Multiverse: Vengeance
- Sentinels of the Multiverse: Villains of the Multiverse
- Sentinels of the Multiverse: OblivAeon
- and 2 mini-expansions

We're still quite a long way from seeing the new content on our tablets, but we should start to see the first expansions before the end of 2016.



Baseball Highlights 2045 Heading to Phones
One of the better board game ports of 2016 thus far is Mike Fitzgerald's Baseball Highlights: 2045. It brought the solitaire variant to life, and did it with a simple and functional AI. It was great for fans of the game, but it was only available for tablets leaving phone users in the dark.

Peter Kossits has announced that a phone version is on the way! It will be available this summer as a free update for both iOS and Android users. That's not all, however. For those of you who wanted more than the solitaire variant, we'll also be seeing a glimpse of the AI pretty soon. Peter has labeled it CPU Stengel, and it will allow you to play a three game "season" before the World Series, allowing for both sides to have fairly level decks.

The update is entering beta soon, so its release isn't right around the corner, but should be available this summer.



Digital Version of Tank on Tank from Lock 'n Load is on the Way
We don't know much about this one, folks, but we can confirm that a digital version of Tank on Tank from Lock 'n Load Publishing, LLC. is in the works.

We do know that it will have both pass-and-play and online multiplayer, as well as solo campaigns vs. an AI. We also know it looks fantastic, thanks to a slew of screenshots that the one-man developer, Jo Bader, sent our way.



Of course, we'll pass along more information as we get it!

In other Lock n' Load news, they've also released a new turn-based 4X style game with several board game called Falling Stars: War of Empires for PC/Mac. It looks really cool, and it's also coming to iOS in a few months.

If you want to try it out now on PC/Mac, you can pick it up on Steam for $20.





Card Crawl Follow-up, Card Thief, Gets a Gameplay Trailer
One of my favorite games of 2015 (and still one of my favorites well into 2016) is the quick solitaire dungeon crawler, Card Crawl. Developer Tinytouchtales has been hard at work on the follow-up for Card Crawl called Card Thief. It's not a sequel, but an entirely new game that uses cards and stealth mechanisms. Up until now we didn't have a ton of information about the game, but today Tinytouchtales released a gameplay video showing it in action.

It looks great!

No clue on when it might be releasing, but watch the video and see what's waiting for us later this year.





HexWar Releases Civil War: Bloody April from Decision Games
Last week saw the latest in the collaboration between Decision Games (I) and HexWar, Civil War: Bloody April. It's the digital port of 1979 wargame Bloody April: The Battle of Shiloh, 1862 from SPI (Simulations Publications, Inc.).

Want a blurb? You look like you could use one:

HexWar wrote:
Bloody April focuses on the Battle of Shiloh which was fought from 6th to 7th April 1862. The Union Army of the Tennessee, under Major General Ulysses S. Grant, was encamped at Pittsburg Landing, on the West Bank of the Tennessee River. The Confederate Army of the Mississippi, commanded by General Albert S. Johnston, launched a surprise attack on the morning of 6th April. Unprepared for battle, the Union forces suffered heavy casualties in the first hours of the fighting but held their position at Pittsburg Landing. Overnight the Union were reinforced by the arrival of Major General Don C. Buell's Army of the Ohio, and launched a decisive counterattack on 7th April, driving the Confederates from the field.

Key Features:
- Historically accurate game play.
- Accurate Civil War units.
- Play as either the Union or Confederate side.
- 11 scenarios offering alternative objectives.
- 3 levels of difficulty.
- Five categories of unit quality.
- Different types of formations.
- Detailed combat analysis.
- In-depth reference charts.
- Advanced tactical features including:
- Map zoom.
- Strategic movement.
- Flank attacks.
- Low ammo.
- Unit disruption.
- Game Centre Achievements.


Bloody April is available for iOS Universal and runs $2. You can snag it here.
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Tue May 10, 2016 3:02 pm
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First Look: Pathfinder Adventures Card Game

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Pathfinder Adventures Card Game
Availability: iOS, Android
Price: Free
Store Links: iTunes, iTunes

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Fri May 6, 2016 1:44 pm
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