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Compatibility: iOS Universal/Android
Reviewed On: iPad Air
Current Price: 9.99
App Size: 443 MB
Developer/Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Multiplayer: Yes, local.
Itunes link: BattleLore: Command
With the release of BattleLore: Command, the Command and Colors wargame system has (officially) come to mobile devices. This system is a light wargaming system developed by Richard Borg and used in games such as Command and Colors, Memoir 44, and, of course, BattleLore. This is one of my favorite turn-based strategy systems around and I overjoyed to see it on my iPad. Let’s see if BattleLore: Command lives up to my high expectations.
For those not familiar with the system, there are some basic things that set it apart. First off, the game is played on a hex board divided into three sections. Using different orders, you command units in one or multiple of these board sections. Units are represented by a group of figures on the board. The number of figures is the HP of that unit and losing HP does not affect combat strength. Combat is all dice based with hit, miss, retreat, and lore results. There are other additions such a terrain, but all of it is very clear and measured in terms of dice rolled.
BattleLore adds a few fantasy wrinkles to this basic system. Each unit has a special ability, for example Archers can attack twice if they don’t move on a given turn. Units in the game consist of infantry, archers, cavalry, golems, and flying units. There is also a spell system which always players to play spell cards that can change the course of battle. These are played using lore which is generated by dice rolls. Units in the game consist of infantry, archers, cavalry, golems, and flying units. All of this adds a bit of complexity and flavor to the existing base system.
Like many wargames, BattleLore: Command is played over a series of scenarios. The game features a campaign with a series of scenarios to play through, with branching paths and unique situations. It does a great job of walking you through both the basic gameplay and the specific units. The scenarios range from protecting herds of sheep to taking marked victory hexes, or even just surviving a given number of rounds.There is a tutorial built in and I was up and running in no time. After the tutorial, things do gets little crazy. The difficulty ramp is almost non-existent and you are quickly thrown into situations you will likely lose. It looks like they’ve tried to keep every scenario balanced (as they are replayable in the multiplayer Skirmish mode) at the risk of providing players the confidence earned by success. The being said, I have been able to progress but it does feel that luck can often ruin an entire scenario.
As mentioned above, there is a Skirmish mode for play against AI and other humans locally or via LAN (no online play as of yet). In this mode you can replay campaign missions as well as a series of scenarios ranging from a basic fight to the death to trying capture the other player’s base while defending your own. In these scenarios you have access to all the units for your faction (there are currently two) and buy units based on a point system. This really gives you a lot of freedom and the ability to define your own strategy.
The AI in the game does not have a difficulty setting, but has provided a challenge for me. The nature of the game system allows the AI to really play with the same constraints that you have (and, most importantly, the same luck). It looks like the AI has been tuned to each scenario, trying to stop you when necessary and being aggressive in other situations. As you know, I am at best a novice game player, so your experience with the AI may differ.
This game is downright gorgeous. It is surprising to me how well they’ve created these units in a 3D space. Each has unique animations, and you can really zoom in to get a better view. Information and UI design is very well done here. Symbols on the board will alert you when you enter cover (buildings and forests) or when your move puts an enemy unit in range. The game also does a great job of ushering you through the turn phases and alerting you when a card is playable. Everything is fairly intuitive: want to know more about a unit? Just tap and hold. Want to switch between units you are commanding? Just tap their image in the turn order window. After a few amazing wargames this year with deep gameplay but disappointing AI, BattleLore: Command is refreshing.
The real major disappointment here is the lack of online play and the limit of just two armies at the moment. BattleLore is characterized by two things: great head to head combat and variety of units. The latter appears to already be in the works as there is already a shop screen listing the word “Expansions.” At Gen Con the FFG team also mentioned that online play would be coming later on, so I guess we can take this time to hone our skills against the AI (which is no pushover).
There have been many amazing games released this year and BattleLore: Command is one of them. It brings this beloved wargame system to tablets with flying colors. This beautiful games offers hours and hours of gameplay. You can try both armies and many scenarios which provides a ton of possibilities. This is a game that truly cannot be missed.
One of the best of the year.
Reviewed On: iPad Air
Current Price: $19.99
App Size: 302 MB
Itunes link: Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front
Battle Academy was a revelation on iPad for several reasons. It was, at that point, one of the deepest and most complex games on the platform. The breadth of content and amount of playtime available was outstanding. It also carried a price tag to match it’s depth. Now Slitherine is back with Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front. It promises more depth and a whole new campaign. Can it reach the already high standards set by the first game?
For those new to the series, Battle Academy is a turn based strategy game set in WW2 (although the engine will be used for several different time periods in the future). Each unit in the game represents either a group of 1-5 soldiers or a single tank, truck, or armored vehicle. The system is you go/I go, you attack and move with all of your forces and then the enemy takes their turn. The game is played in a series of missions within campaigns, and each mission has different primary and secondary objectives. Generally these involve capturing and holding victory point locations. The AI, even on easy levels, will do things to surprise you, launching counterattacks and more.
The series has a few wrinkles that really set it apart from the pack. Spotting and line of sight is a key mechanic of the game. Enemy units can wait in ambush in forests or buildings, and you often won’t see them until you stumble into the space next to them. There are scout units that can reveal enemies within their range, and most units can lay down suppressing fire on a space if you suspect enemy forces may be there. You as the player can use the same tactics, ordering units to hold fire until the enemy is in the perfect spot for an ambush. Battle Academy 2 adds smoke which allows you to actually create your own line of sight blockers and get into position.
The amount of rules can be daunting at first and sometimes the number of units you command can be downright tedious, but nothing on iOS really compares with this game in terms of scope and size (ok, maybe XCOM). Battle Academy 2 features four campaigns with an average of eight missions each. Any given mission lasts about an hour, so we are talking 30+ hours of content for a single play-through. Combine that with online play and the new skirmish mode with randomly generated maps, and you have an amazing amount of content.
Most of what I have said so far could be said of either Battle Academy or Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front. If you are new to the series be sure to read my original review of Battle Academy for more thoughts on the system itself (Disclaimer: I am much more of a wargamer now than when I played the original, so take my complaints about rule complexity with a grain of salt).
Let’s get in to what is new in Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front, for those that enjoyed the first one. First things first, for those expecting a new design, a new UI, and a breadth of new features, you are looking in the wrong place. BA2 is more of a sequel in a content sense than an entire new game. That being said, there is a massive amount of new content and features here that should not be scoffed at.
One criticism of Battle Academy was the comic book style that felt a little too cartoony and a little light for the tone of war. BA2 has taken that style and matured it a bit. Things are presented in darker tones and everything has added grit. Admittedly, I’ve found the new style does make it challenging to pick out units in trees and other cover (especially on the night maps). However, it does seem fitting not only for the game but for the tone of the Eastern Front. It was a very different war.
The Eastern Front also brings new units and abilities. A whole new slew of soviet units is available as well as new abilities for existing units. As mentioned earlier, throwing smoke is a new feature and provides a new layer of strategy. The ability to basically create your own cover opens up a whole new world of possibilities. The game also features an army designer which gives you options to customize your army with the units you prefer. You’ll be leading these units on very different terrain as well. Winter tiles sets and night time battles join the mix of possible scenarios.
By far, the coolest new feature is the skirmish mode. This mode allows you to setup random scenarios to play against the AI or online. We checked this out in our live stream and it was quite fun. The random nature keeps you on your toes and provides basically endless play. If you like the BA2 system, this is going to bring you hours of fun. Another feature I am dying to try more of is the online co-op mode. I loved teaming up in games of Starcraft as a kid and being able to do that turn based with a strategy game seems awesome. I look forward to getting more into this mode.
While the merit of these new missions and features can be debated, for me the best new features are under the hood. BA2 was designed with iPad in mind and the controls feel responsive and clear. While similar in UI design to the previous game, I felt like everything was much more polished here. The game feels natural on a tablet.
The game still carries its PC DNA which can be a blessing and a curse. As with the original, modding is available (on PC) and has been expanded in this version. Expect player created content to download soon. The PC baggage carries some clunky UI elements with it. They have streamlined some, but often times icons still feel entirely too small.
If you've never tried Battle Academy, this sequel is the place to start. It takes what made the original a hit and adds in new features. The skirmish mode and new online multiplayer modes have opened up hours of gameplay. If you fall in love with the system, the possibilities are endless.
For existing fans, this feels a lot like an expansion. There are improvements and new features across the board, more than come in the original game’s $25 expansion, so the value seems on track. If you love Battle Academy and want more content, dive right in. If you were on the fence about the game, the sequel will do little to change your mind.
Battle Academy is a step forward, not a leap. The same barriers that blocked it before still exist, such as a PC feeling UI and an odd save system. However, there is also a lot to love here and a raft of new features to keep fans busy. Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front is hands down one of the best and largest wargames on iOS. It is a must have for any digital grognard.
Battle Academy 2 is the wargame to beat on iPad.
Commander The Great War
Publisher: Slitherine Ltd
Available on PC, Mac and Ipad
Itunes Link SRP as of review: $19.99
Ipad version reviewed
I've been meaning to get to this review sooner rather than later, but this is no light historically-flavored game, like my previous two Slitherine reviews (Quadriga and Frontline: Road to Moscow). Frankly, it's taken a long time to plod through just a few games. Commander The Great War (CTGW hereafter) is designed for serious wargamers who are in it for the long game-- and willing to pay a serious price for the privilege. Yes, that's right, CTGW is not going to be a cheap purchase, it's 20.00 as of this writing. Is it worth the high end price tag? Right up front I'll say yes, it is, with a few caveats that I will expand upon.
SCOPE: Commander the Great War is a grand strategy scaled game. Players assume the role of supreme leader of a nation or coalition of nations on either the Entente Cordiale or Triple Entente sides of the Great War (meaning World War One in this instance). In pursuit of this role, the player will be making strategic decisions for the individual nations on his or her side, including army movements and attacks, naval movements (and resulting battles) as well as research and development of new military technologies.
Game Start and setup-- with some nice multimedia bits
If I were to draw an analogy to a boardgame, CTGW relates to Advanced Third Reich and/or World in Flames the most, in that the player has to operate on the same grand strategic scale in a major theater of war, and there's a similar diplomatic and research element to those games. Yeah, I know, World War Two. I just don't know of any that fill the same niche set in the First World War era-- certainly not Guns of August. In terms of computer games, Matrix Games' own Guns of August (PC version) is roughly similar in scope, but not mechanics. To End all Wars (also published by Slitherine) looks similar in scope but is mechanically very different (being developed by Aegeon), but I have no experience with it.
The setting for Commander the Great War is vast; playing out on a hex map of Europe from North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula up to the North Sea, East to the Ural mountains, West to the Atlantic and French coast. That is a lot of hexes and a lot of ground to cover, especially in the grand campaign games after 1916, when so many fronts are opened up. This can get a little confusing on the Ipad, as one furiously swipes across the map to see what the enemy units are doing during his opponent's turn.
There are five preset Campaigns:
1914 The Great War
1915 Ypres – Artois
1916 The Battle of Verdun
1917 The Nivelle Offensive
1918 The Kaiserschlacht
Echoing the course of the Great War, the Triple Entente (Germany, Austria, Turkey) are favored in the first two scenarios and somewhat in 1916. In game terms, 1917 and 1918 become a real challenge for the Triple Entente player as more and more military technologies are present at start of the game (tanks, better airplanes, better artillery, armored trains, better ships, and etc).
I'm playing Serbia in the 1914 campaign versus the AI. Serbia is a thankless role, but the whole shooting match starts here and it's worth a shot as the Entente Cordiale player. I do have the advantage of interior lines, and a ponderous response from the Austrians, but numbers eventually tell.
No matter which you select, don't expect to be done with any grand campaign quickly. The AI is slow to make decisions (More on this later) and progress is very incremental-- there were no Schlieffen Plans for me.
Here are my vacation snaps from the invasion of the Low Countries (also the 1914 scenario). No grand Schlieffen Plan here; it's more like a bulge forming in the Allied line as the Germans pour in after limited local success. This pattern repeats throughout the game-- It's ALL about finding a spot to break through and exploit-- it's a real gamble, and broad front assaults are almost impossible
There doesn't appear to be any instructions or help file anywhere, but most of the action happens in a few screens and are very easy to figure out. Mechanically, moving land troops is just dragging them from hex to hex and clicking on highlighted squares when the moving unit is adjacent to enemy units. Terrain and Zones of Control factor into movement and combat in a very general way, in that you will move faster on a railroad and be held up by terrain features, or not be able to pass an enemy formation.
Example of moving Serbian movements into the abattoir.
The mechanics aren't the interesting part of the game, not so much. Movement and Combat are pretty simple. It's the other decisions you make per turn that will change the long game one way or the other for the player. Those decisions are made using a simple five tabbed menu:
How to fight a war, emphasis mine!
The management menus lead to production, research, diplomacy and management sub-menus. This is the point where I remind you of your role-- you may want to fight those tactical battles, they're fun and very visually rewarding. However, you're in it for the long haul here, and you are making decisions about what you'll be doing not just this year, but the next two years. So you need to start making the hard decisions early.. do I spend a lot of money on researching better weapons and hope I'm just lucky and don't need a lot of infantry replacements? Or do I feed more men into the meat grinder I'm dealing with right now?
The Diplomacy screen is rather innocuous, I haven't seen much come as a result of using it. Players need to focus on Production and Research decisions exclusively-- resources are what they are-- very precious. You have what you have and you must spend them wisely to be effective.
Serbia's rather bleak production options in 1914.
What can Serbia research this early in the war? Well, I'd choose barbed wire...
When you play a side, depending on the campaign you're playing, you are playing multiple fronts and multiple nations, with multiple national priorities. The Serbian/Austrian front at the start of the war is pretty much a doomed confrontation, so the Serbians need to do what they can do to stall the Triple Entente until the other powers can get engaged. So that "Cheap Infantry now versus expensive Tanks later" equation doesn't really work there, but it will for, say, Germany or England. You also have to consider what the major front you are working on needs-- not just now, but in three turns. For instance, Russia could use those cheap cavalry units. Sure, they are crap troops-- but they are great for moving vast distances without railroads fairly quickly, and can cut off troops nicely. The Germans will be tempted to spend it on better airplanes and artillery to force a result on the Western Front. The English may be the best power on Water but that superiority doesn't necessarily last forever-- and what about buying transports and more infantry, you know, to help those Allies out somewhere?
And this is where you get feedback from your decisions, each turn. What will be next in the production queue, what is coming up in the research queue..
There are a lot of variables in CTGW, and a lot to experiment with-- just don't expect a quick payoff. As I've already mentioned, this is a long game, and you NEED to be in it for the long game. Don't bother if you want a quickly resolving tactical battle game like Frontline. That's not the focus of Commander Great War. Even success creates tough situations-- combat is often very bloody for both sides-- when you lose most of your attacking force in a victory, what then? What happens next year when the other side comes roaring back in a counterattack? I certainly hope you planned for reinforcements!
What does all this mean? You have to plan ahead in almost every turn. In this respect, the game really generates interesting, and often historically flavored results. The game really does feel like World War One-- there's no way a broad front strategy works-- The Western Front ends up a pushing match, the Eastern Front has great scope for movement. The best results for the Western Front is to exploit a salient and push through in localized areas. That often is such a grinder that the Entente player really IS tempted to explore other fronts like Turkey.
The technological developments really enhance that feeling. Germany is tempted to use its finite surface fleet early-- but things really change for them when U-boats come into play.
If I sound enthusiastic, I am-- however there are a few drawbacks to this game-- it's slow, which is why I found it harder to review, than, say, the last 2 Slitherine games I've bought. I find that the AI is very capable, but is facing so many decisions that it does bog down somewhat after about four turns. Before the last update, the AI was consistently freezing right about turn 4. That seems to be fixed. It's still not greased lightning but remember, this isn't an arcade game. Each turn will require a lot of actions on the player's part, expect that to be the case for the AI as well. The other element that I find a drawback to total enjoyment is the lack of transparency. I often was stumped about units appearing out of the "Fog of War fog" that is on the edges of the map.. sometimes I was asking myself how the heck that unit got THERE.. teleporting? I also would like to know what the AI player's decisions were in the proceeding turn. I know it's historically appropriate for the human side to NOT know this, but it would help understand the mechanics, which certainly aren't explained.
Summary: Commander Great War is like a sipping whiskey; drink it too fast and you'll choke. CTGW is far too complex of a brew to be swallowed whole on first sip. You'll have to be patient, take it in gradually. This game will reward patience and foresight, but not an arcade player. Commander The Great War is a game of elegance and simplicity, and it will reward a player with a strategic mindset. Is it worth 20 bucks? That's up to you. I think there's a LOT of game in that 20 dollars, and a real wargaming fan will consider his money well spent. Replay value is excellent.
Compatibility: iPad, Android Tablet
Reviewed On: iPad Air
Current Price: $9.99
App Size: 255 MB
Developer/Publisher: Handelabra/Greater Than Games
Multiplayer: Yes, pass and play
Itunes link: Sentinels of the Multiverse
Google Play link: Sentinels of the Multiverse
Few games have taken the tabletop world by storm like Sentinels of the Multiverse. This was the Super Hero card game on the market before the big guys even considered the space. It features a cast of original heroes, some pretty direct copies of existing properties, that face off against a cast of villains, each with their own plots and powers. The game’s popularity has spawned spin offs, actual comics, and more. We now have, on our iOS and Android devices, the chance to play the game that started it all.
Admittedly, this is my first time playing Sentinels of the Multiverse. Super heroes have never really appealed to me. I find most of the stories to be a predictable arms races. Does it matter that you are super when everyone you fight is also super? That foolish prejudice of mine aside, it is a cooperative game I have always wanted to try, and I am excited to have it on my iPad. It is important to now that this review is coming from someone very new to the game (Dave is a huge fan of this game and should be reviewing it on that other publication soon).
Being new to the game, I first hit the big “How To Play” button on the front menu. What I saw was a text rulebook, and my heart dropped. “Another game with no tutorial?” I thought. Luckily, nestled in the top right corner was a “Play Tutorial” button. What followed was an excellent tutorial hosted by an animated version of game designer Christopher Badell. It is a superb tutorial teaching both the rules and basic strategy.
That being said, there is still a lot to learn. Each villain and hero plays differently and has a slew of new cards. The amount of new content for each character can be daunting to new players. While the tutorial was great, I would love more ways to ease into the remaining content. In the game setup screen you can see the special abilities of each character and villain, but it would be great to get a better summary of how each character is meant to play, even a brief overview.
Sentinels of the Multiverse is a cooperative game, and, on mobile, can be played solitaire or pass and play (no online play). Once you’ve selected your heroes, the villain, and the location, it is time to fight! The heroes’ goal is to bring the HP of the villain down to 0. Each villain can win by either defeating all the heroes or, for some villains, by another mechanic, for example Baron Blade wins by getting his discard pile to a certain number. The game is played in turns, one for each hero, one for the villain, and one for the environment. The heroes’ abilities are represented by cards ranging from one-off attacks to powers and on-going effects. Each hero can play one card from their hand and one power each turn. Powers range from dealing damage to drawing cards, it depends on the strategy of each hero. There is a wide variety of strategy and mechanics. On the villain’s turn, they follow a preprogrammed set of moves which could involve playing cards from the villain deck and dealing damage to the heroes. The environment or location also gets a turn, usually playing cards that affect both the heroes and villain, adding another wrinkle to the strategy.
All of this is presented in amazing comic book style. The locations are brought to live with well done 3D backgrounds. The heroes and villains have different artwork as they take damage or become more powerful. If you are fan of the board game’s art style, you are going to love what they have done here. The comic book feeling is carried into to the menus and the gameplay screen. Each character is given their own panel, and these panels shifts as turns change. You can tell the folks at Handelabra have a love for Sentinels of the Multiverse as well as comic books in general. I may be getting greedy, but I would loved to see them take this one step further. Currently there are no combat animations, which I think, if added, would help round out the aesthetic and give your actions more weight. However, what’s there now is excellent.
The lack of combat animations is just one part of a lack of information in some parts of the game. With so many different factors influencing each action in the game, it would be great to understand these more clearly. Admittedly, the game does this well with combat, clearly explaining why you are being hit with a certain amount of damage. These needs to be carried to other areas. For example, I would love to know how many cards the Villain will play next turn, or how close they are to their special victory conditions. This information is all available out of context on the cards themselves, but I would love to see it within the flow of the game. As a new player, there is currently a lot to keep track of. The team has tried to make identifying card abilities easier with a range of icons. This is a great first step, but still a bit overwhelming for new players.
While Sentinels of the Multiverse could give more information in some areas, it also suffers from a case of too much in other areas. Each time damage is dealt, either to your heroes or to the villain, you must decided in what order it is allocated. This is useful on some occasions, but there are many times when the choice is irrelevant. Luckily, there is a choose for me button to automate this, but I do wish it would be automated in cases where the choice truly doesn’t matter. Not only is it a bit clunky and happens often (several times a turn), as a new player I found the choice confusing. I kept picking my brain to figure out why damage order mattered in a given situation.
All of this does not tarnish the fact that Sentinels of the Multiverse is really fun to play. The amount of content available is amazing. The possible combinations of heroes, villains, and locales is staggering. There is nearly endless variety. I am excited to solve the puzzle that is each villain and learn the synergies of the different heroes. This iPad version makes gameplay quick and easy, managing all the book keeping and letting you focus on the real choices
The gameplay that has made this game a cult hit shines bright in this digital version. The tutorial makes the game welcoming to new players and is a great place to enter this renowned series. This is a must have addition to your digital board game collection.
This compelling cooperative game is so close to being super.
Compatibility: iOS Universal
Reviewed On: iPad Air, iPhone 6
Current Price: $1.99
App Size: 168 MB
Developer/Publisher: Playtap Games
Itunes link: Card Dungeon
Cloning and copying is rampant on the app store. As a part of the mobile games industry, apps like 2048 make me a bit furious. True, all video games and board games copy from one another, but the problem comes in the ease of directly copying mobile games (due to small teams and project scopes). When I first saw screens for Card Dungeon, my initial reaction was that it was an attempt to cash in on the potential success of Card Hunter (an earlier web based game with nearly an identical art style). As development continued, it became clear that Card Dungeon would beat Card Hunter to mobile, and potentially snatch the fans of the original.
Now that the game has launched, it is clear that art-wise, this is 100% the case. Everything from the level headings to the card art is extremely similar to Card Hunter. However, mechanically the game is entirely different. Gone is the brutally difficult TBS gameplay, replaced by an interesting rogue-like mechanic that has conquering a series of challenging dungeons. It really is it’s own unique game, I stand partially corrected.
Card Dungeon hinges on a simple card mechanic. At any given time, you can have three cards in your inventory. These cards each feature an attack or spell that you can use against the monsters you find in the dungeon. The trick is that each card is slowly deteriorating. The more you use it, the closer it gets to being destroyed. This is represented graphically by the card turning more and more ragged. This means you need to constantly be refreshing your available actions by picking up new cards found by slaying monsters and searching chests. Your move set is constantly shifting, which means you have to constantly be learning and perfecting new strategies.
To start a run of Card Dungeon, you select one of several dungeons, each featuring their own boss. You then choose a character as well as a perk and a weakness. With this setup, you head into the dungeon, attempting to pass all the levels of each dungeon and defeat the boss without dying.
Like many games in this genre, you can have good runs and you have bad. The selection of cards that come up as you kill monsters and open chests, will determine how far you can get. Many runs will be awesome, while others will just be frustrating. The randomness of card selection (and a pretty large variety) forces you to innovate and find new ways to solve problems. It is rewarding to discover a new way to take on a room of monsters.
The cards range from basic attacks to powerful spells that can even change the dungeon. The game excels at presenting many possible solutions to any problem. For example, when encountering the first boss, I placed a lava pit in a doorway and lured the boss into it repeatedly until he was defeated. As moving and attacking have to be done on separate turns, positioning is a huge part of the game. Many attacks will send enemies flying, while others can pull them to you. There is quite a variety here and a lot to be discovered. This is, by far, the most compelling thing about Card Dungeon; this is where the game really shines.
Card Dungeon is turn-based. Each turn you move or use a card, and then each monster in your vicinity gets a move. It’s a game about timing and planning. You want to get each monster in the right place at the right time to avoid damage and make use of your cards. The turn-based mechanic is awesome for board gamers, but also creates challenges. In combat the system is great, but once you want to explore, the turn system can really slow things down. The game features neutral monsters that will not attack unless provoked. The problem is, if they are in a room you are trying to cross, they all get a turn, meaning to move one square can take 15 to 30 seconds. It just seems unnecessarily slow in the exploration portions.
The game is presented in portrait, which led me to believe this is a phone-centric game. After trying to play standing on a train, I can tell you, it is a challenge to operate with one hand. The biggest crux is the game’s camera. it is rotated by two fingers and is necessary to really get an idea of what is in the dungeon around you. This is challenging to do even on iPad (the sensitivity it strange), and is a huge challenge while playing on an iPhone. I would love to see a feature added to allow dragging around the map with one finger. Getting a read on a dungeon room is important in the game, I just wish it was easier to execute.
Card Dungeon and I got off on the wrong foot with the art style. However, gameplay, especially combat, proves that this is it’s own game, with some neat ideas. In the end, the turn-based exploration really slows the game down, and, combined with the odd camera controls, makes it a challenge to play. Even with these challenges, it does bring some interesting ideas to the table and is worth a look if you enjoy rogue-like mechanics.
A fun rogue-like that could use a bit of polish.
Reviewed On: iPad Air
Current Price: Free
App Size: 504 MB
Developer/Publisher: Pokemon Company
Itunes link: Pokemon TCG Online
Pokemon was one of the first video games I played on our family’s brick of a Game Boy, and consequently, the Pokemon Trading Card Game was the first hobby game I ever player. Of course, I had not comprehension of that at the time. My best friend showed up at my house one summer day with two brightly colored red and blue boxes. My friend was not into video games, but his grandfather thought the game was cool and purchased the cards for him as payment for helping on the farm. This bizarre combination of events can only mean one thing: it was destiny. We played for hours, and I promptly picked up my own set as soon as my funds allowed.
I played this game for a few years, finally moving into Harry Potter, then Magic: the Gathering, and so on until I reach modern board gaming. The Pokemon Trading Card Game holds a special place in my heart. It is a game meant for younger audiences, there is strategy, but it can be swingy. Like many card games, but also more often than others, you can find yourself in no win situations. All that being said, it is an interesting game to experience for several reasons including that it was an entry point for many gamers, and it is a great example of great licensed game.
This new iPad version provides an opportunity for those that may have missed the game to check it out for free. If you are an old fan like me, or have kids, it also is a way to play digitally and on the go. Let’s take a look at what this version has to offer and if it lives up to high expectations.
To start off, Pokemon Trading Card Game is more like Magic Online than Hearthstone (in fact it is always online). You will receive a free deck and cards just for signing up, and the game features no in-app purchases. That is right, you can’t drop real money for cards in the game. So how do you get cards? One way is to buy actual cards in a store, which will provide a code exchangeable for the same product digitally. You can also buy cards with Player Coins which are earned by playing games, logging in daily, watching the Pokemon cartoon in a companion app, and more. It is an interesting system and seems very kid friendly. I do wish I could just give them a bunch of cash, but I do see what they are trying to do. So this app is more about playing with your existing Pokemon Trading Card Game collection, than necessarily quickly building a new one.
Of course, the real focus is playing the game. You can play against AI or Online against real players (constant internet connection required for any mode). The AI is not amazing, but luck can make for some challenging competitions. Online play is actually pretty seamless and game timers keep games tight. I have found many players will quit a game after losing a big Pokemon or a having a bad start. It feels like the community is a little hit or miss. You should check out our stream from last week to see how frustrating this can get.
While I do lament the access to cards (let me give you money!), with just a few packs I felt ready for some minor deck building. The interface is extensive but can be a bit daunting to navigate. It hearkens back again to the PC origins of this game. The filtering options, however, are pretty impressive. There were options there that I didn’t even know what to do with like “retreat cost”. If you are more versed in this game, it looks like there is a lot there for you. It even features an auto-build option where you pick two favorite cards and it builds a deck around them. This great in a game like Pokemon when your deck is usually built around a couple large Pokemon.
Pokemon Trading Card Game started out as a PC and Mac application, and the iPad version suffers for it. The whole thing has been retrofitted for touch controls, but many menus are still a bit clunky. It also has this bizarre art style that seems inspired by avatars from the Yahoo games system. It seems strange that a game world with so much depth can be presented in such a shallow way.
After doing a live stream of the game on Thursday, I proceeded to play another round of matches the following morning. The claws were back in. Admittedly, a bunch of those games ended poorly for me despite my choices, and yet I had a blast the whole time. The interface is burdensome, the gameplay is swingy, and the online community is a little fickle, but it still captures the fun I remember about the game. Evolving a Pokemon is just as satisfying as it ever was. It’s a formula that still works.
I am not saying this game is for every player, it is not genre defining like Hearthstone, but there is a fun experience here. If you are an old fan, this is a fun way to visit and old friend. If you have never tried it, I recommend giving it a quick look. At least you can see what all the fuss was about. As for me, I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was. To catch them is my real test, to train them is my cause. I will travel across the land, searching far and wide. Each Pokemon to understand the power that’s inside.
A nostalgia trip that leaves some things to be desired.
Compatibility: iPad (iPhone and Android Coming Soon!)
Reviewed On: iPad Air
Current Price: $4.99
App Size: 72 MB
Developer/Publisher: Czech Games Edition.
Itunes link: Galaxy Trucker
Fastening a perfect double engine to the back of my spaceship, I grab the first player token and declare my construction complete. Quickly I realize I have forgotten to attach a laser gun to the front of my ship, leaving me vulnerable to asteroid collisions. It is not long into my space flight that a meteor strikes my open spot and splits my spaceship in two.
Galaxy Trucker is a game of stories, it is a game of laughing at others’ misfortunes and screaming at your own demise. It is a highly social game, one that may appear impossible to recreate digitally. That is the magical part of this port, CGE has managed to bring this experience to our iPads (also Android and iPhone soon), not just through online multiplayer but throughout the entire experience.
The humor in Galaxy Trucker comes from the very structure of the gameplay. Your first task in any game is to construct a ship. This is done by drawing tiles and attaching them to the existing tiles on your ship. Tiles represent ship parts such as crew quarters, laser guns, cargo holds, engines, and more. There is a puzzle element to the game as tile connections vary, and you have to match like tiles in order to add them to your ship. This is all done in realtime, so mistakes are often made. Maybe you forgot a key component or overlooked an entire strategy.
After your ragtag ship is welded together, it is time to fly. The flying portion of the game is a race, you are trying to be the first to reach the finish and have the prettiest ship. Each flight is represented by a deck of cards full of hazards. These could be meteors that strike your ship, pirates, war zones, planets to collect goods from, and more. Your goal is to earn as much cash as you can and try and survive. Because the cards are fairly random, you don’t always know what is coming and could be totally unprepared. You may have what appears to be the perfect ship, but then it will be ultimately destroyed.
At the end of each flight you earn points for cargo, your place in the race, and more. The player with the most cash after a set number of rounds (3 in the full game) is the winner. Subsequent rounds feature bigger and bigger ships as well as more difficult hazards. This experience is recreated point for point in the app. You can play online against players in real time or you can challenge AI opponents. If this were the extent of Galaxy Trucker on iPad, it would be somewhat shallow experience, however, CGE has gone far beyond this. Both in single player and multiplayer CGE has found ways to extend the gameplay and make it more accessible and enjoyable.
Apart from playing traditional Galaxy Trucker with AI, there is a full fledge campaign mode. In this mode you are flying ships from planet to planet, earning money and completing quests. It features a hilarious cast of characters and many planets to explore (I’ve only scratched the surface after a week of play). I can’t stress how developed this mode is. It is not linear, but rather full of branching paths. The conversations with characters are not just well written but often hide secrets about your upcoming flight. Each flight from planet to planet feels different. Sure, there are some that are just the standard mix of Galaxy Trucker hazards, but others feature entirely new challenges. For example, in one mission you are hired to transport drinks for a bar. These are new tiles that must be protected or you fail the mission. Another route is entirely meteor cards that you must defend against. You will find yourself sinking hours and hours into this mode.
Along with realtime play, there is an entirely new turn-based mode that lets you play asynchronously. In this mode, ship building is done with a series of points. You use points to reveal tiles, store tiles, or attach them to your ship. You can also save up to three points from the previous round. You play back and forth until each player has finished their ship. It is an interesting system and really opens up Galaxy Trucker to online play.
All of these features are packaged in what feels like the board game art come to life. The ships animate as they go down to planets, asteroids and lasers actually strike your ship, shields burst to life, and more. While still true to the board game, they have made it truly a video game experience. The UI and interface are easy to use and surprisingly intuitive. The included tutorial doesn’t just teach gameplay, but also walks you through app controls, which is great for new and experienced players (also the tutorial is quite funny, so I would check it out even if you are a pro).
Galaxy Trucker is the standout iOS board game of the year, so far. It hits all the right notes and provides hours and hours of gameplay. This is truly a board game turned into a video game, not merely a port. Each mode of play is deliberate and well thought out. This is not one to be missed.
Game of the Y...too soon to call!
Amidst a busy Gen Con month (and a move to a new apartment) there were many excellent releases. Sadly, I have not had time to review them all. In an attempt to make my way through some of the backlog, here is a roundup of three games that came out this month that you should check out.
Compatibility: iOS Universal
Reviewed On: iPad Air, iPhone 5
Current Price: $1.99
App Size: 12.0 MB
Developer/Publisher: Josh Edwards
Itunes link: Cahoots!
Trick taking games often feel right at home on mobile as they are easy to play and generally an AI can provide an excellent challenge. This month, Cahoots joins the ranks of the likes of Tichu and Mu on mobile.
Cahoots is a trick taking game with six suits. Each player can score points on three of the suits and shares one suit with each of the other players. Each trick players will play two cards (of any number and suit) and the suit with the highest total is the winner, giving two points to each owner of that suit. The game creates and interesting dynamic as you are trying to help yourself but also need to decide which of your opponents you will benefit. At the end of each round you select one card from the trick to keep and one to discard. This step us one of the most important in the game as it gives you some control on what will be available in the future.
This design, a digital original, is excellent. One of my biggest complaints with most trick taking games is that I often feel like I have no good move or that I have nothing to participate in the current trick. Cahoots solves both of these problems; each decision is important. A trick could appear to be going to one suit after the first round of cards, but then could swing entirely during the second card drop. This is currently my favorite trick taking game, digital or tabletop.
As an app, Cahoots is a bit on the basic side, but it gets the job done. Play is limited to AI at the moment, but for me, that is all I really want to play this type of game on mobile with anyway. The game features a short tutorial that teaches you the basics and then hands you the reins. The UI overall is pretty clear and all the actions makes sense in context. It is the not the bell of the ball, but it does everything it needs to for the type of game it is.
Cahoots is an excellent trick taking game and a gem to have on mobile. If you are looking for a quick brain teaser for your commute or other travel, this is definitely a potential go to.
Compatibility: iOS Universal, Android
Reviewed On: iPad Air, iPhone 5
Current Price: Free
App Size: 78.6 MB
Developer/Publisher: Kaio Interactive
Itunes link: Letter Pix
Google Play link: Letter Pix
Michael Elliot sat down with Dave and I at Gen Con to show off his latest game. If you are not familiar with Michael, he is the designer of Quarriors, AND MORE. His latest game is a mobile original called Letter Pix and represents a new venture for him.
In Letter Pix, players are trying to find words in a word search. Each letter in the chosen word is removed from the board and a picture hidden behind the letters is partially revealed. After finding word, the player has a chance to guess what is in the picture. It’s a pretty fast game as after just a few rounds, a good portion of the picture is revealed. As the starting player has a clear advantage, the game allows the 2nd player to guess even if the puzzle has been solved, and they score equal points.
The game features AI, but I have found it most fun as a social game. You can challenge your friends and compete. This mashup of game mechanics seems to work really well. You often want to find the largest word possible, but you also need to be able to identify the photo. Also, each time you guess a word, you are also helping your opponent. It is a trade-off that makes for many interesting decisions.
The game can be played against AI or Facebook friends. It really shines in multiplayer, so I recommend getting online as soon as possible. There is a fair amount of content available upfront, but you are also able to purchase additional content as desired.
Letter Pix is a light social game, not a deep strategic experience, but don’t let that scare you away. It features a nice blend of mechanics and fills a unique place on mobile. As an added bonus, it really works with kids. I definitely recommend checking this one out. It may not be something you play all the time, but it is a unique game that is worth a look.
The Manhattan Project
Compatibility: iOS Universal, Android
Reviewed On: iPad Air, iPhone 5
Current Price: $6.99
App Size: 71.8 MB
Developer/Publisher: Domowicz Creative Group
Itunes link: The Manhattan Project
Google Play link: The Manhattan Project
This is a game you would expect a full-fledged review on, and we may have one in the future, but due to scheduling, I wanted to give you a quick rundown. The Manhattan Project digital was Kickstarted a few months back and is now available. It is basic yet complete translation of this popular strategy game.
In The Manhattan Project, players are competing to research, build, and test nuclear weapons. Each round you will assign works to different tasks, getting the resources you need to make progress. Unlike other games in this genre, you can actual attack other players to slow their progress. The game is a race to a predetermined point total based on the number of players. It does an interesting job of portraying this unique point in history.
Playing the Manhattan Project on iPad is going to take effort and heart. To start with, if you are new to the game, your only guide is an included rulebook. This is the rulebook from the tabletop game, so even after completing it you will need to adjust to the included interface. I understand this is how tabletop games work (if you are the teacher of your group) but I generally expect more from digital games. I believe a tutorial was a Kickstarter stretch goal that was missed, which explains its exclusion. Just seems a pity as it hinders new players.
The gameplay experience is very much an amalgam of the tabletop game. You pick up and drag actual workers (which can be dropped randomly around the board) and have a pile of yellow cake cubes. For those that are not a fan of the adjustments made visually with digital board games, you are going to enjoy this one. It is as close to a tabletop experience as you can get.
If you are a fan of the game, or willing to do the work to enjoy it, there is a great experience waiting. AI play allows you to get in a game any time you want, though I can’t really speak to its difficulty as I am new player. Online play will let you challenge other players worldwide. There really are some great options to play, if this is your cup of tea.
Your mileage with the Manhattan Project is going to come down to your patience. If you are a fan of the game, you will slip right in and play more than you ever have. If you are new, it is going to take some work to start enjoying yourself, so be ready for that.
Amidst our long walks each day around the convention center, Dave and I had the opportunity take some time with a handful of games coming later this year. We will have reviews and more impressions of these games as we near release, but I wanted to give you a quick update now.
After the excellent helper app released by Repos last year, my hopes have been high for the iOS version. There is a lot of information to communicate in this relatively light game, and it looks like they have done an excellent job. The graphic design is true to the board game while being polished and tailored in a few places. The iOS version is not afraid to introduce some digital help. When you receive a hand of cards to choose from, each is color coded, telling you about the cost to play the card. Another interesting addition are persistent VP scores, so you can quickly see where you stand at any given point. I was impressed by the tasteful use of digital innovation.
One final note: this release will not only include the base game but also the Leaders and Cities expansions as IAP. I think this is a really great move. The minute you download the app you will be able to dive in for more 7 Wonders. As someone who has never gotten around to picking up the expansions, this is certainly a bonus. The release window is still TBD, but we should know more later this fall.
Note: We've been asked to hold the video for now, but we will post as soon as we get clearance.
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