It feels like almost every game out there is getting translated into an iOS version these days. Many are perfectly fine versions of their tabletop brethren, some are bloody awful, and a shining few are actually pretty great. For a portable version to truly work, it’s got to have a couple of elements in there as a base to build off.
First of all, a player’s turn has to be quick and self contained – performing an action that requires input from another player before you’re able to continue your turn is just annoying, hence the fact they slightly tweaked the gameplay in Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer. Second, you MUST have asynchronous play; any game that requires all players to be online at the same time is just a massive pain in the backside when you want to organise a game. You may as well just sit round the table, which is totally against what iOS gaming is about. We’re after quick bursts, not an hour or more of staring at a small screen.
I’ve written in the past about some of the better releases out there and now I’d like to add a couple more to the list of essentials: Lost Cities and Summoner Wars.
Based on the Reiner Knizia classic, Lost Cities is a game that’s made for portable play. Strictly for two players, it’s a simple card game that has one minor downside when playing in the real world – scoring. There are five colours (made up of twelve cards numbered 2 to 10 and three multipliers) that represent expeditions to the fabled Lost Cities of the title. Each turn sees a player laying a card down from their hand of eight, adding it to one of their expeditions or discarding it which could allow your opponent to grab it. Beginning a new colour immediately puts you at a disadvantage, setting you back at least -20 points (and perhaps even more if you’ve chosen to play multipliers first).
Any cards you play have to increase in number, all of which add to your score, and it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what you opponent is putting out on their side of the board. With only a small amount of cards available per colour it’s difficult to even reach a positive number a lot of the time and it’s often a case of focusing on maximising one expedition while cutting your losses on all the others. It’s one of those games where it doesn’t matter if you’re doing badly; as long as you’re just performing better than the other person, it’s grand.
The iOS version has been created by The Coding Monkeys, the guys who are also responsible for the remarkably good Carcassonne (which I’m still playing every day). Rather than grab the rights to as many licences as possible and put out shoddy products (hello Goko!), they focus on creating easy to use adaptations that play well and look good. The AI characters offer a decent challenge (as well as a great tutorial) and turns take mere moments; it’s also very easy to switch between your games once you’ve finished what you need to do. The fact that it keeps track of your scoring after every single card has been played means that I’d much sooner play this version than the regular one.
Playdek is another company who have made quite the reputation in the field of iOS board game conversions. Developers of the previously mentioned digital crack that is Ascension, they’ve now also partnered with Plaid Hat Games to bring Summoner Wars to your iPhone and my oh my… they’ve done very well. First up, it’s a free download which is great; you get access to the full game engine and a deck to play with for nothing. If you want to access the other races you can augment your game through in-app purchases, and this also allows you to indulge in building your own decks if you’re that way inclined.
Games either take place against the rock-hard AI or real life opposition and turns are made up of a series of different actions. Cards representing your warriors are summoned to the board (assuming you have the required magic to do so). This is followed by you triggering events and building walls. Next it’s on to movement, then combat and finally sacrificing cards to your magic pile. As you can probably tell, Summoner Wars is way more involved than Lost Cities, but it never feels overwhelming. Having a bit of experience with the real game will probably give you a bit of a heads-up, but even a novice will get to grips with how the game works quickly. Actually winning a battle is a different matter, however…
Both games offer very different experiences but are great examples of how to decently translate something to an iOS device. I look forward to seeing what both Coding Monkeys and Playdek come up with in future – especially what Playdek are going to do with Agricola – and heartily recommend Lost Cities and Summoner Wars for anyone who fancies some quality gaming on the go. If you fancy a match up, add me on GameCenter: my username is idlemichael. Go easy on me though, yeah?