Core Dump: Digital Board Games for iOS

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Boardgame app icons: Carcassonne, Food Fight, Wizard Hex, Puerto Rico, Ascension, Ticket to RideBoardgame app icons: Carcassonne, Food Fight, Wizard Hex, Puerto Rico, Ascension, Ticket to Ride

Lately I’ve been trying to play a little less Tiny Tower on my iPad and trying to actually interact with other people when I’m using it. (When I’m not getting sucked into Book of Heroes, that is.) One of my favorite ways to do that, of course, is board games. When I can’t get a bunch of people physically together to play a board game, it’s nice to have the option of playing digitally — plus, I love getting to play games with folks who are in different parts of the world, people who I don’t see face-to-face much at all (if ever). If you’re a board gamer with an iPad, there are a lot of apps worth checking out. Here’s just a few I’ve been checking out lately. (Note: all apps work for iPhone and iPad unless otherwise noted below.)

CarcassonneCarcassonne

Playing Carcassonne against fellow GeekDad writers!

Carcassonne app iconCarcassonne app iconCarcassonne – $9.99, plus in-app expansions for $.99 and $2.99

As I said, there are a lot of board game apps in the iTunes store, and more seem to be coming all the time. But for me, Carcassonne is still the gold standard for board game apps. (It helps that it was one of my gateway games and I’ve always enjoyed playing it — your mileage may vary.) TheCodingMonkeys did a fantastic job making the interface easy to play, and their asynchronous multiplayer option is second to none. You get alerts when it’s your turn, and tapping on that takes you directly into the game, showing you all the previous moves. Plus it has a built-in chat function, which is great for trash talking your fellow players.

We’ve already reviewed it here at GeekDad (plus you’ll probably get an in-depth look at the new expansions, The River and Inns & Cathedrals), but after all the board game apps I’ve played, this is still at the top of my list. It gets more plays than pretty much any of my other board game apps, and I haven’t gotten tired of it yet. The two new expansions, available as in-app purchases, are well worth it to add new depths of strategy to the game. Is it pricey? In terms of many apps, yes, it costs a bit more. But if you like the board game version, this is a superb implementation of it.

Food Fight screenshotsFood Fight screenshots

Food Fight screenshots (click to enlarge): Card gallery, main menu, campaign map, drafting cards.

Food Fight iconFood Fight iconFood Fight – $3.99

When I first played the physical version of Food Fight (see my review here), I realized that somebody had taken the same idea I’d had when I was a kid, and made the old card game of War into an actual strategic game. That, combined with the punny food-based art, made it a lot of fun to play. (It made our Best Board Games of 2011 list, for Best Cartoon Art.)

Well, the board game came with a little note saying that there was an app version available … but it wasn’t, yet. After a few months of waiting, it has finally arrived! I’ve been playing it a little so far and will do a more in-depth review later on, but so far they’ve done a decent job. The coding is by Playdek, the same folks who did the app for Ascension, so there are some similarities in the ability to look at a card up close, play online or offline games, and so forth. (Unfortunately, there’s also some of the same clunkiness involved in getting into an online game once you leave the app.)

There’s also a campaign mode that takes you through various towns, battling the food mascots and building up your troops to battle the mighty Disposaler in the Under-Whirled. I think the app may be easier to use if you’ve already played the game before, but I’m looking forward to trying this out with some online games soon.

Wizard Hex screenshotWizard Hex screenshot

Wizard Hex strategy depends on your relative position to your opponent.

Wizard Hex iconWizard Hex iconWizard Hex – $2.99

I’ve mentioned Wizard Hex before as well, but it’s worth revisiting since they’ve added some new features. Wizard Hex is a game for up to 6 players, and the fascinating thing about it is that you can move not only your own pieces but also those of your immediate neighbors. However, immediate neighbors also cannot attack each other directly. You move pieces onto the board from the corresponding edge, and try to take as much territory on the board as you can. Stacking pieces turns them from bronze to silver to gold, and makes them more powerful (offensively and defensively). But the biggest part of the strategy is learning to use your neighboring pieces to your advantage, blocking your opponent’s approach and making room for yourself. It gets particularly interesting when you’re playing against somebody who is immediately next to you, in which case you can also use the strategy of using up your opponent’s pieces, since everyone has a limited number of tiles.

Trouble Brothers did add an online multiplayer option, which goes through Game Center. It’s real-time only (and up to 4 players, as opposed to the 6 player maximum for local play). One interesting feature, though, is that their online multiplayer has Voice Chat. It’s not perfect — sometimes the chat dropped out and I wasn’t able to get it back — but when it works, it really does give you a sense of playing against other players in a way that text-chatting doesn’t. You don’t have to stop playing to pull up a window to type a chat; you can just talk to each other while moving pieces around, just like in a real game. One feature I’d like to see in their online multiplayer option is the ability to choose where you’re sitting on the board. Right now it just assigns you randomly, which means that you can’t choose to sit next to or across from your opponent to practice different strategies.

Puerto Rico screenshotPuerto Rico screenshot

The Puerto Rico app makes scoring a snap, but may be hard to learn.

Puerto Rico HD iconPuerto Rico HD iconPuerto Rico – $7.99, iPad only

I remember when the board game Puerto Rico came out years ago, it shot to the top of the BoardGameGeek list and sat there for a while. The description I’d gotten was “once you’ve cut your teeth on Settlers of Catan, then you can graduate to Puerto Rico.” At the time, since Settlers was one of the meatiest games I’d played, that sounded pretty impressive, and a bit daunting. Now, Puerto Rico has been displaced but it’s still #3 on the list and it’s still a pretty great Eurogame, with resource management and role selection, two mechanics that are found in a lot of other games.

Of course, the one thing about playing Puerto Rico is the setup: there are so many bits and pieces to organize that setting up the game can take you a while — not as long as Arkham Horror, but enough to discourage the casual gamer. Having the app makes it a snap: you just start a game and all of the fiddly management stuff is handled by the computer. You can play online multiplayer through Game Center, or you can play locally up to 5 players, with a mix of AI and human players.

There is a tutorial included in case you haven’t played before, but I’m not sure if I would tackle this app if you haven’t played the physical game before. A lot of things happen that are hard to understand if you don’t already know the game, and identifying the buildings can be really tricky, particularly tracking what other players have done. One nice thing, though, is that there’s an Undo button. If you messed up during your turn, you can hit Undo before you pass it on to the next player — something that I frequently wish Carcassonne had. The downside is that the Puerto Rico app needs the Undo button. It’s far too easy to tap something you didn’t mean to.

If you’re a fan of the game and you want a way to make it portable, easy to set up, and playable against faraway opponents, then the app may be worth getting. Otherwise, I’d suggest checking out the physical game instead. Or playing Carcassonne.

Ascension: Return of the FallenAscension: Return of the Fallen

Ascension continues with the Return of the Fallen expansion.

Ascension app iconAscension app iconAscension – $4.99, plus $2.99 expansion

I’ve been playing a good deal of Ascension lately as well, particularly now that the Return of the Fallen expansion is out. You can read my review of the original app here, so I’ll just mention a few of the differences. I actually hadn’t played RotF in the physical form, but it’s pretty easy to pick up in the app version if you’re already familiar with the base game. One of the main differences (aside from just having a new set of cards) is the “Fate” effect. Some cards have a black band across them (you can see two in the center row pictured above) and they have an effect as soon as the card comes into the center row. For example, the “Stone Circle” card has just come into play, and it allows each player to put a Mystic from the supply onto the top of their deck. The “Ravenous Gorph” over to the left instantly banishes the cards to its left and right as soon as it comes into play. The RotF expansion can also be played as a stand-alone for two players only, or you can combine both decks to play up to four players.

Having played Ascension some more on the iPad, I still hold to some of my initial impressions: I miss having a chat ability; usually if I’m playing somebody I know I resort to using Twitter to send short messages, and then hopping back to the game. However, when you re-enter the Ascension app, you have to go through the menu (Play Online -> Game List -> select a game) to get back into the game; it’s not an automatic jump into the game the way Carcassonne is. I think I like Ascension as an app better than the card game, although sometimes if you’re playing against more than one opponent it can be confusing what just happened when you see a bunch of cards flying onto and off the table as they make their moves.

I’m waiting for my favorite deck-builder, Thunderstone, to arrive on the iPad. Until then, Ascension will have to do.

Ticket to Ride Pocket multiplayerTicket to Ride Pocket multiplayer

Now on Ticket to Ride Pocket: asynchronous online multiplayer

Ticket to RIde Pocket iconTicket to RIde Pocket iconTicket to Ride Pocket – $1.99, iPhone only (separate app for iPad)

This is just a mini-update for you. I’ve mentioned the Ticket to Ride app before, which comes in two separate flavors: Pocket for the iPhone and the full-sized version for the iPad. The iPad version has in-app purchases for additional boards, but the pocket version just offers the original USA map only.

Their latest update last week adds a feature that many players were asking for: asynchronous multiplayer. Days of Wonder CEO Eric Hautemont explained to me in an interview that they had initially not included online multiplayer in Ticket to Ride Pocket because of the differences in the way people use iPhones versus iPads. Since their online multiplayer ties into the same player base as the PC/Mac version, they didn’t want people playing on their computers to have to sit and wait while a player on his iPhone stopped to take a call, or lost a signal when they went through a tunnel on the subway, and so on. However, it seems that enough fans really wanted to play Ticket to Ride on their iPhones that they’ve made this concession. The new “Multi Mode” allows TtR Pocket players to play against Game Center opponents (rather than the Days of Wonder base), start multiple games, and play turn-based games. Note that Multi Mode is for the Pocket version only.

The “Local Mode,” which allows you to play against people on other devices connected via wi-fi or Bluetooth, has been updated (in both the iPad and Pocket versions) to make it easy for you to start up a game with your in-person friends without having to use the Pass-and-Play option.

I haven’t played the Pocket version as much, simply because I’m usually on my iPad (and my old iPod touch’s battery is wearing out), but for those of you on iPhones, it may be a great time to put Ticket to Ride in your pocket.

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