Over the past year I’ve gotten back into board gaming, having been attending/hosting semi-regular games nights with friends and buying new games for our group to play. However there has always been a hurdle stopping me going game crazy: price. I’m reluctant to spend £25 or over on a game I may end up not liking, for me it’s too much of a risk, but luckily my iPad has offered up an alternative to just buying and hoping. Apps represent a relatively inexpensive way of trying out board games; for less than £5 I get an indication of whether it’s worth me buying the physical version, and a version of said game that I can play on the go. The apps reviewed here will mainly be games I’ve played before or am considering buying the physical versions of, and yes, I realise some of them are not technically board games.
NB: The titles of each app reviewed are links to the app page on iTunes.
Yggdrasil (£3.99) ★★★★☆
If you’ve read my Yggdrasil review then you’ll know that after just a few plays it became my favourite board game, and when I heard that an iOS app was being made I got very excited. I didn’t buy it immediately after it was released as I didn’t know whether it was worth having an iPad version of a game I already own, but I’m glad I finally decided to. Game play wise its the same as the board game, there’s had to be no adjustment of the mechanics or rules in the transition to an app. The app automatically scores your game, something our group has never done when playing before. At first I didn’t think much to the scoring – you either win or you don’t – but as soon as I saw my first victory score the competitive part of my brain kicked in and I knew I had to beat it on my next play. I’m no longer just playing to win, I’m playing to win in the best possible way. With the app I’ve found myself much more willing to play a solo game than I am with the board game, which I think is mainly down to it being a lot less of a hassle to set up for a quick game. The app is not as polished as the Carcassonne one, not all the images are Retina Display quality which, while being a bit annoying, is something you don’t really notice when you’re playing, and there are a few bits of the UI I would do differently.
Tantrix (Free) ★★★☆☆
Not some weird iPad sex game, Tantrix is a tile matching game where you have to build the largest path of your colour to win. In some cases areas of the board will emerge that have a limited number of solutions, in theses situations player are forced to play tiles to avoid breaking the game. In the real game you have to spot these yourself, which of course introduces human error . Luckily for me the app indicates such regions and the possible tiles that will fit there meaning none are missed, it also stops you playing tiles in places that would cause problems, places that could potentially be missed if it’s just up to the players to spot them. The app functions pretty much identically to the real game, but with 2 minor limitations. Whereas in the real game you can have up to 4 players, the app is limited to just 2, and there is no solo player challenge present. At first glance I think it could have been made to work with 4, the fact that you can move and scale the board means you’re not completely limited on space, but it may just be too cramped with 4 player docks. I’m not a fan of the design or UI of the app. In terms of design I think a solid colour background would be nicer than the fake wood , and as for UI, in order to move a piece on the board you first have to take it back to your dock, then replace it, rather than just moving where it is. I can’t figure out a reason for this implementation, so I’m going to assume it was just lazy coding.
Zombie Dice (Free) ★★☆☆☆
Zombie Dice is a quick little dice game from same people that did Munchkin. The aim of the game is to be the first one to collect 13 brains by taking it in turns to roll dice. The dice can either display a brain, feet or a shotgun blast. You keep brains, re-roll feet dice, and take the shotgun blasts as wounds. Get three wounds and your go is over and you lose any brains you had collected. As you can see from the screenshot the app is very simple and has a very basic design. Despite working in the exact same way as the real game the app is not as fun. It makes it far more apparent how much of the game is just random chance. Yes, the real game is as random, but by rolling the dice yourself you get the illusion of skill, you can falsely convince yourself that it was down to you that you rolled 6 brains in a row. The app however takes away this illusion by making the computer handle the rolling for you, all you have to do is decide to stop or carry on as you watch a random number generator go through the motions. This app really convinced me that no matter how well digital board games take off, rolling a dice will always be done by the players.
Carcassonne (£6.99)  ★★★★★
The Carcassonne app was the first board game that I got on the iPad, not long after playing the real game for the first time. It is a brilliant example of how great board gaming can be on a tablet. This is not just a case of a quick port to the app store (like I suspect Zombie Dice was), there has obviously been a lot of effort put in and the app works just as well as, if not better than, it does in real life. Unlike a few of the apps I’ve seen, Carcassonne retains all of the features of the original game, specifically that it can support up to 5 players. Too many apps seem to reduce the number of players the game can support, for reasons which are not always apparent. I think Carcassonne lends itself well to allowing for multiple players due in part to the relatively small amount of information that needs to be visible; all you need are scores and number of meeples. For games where more info is needed, I can see the amount of screen real estate potentially becoming a problem. If anyone wants to get into board gaming on the iPad then this should definitely be the first game on your list.
I think e-board games are the way forward for gaming. When done right technology can add a new level to gaming without detracting from the experience. It can take over the jobs that, while necessary, are not done optimally by humans, things such as laying out and lining up tiles perfectly, keeping the positioning of counters and tokens consistent, removing the hassle of running out of table space or losing bits, etc. These things of course aren’t integral to the game but, for me at least, getting an app to handle them simplifies the game without making it completely autonomous.
I’m notoriously bad at spotting forced regions but for some people it’s trivial.↩
Or at least an option to change it. How hard can it be to include just a couple of different backgrounds?↩