State of the Union 2011: Part One – The Digital Bit

It’s already been said a lot this year, but 2011 really has been incredible for games. I’ll write about why I reckon this is so soon, but in this – the first of three end-of-year wrap-ups – I really wanted to focus on the iOS games that seem to have exploded this year. Sure, if you don’t have access to a device capable of playing them (iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch), this may well be no more than a vaguely interesting read (hopefully!) but I felt that these fantastic interpretations deserved a tip of the hat.

Seriously, I love this one. Exactly how a game should be translated to iOS.

Out of all the games I’ve played on my iPhone this year, Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer has taken up a huge amount of my time. A perfect replica of the original release from Gary Games (which you can see a review of here), it’s a brilliant version of the quick-playing deck builder. It’s very easy to explain to new players yet still has enough depth in there to not leave experienced gamers bored. One of the most appealing aspects with Ascension is the fact it runs asynchronous play – a very important addition to any iOS game release! The push notifications that signify it’s your turn are always a welcome sight and turns take mere moments, but if your opposition are online, games can also be played in real time. With the recent addition of the first expansion (“Return of the Fallen”) there’s now a whole raft of new monsters to defeat, heroes to recruit and additional mechanics to try out, plus you can also combine both versions. An excellent game all round and one of my favourites of the year.

The daddy of them all is still going great, especially now it finally has expansions.

A long time favourite that has recently seen a new lease of life thanks to the addition of expansions is the fantastic Carcassonne. It’s been out for some time and is pretty much the poster child for how iOS games should be made: there’s an excellent user interface, the rules are straightforward and – again – there’s that all important asynchronous play facility. This has been a mainstay of my mobile gaming life since it was released back in 2010 and I always have a couple of games on the go, but with the recent additions of The River and Inns and Cathedrals expansions I’ve noticed a rise in the number of players who are getting back into it. One minor downside is the price – at £6.99 / $9.99 you don’t need a laser pointer to realise it is one of the most expensive iOS game releases, but it is well worth handing over the cash.

Not everyone’s cup of tea, sure – but Arkham fans will love it.

The portable version of Fantasy Flight’s dice-rolling extravaganza Elder Sign is an incredibly high quality production. Specifically built for solo play, it’s actually called Elder Sign: Omens and from the moment you boot it up you’ll be impressed. It’s a stunning looking game that sees you choose a group of four investigators looking to save the world from the Great Old One Azathoth. While it’s referred to as casting runes in the game, it’s all about rolling digital dice and matching them to symbols that make up missions. When missions are completed, the player will be rewarded with objects to assist their quest and – with luck – the titular Elder Signs that are required to imprison Azathoth for good. While I really enjoy this game, I’ve seen that it can be a bit marmite with others – the main feeling amongst those who have negative opinions is that it’s too difficult and random despite being a stripped back version of the original. However, if you’ve even got the slightest interest in the Cthulhu mythos, it’s a fun diversion. Now, if we could just get a few different GOOs to take on? Please?

Amazing how well this one works on such a small screen. A fantastic adaptation.

Another simplified version of a larger game next. Ticket to Ride Pocket was released specifically for iPhone and iPod Touch late in the autumn, the little brother to its big iPad sibling. This pocket version focuses on single-player action against a range of AI bots but also offers options for Pass & Play as well as Local Play – fantastic if you’ve got a couple of people armed with their phones! Using the original USA map, the game is incredibly speedy and does everything it can to make your life simple. Destination tickets can be prodded to have them show up on the map and placing tickets by playing cards is a simple matter of dragging your finger across the screen. Anyone who has sat around and tried out the original will take to this immediately, especially as it looks exactly the same as the tabletop game. A minor downside: there’s no compatibility with the iPad release, but to compensate for this Days of Wonder have made it dirt cheap!

There are, of course, hundreds of other games out there that you can play on your various shiny iOS devices, but those four mentioned will keep you happy for a minimum amount of cash. Not everything is a bright and shining piece of brilliance, admittedly: there’s a lot of digital takes on Hasbro titles that really feel like cash-in efforts, for example. However, a little digging about will throw out some little gems… just try typing “Knizia” into the search engine on the App Store and see how much pops up! Just avoid FiTS, OK? Through the Desert is pretty good though… maybe I’ll grab that one again…

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