Meanwhile at the Front: Summoner Wars on iOS – Preview

Well, there was no chance of me getting to GenCon this year – it’s too far to travel and my bus pass just isn’t enough to get me over the Atlantic. A few weeks back I received a message from Plaid Hat Games‘ founder Colby Dauch with some exciting news – his fantastic creation Summoner Wars was coming to a handheld near you (assuming you’re part of the Apple fanboy team). How gutted was I to not be able to see it? Very. But I knew a man who could help – Patrick Nickell from Crash Games. Here’s what he saw.

We’ve all been there before, we hear that our favorite board game is being developed for the iOS and we chomp at the bit for any tiny peek or piece of news that is out there. Weeks and months go by and finally the game is in the App Store ready for purchase and we scream with glee as we watch the download meter progress. At last, the game is ours! How did we ever live without it?! Oh no, wait a minute – this can’t be right. The excitement quickly fades and the initial disappointment sets in as we realize that the iOS version looks nothing like the game we know and love – even worse, it doesn’t even play anything like the game we want. Thankfully, fans of Summoner Wars will not have to experience the above mentioned scenario… In fact they will have quite the opposite experience.

Recently (at GenCon 2011) I had the privilege of sitting down with Colby Dauch of Plaid Hat Games, designer and creator of Summoner Wars, as well as the team from Incinerator Studios to take a very special sneak peek at the Summoner Wars App that will soon be released for iOS systems. Since the physical game was out on a demo table for GenCon attendees to learn it was quite easy to look over at the physical game to compare while being given a guided tour of the game on the iPad. The transition of the look and feel of the physical game compared to the App was nearly seamless upon my first initial view and things only got better as the demonstration progressed. Fans of the beautiful art that makes the cards stand out in the physical Summoner Wars game will not be disappointed as that same imagery is found in the digital game. To sweeten the pot just a little bit, the developers at Incinerator Studios have added scrolling background artwork to some of the cards and there are plans to add in more movement based art to indicate damage and health in the final version.

The phases for the game were clearly listed so that players will know exactly where they stand currently in the game. Double tapping a card brought the card to the center of the screen and enlarged it so that players can take a detailed look at any of them if they need to jog their memory. It really feels like you are playing the actual board game with each and every move yet the cumbersome task of set-up, break down and shuffling is simply bypassed in a digital game. Many of the features that board game conversions lack when initially launched on iOS (such as online functionality and pass-and-play) can certainly add to an immense amount of fan frustration ; that will not be the case for Summoner Wars.

The development team at Incinerator Studios has taken great care to ensure that right from the get go players will have a strong list of features that include: Quick Play that allows players to jump right into a game, “Hotseat mode” which allows pass-and-play for 2 to 4 players, a tutorial mode teaching new players the basics, an adjustable difficulty level, a rule book, glossary and – most surprisingly – the ability to save multiple games. Players can expect to be able to have asynchronous online play, integration with Apple’s Game Center as well as player profiles with achievement tracking. Time is being taken by the development team at Incinerator Studios to ensure that the quality of Summoner Wars is second to none. The game will be released as a Universal App for the iOS which means both the iPhone and the iPad will support the application.

After having the opportunity to sit down and play Summoner Wars on the iPad I am truly impressed at the level of quality and gameplay. While there were some aspects that weren’t quite fully developed they were unimportant, minute aspects of the game and after seeing the level of quality and the commitment of everyone involved I am sure the game will be extremely sharp by the time it is ready to be released. When I pressed for a more exact release date I struck out and was told that Fall 2011 is the aim but after seeing how much is already done I cannot help but think that it will be sooner rather than later. Summoner Wars on the iOS is a must buy for not only fans of the game but for anyone that appreciates polished, very playable games in the App Store.

Don’t forget, the analogue version of Summoner Wars was reviewed here (and the new version of the game, the Summoner Wars Master Set, is due for release by the end of 2011). Thanks to Patrick for checking out the game! You can find him contributing to the excellent Dice Hate Me podcast as well as on Twitter: @Crash_Games)

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