When I first got my iPad, one thing I was jazzed about doing on it was playing boardgames. The promise of a library of games I could play whenever I wanted against AIs, against real opponents, or asynchronously (I’ll explain this in a moment), was huge. Since then, the number of boardgame translations on the iPad has skyrocketed, with more on the way every day. At first I tended to grab just about every iPad version of a boardgame, even if I only thought the game was so-so, but lately I’ve been slowing down on my purchases after seeing just how few of them ever got actually played. (Also, I’ve eventually come to realize that a board game I don’t like the regular edition of — such as Puerto Rico or Summoner Wars, which I inexplicably bought the apps for, and Ticket to Ride, which I didn’t — is not a good app for me to purchase.)
When it comes to playing against an AI, it turns out I’m just not that interested. There are very few games I want to play just to play those games. I like Settlers of Catan, but I never really want to just sit down by myself and play it against AIs. It’s not even whether or not the AIs are challenging, it’s just that this isn’t something I tend to want to do. The few exceptions of boardgames I’ve spent a fair amount of time playing against an AI are Small World and Neuroshima Hex, both of which didn’t at the time offer async play (Small World still doesn’t, which is a shame. It would be perfect.) When it comes to playing them against someone else in person, that also is something I have hardly done, though it has happened.
This leaves asynchronous play. What I mean by that is a game where you can fire it up, take your turn, and then be done. Eventually your opponents take their turn, then you take yours. You’re playing against real people, but not in “real time” — you don’t have to be sitting at the iPad at the same time. Obviously, some boardgames aren’t really made for this sort of play. Settlers of Catan, with its trading on nearly every turn, or Magic, with its reactions to opponent’s play, aren’t games where you can just take your turn and walk away until your opponent is done taking his. Other games, such as Tigris and Euphrates require a long-term strategy that is hard to focus on when you have multiple games going on or when the pauses between moves are too long.
I like async because I don’t want to have to coordinate a time with a friend when we’ll both be online and then sit in front of the iPad for an hour playing. This is the ideal scenario for me, or so I thought, and many games now feature it, but it turns out there are only a few I’m really interested in playing so far.
Scrabble (and its idiot child, Words With Friends) got a lot of play out of me before I kind of burned out a bit (I’m about ready to start up again.) I like word games and these are just perfect for asynchronous gaming. They’re tactical, meaning you act based on what is in front of you at any given moment rather than depending on any long-term strategy you have to keep in mind from turn to turn. (At least, that’s how it is for me, maybe better players do have a long game they play.) I prefer Scrabble to WWF but most of my friends don’t (as one costs an absurd $10 and one is free) so I end up playing the latter more. For either one, though, I have no time for whiners who are all, “You’re playing words I’ve never heard of! You must be cheating!” If that’s you, don’t even challenge me because I ain’t wanna hear it.
In theory, Tikal and Neuroshima Hex should be good for this sort of gaming, but as it stands, I’ve never been able to complete a multiplayer game of either. In the case of Tikal, our games always ended up falling prey to some bug or other, and in the case of Neuroshima Hex, twice I tried to play in async games and twice updates to the app wiped out our game in progress. So I’m only speculating that these are worth it.
Carcassonne is notable because it was one of the first board games to be translated to the iPad and it came out of the gate as one of the best. It’s about as perfect an implementation as one could hope for. In fact, the only caveats I can think of are that I don’t recommend playing with more than three players (it supports more, but above that the game becomes pretty pointless) and you’d think a game with as many expansions as this (I believe it was Andy Warhol who said that in the future, everyone will be a Carcassonne expansion) some more would be available. Still, I highly recommend it. That said, I haven’t played it in a while because I burnt out on it as well.
Ascension is probably my favorite multiplayer iPad game at the moment. Again, as a mostly-tactical game, it’s really easy to juggle a dozen or so simultaneous games. Turns offer a lot of options, yet are pretty quick. There have been two full expansions released so far with a third coming later this year, so it hasn’t gotten too samey for me. Some folks wish there was a chat or message function available to the players, which would be nice, but I don’t consider that a dealbreaker. When people ask me about async boardgames, this and Carcassonne are the ones I mention first.
As for the opposite side, there was much consternation last week when the long-awaited Thunderstone was released. This is a deckbuilding game I love and it would be absolutely perfect for the iPad. As far as I was concerned, it was an instant buy. However, what came out was not what I — or anyone else — was hoping for. It’s an app that simply acts as a portal to a Facebook Thunderstone game. This means you have to have an Internet connection and Facebook login to play it. I’ve played the Facebook game and it’s okay, but you have to pay to unlock cards beyond the initial free ones, and someone calculated that to get them all (and this provide the basic game experience) you’d have to pay almost $40, which is absurd for an iPad game. To make matters worse, folks are saying the thing runs slow and sloppy on the iPad. It’s a shame, not only because I so wanted a good Thunderstone game, but also because this same company has similar plans for Dominion, Race for the Galaxy, and Citadels, which they also have the rights to.
Then there’s Le Havre which was also a huge mistake for me. Now, I am not a fan of the actual boardgame. In fact, it probably could be said that I loathe it. I only bought the iPad version because I knew that some pals of mine were excited for it and would be wanting to play it and I figured I could play the thing for them. But lord, I was not thinking. It should be said that it seems to be a pretty faithful and well-done version of this tedious and dull exercise, so if Le Havre is something you somehow find entertainment in, here you go. But Le Havre is a game in which you do one thing on your turn, and it’s usually something trivial. See, Le Havre is one of those maddening Uwe Rosenberg games where every action is broken down into tiny micro-actions. You get some wood. You get some clay. You get some steel. You turn the clay into bricks. You get some food. Now you can build a building. You do each of those things on one turn, and that’s the only thing you do on those turns, and that’s assuming those things are even available when your turn comes around. Maybe there isn’t any steel, so instead you grab a fish or some money or whatever and wait for steel to show up. It’s agonizing enough when it’s happening in real-time, but spread out over a bunch of daily turns? Nations will rise and fall before you accomplish anything in this goddamn game. I resigned the one game I was playing of it last night and deleted the app.
So anyway, lots of good gaming available, and also Le Havre, but what would all this new stuff be without my weirdo idiosyncrasies to screw it all up? The thing about asynchronous play is that I could turn on my iPad and have all my games ready for me to take my turns in them. I usually did this at night, when I was going to bed. And for some reason I would start to dread this. I’d see that I had like 7 games of Words With Friends waiting for me to take my turn and it would feel like I had seven people screaming at me to get on with it. And that was just WWF; I’d also have a bunch of other games breathing down my neck. Some nights I just didn’t want to deal with it or was too tired and they’d languish another day, which just made it more nerve-wracking. You don’t have to tell me this is crazy behavior, I know it is.
It was also meaning that comics were piling up next to my bed. Instead of reading them, I was taking twenty-six turns in Carcassonne. So I finished all my games and didn’t start any new ones. For a couple months I went game-free and actually did something before bed other than play the same three or four games over and over. Eventually I started up again, but only one game, Ascension. I’m about to finish up with that and switch over to Carcassonne or Words With Friends again, just for some variety. I think it’s easier for me to deal with if it’s mostly just one at a time.
I’m beginning to learn my lesson here and am tempering my iPad board game buying. San Juan just came out and it’s supposed to be really well done. It’s a game I love the real version of (it was one of my first “10″s on Board Game Geek) and I believe it has async. But it’s eight bucks, and while that’s not expensive, it is if it will never get played. I have enough boardgames on the iPad that I never touch, so paying that much for possibly another one doesn’t appeal to me. I’m sure I’ll get it if it goes on sale or if I see that it really is worth it, but for now, nope.