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Review: Through the Desert

Brad Cummings
United States
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From gallery of thequietpunk
The Stats:
Compatibility: iPad(Separate version), iPhone, and iPod Touch.
Current Price: $1.99, $2.99 (HD)
Developer/Publisher: Tribeflame
Version: 1.6,
Size: 21.2 MB
Multiplayer: Online Multiplayer, Pass and Play
AI: Yes.
Itunes link:

The Good:
Varying levels of AI difficulty.
Many option of play.
The Bad:
Graphic design feels a little dated. Some text is small and hard to select.
Online play has faded, lack of running multiple games at once.

Through the Desert is a quality port of a classic board game. Despite looking a little dated in design, it plays well in both single player and pass and play. The online multiplayer system works well but has some limitations.

From gallery of thequietpunk
Through the Desert is one of the first games I heard about upon entering the hobby a few years ago. It is a classic tile laying games from the good doctor, Reiner Knizia.

In Through the Desert players compete to visit different spots on the map or to surround areas of open desert by using different colored caravans of camels. At the beginning of the game players take turns placing caravan leaders, one of each color of camel. These leaders will be starting point for the players caravans. With their caravans players hope to visit oases and watering holes which will score them gold. They can also surround areas of empty board space (a la Go) to score points. After one color of camel has been used up the game ends. The players then receive points for having the longest caravan of a certain color. The player with the highest score wins.

The Doctor and I have a turbulent relationship. Some of his games I love, others not so much. In all honesty, Through the Desert is on the fence for me. Often I feel like some of the early moves in the game are arbitrary and the later games are obvious and automatic. In my opinion, much less exciting than some of Knizia’s other tile laying games. But anyway, enough of my gameplay critiques, lets discuss the app.

In spite of my lukewarm feelings about the actual game, Through the Desert offers a great portable gameplay experience and if you are a fan of the game I wouldn’t miss it. Like many other board game apps it offers a solid play experience wether single player or pass and play, but also like many it suffers from dated graphic design and a less than stellar online multiplayer system.

From gallery of thequietpunk
Through the Desert includes a great system for introducing new players to the game. The tutorial is fairly quick and easy to follow. It even includes cartoon desert dwellers to explain the game to you, which adds to the thematic feel of the game. What ever other gripes I may have with the apps design, it does have a solid thematic consistency throughout. The players turns are denoted by different color carpets and the final scores are displayed on matching carpets. I also appreciated the varied AI levels included in the game. This allows players to learn the game and then face increasingly difficult opponents. Another great aspect of the Through the Desert is that it lacks any sort of hidden information. This allows the game to played on one device very well. It really succeeds in making virtual board game you play on one device.

The graphic design in Through the Desert, as I said, is very thematic. However, some basic functionality seems to missing. Much of the buttons are just straight text and sometimes it is unclear as to where exactly to click. Thought not a problem on the iPad version, on the iPhone some of the menu buttons are quite small and the swirly font can make them difficult to read. I also felt that, especially in multiplayer, it could be displayed more clearly whose turn it currently is. as the changing colored carpet is sometimes hard to see behind all of the camels. None of these issues greatly affect the gameplay, but they do seem to hinder full usability.

The online multiplayer in Through the Desert initially intrigued me. I had yet to see a board game app take the route of Game Center. I have to say that it does work well, in a basic way. One downside to the online multiplayer is that it is quite difficult to find random players. I spoke with Tribe Flame and they did explain that currently the online component of Through the Desert is not widely used. However, if you can find a friend to play with (say using our player matching forums at the iOS Board Game Community /shameless plugging) you can have an enjoyable game of Through the Desert on the go. I played a game this morning and the turns went quick, the game ending after 20 minutes. This app does lack some features the would make the multiplayer really shine and perhaps increase the numbers of users. First, to my knowledge, there is no way to play multiple game simultaneously. I also do not think it is possible to play with more than 2 players. There also appears to be no sort of ranking system. Lastly, though it appear asynchronous there is no clearly displayed information to show you when your turn is or how long you have to take your turn. The app runs great online, but it could use a better interface to get you there.

Through the Desert is not a masterpiece but it is a solid port of a board game. It offers a great virtual board game experience, porting a classic to the iPad. It does not marvel online or in the looks department, but perhaps that was never its intention.

Rating: 3/4 Good
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