iPadular Board Gaming!

There have been a bunch of new boardgame releases on iPad lately, and here’s a post to tell you about the ones I’ve been enjoying.

Lords of Waterdeep — It was my Game of the Year for 2012, it’s one of my Top 12 Boardgames of Ever, so yes, I was eagerly looking forward to its release on iOS, and it was worth the wait. Playdek’s app is a show-stopper, an excellent execution of the boardgame. I’ve been playing it regularly now with my pals, and just been having a ball. I can’t wait for it to add the expansions that came out to the boardgame this year. This one’s a must-have, I think.

Small World (2) — After Days of Wonder blew everyone away with the original Small World app back when the iPad first came out, they fizzled out. The app languished for a long time, seemingly abandoned, only to be “rebooted” with a new version. That version has the awkward name of “Small World 2”, implying it’s some kind of sequel when in fact it’s a redo. The redo is very nicely done, but there’s one issue that kills the whole thing for me: asynchronous games (games where you play against someone else, each taking your turn when you feel like it) have an upper limit of 48 hours. This is absurd. Small World is perfect for async play, but timing out after two measly days? That’s ridiculous. Every game I started ended up timing out. As a result, this has gotten zero plays since it was first released, and I don’t see that changing unless they extend that time period.

A Brief History of the World — Codito was one of the first companies to start porting board games over to iPad, and their latest effort seems to be more stable than their previous ones. Brief History is a sort of “dudes on a map” game where, over seven epochs, each player takes the role of a different empire. Who you are has no bearing on who you were before (you can be in the Middle East in one turn and then pop up in China the next) but your guys all stay on the map until they’re wiped out. It’s a shorter version of the game “History of the World” and frankly, that’s a more interesting game. Brief History ends up being not much different from Small World, and since that app is a no-go for me, I defer to this one. That seems kind of weak, I know, but that’s really the most I can say for it.

Pandemic — This is one of my favorite cooperative games. It’s tough and tense, and a lot of fun. However, like many co-ops, it can suffer from just one “alpha player” calling the shots for everyone. That’s why the iPad port is perfect. You can be the alpha player all you want and send the CDC where its needed without a bunch of other people screwing up your plans. The app is smooth and the graphics, recreating the most recent version of the boardgame, really give you a feeling of being in the Situation Room. It’s a great solo game, and it looks like they’re gradually bringing in bits of the “On the Brink” expansion as well.

Suburbia — This one was just released last week and came with what should have been a show-stopping bug, except it inexplicably never showed up during playtesting. Though it hasn’t been updated yet, the problem has been identified and can be avoided. Suburbia, the boardgame, is an attempt to bring a sort of SimCity style experience to board gaming. You place elements in your city that affect your population, income, and popularity, and the elements not only work with each other, but may work with things on the other players’ boards. What the app has shown is that this probably should have been a videogame in the first place. The amount of calculating and recalculating based on every tile play is frustrating, and it’s much better to have the computer track it. That said, the videogame version should almost be more of a videogame. I want to know, at a glance, what kind of “global” effects are in place (like, if an opponent has a tile that gives +1 income to all restaurants, I want to know that). People will say that this is the job of the player in the boardgame, and they’re right, which is why I’m cool with losing the boardgame aspect altogether. I can’t say this won’t get a lot of play, but even ported to computer it’s still kind of more trouble than it should be.

Dead Man’s Draw — This actually isn’t based on an existing card game, but it might as well be, and probably should be released as one. Nothing about it would prevent that. It’s a push-your-luck card game with a lot of strategy and fun added in. There are ten suits, each with cards 2-7 in it. On your turn you draw cards one at a time until you “bust” or stop. You bust if you get two cards of the same suit, at which point all the cards go into the bust pile and your turn ends. If you stop before you bust, you claim all the cards for points. However, only your highest card in each suit scores, so the better you’re doing, the harder it is to get more points. On top of that, each suit has a special ability: swords let you steal from the other guy, cannons let you put one of his cards in the bust pile, globes let you see the next card to be drawn, anchors protect you from busting, and so forth. You can also unlock and use traits which boost your cards even more. It is a lot of fun. There’s some of the usual in-app purchase stuff, but it’s mostly to get gold faster instead of playing the game to earn it, so I think it’s completely optional. If this was a card game I could buy, it would be in my top 10 for the year, I think.

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