You’ve Got the Whole Board in your Hands

There’s truly no replacement for the sensations of a good board game: The ‘klik-klak’ of the smooth-sided dice as they roll in your hand, surveying a battlefield that’s small enough to fit the dinner table, listening to friends laugh with triumph and cry out with defeat. But there are times and places – the bus, a plane, your dentist’s chair – when you just don’t want to lose a key component to that $40 game in the cracks of a chair. These are times when you need an alternative; these are times when you need an app for that. Luckily, some of the best and most popular board (and dice!) games of all time are now available for iPhone.

Catan: The First Island
A gateway game is that which bridges the gap between gaming familiar – like Monopoly – with something a bit more complex and geeky – like Arkham Horror. The Settlers of Catan is, perhaps, the greatest gateway game of all time, having sold millions of copies since its introduction 14 years ago. The reason for its success is easy: simple game mechanics with deep replay and strategy value. The objective is straightforward: gather enough resources, expand intelligently, and be the first to build enough settlements and cities on the island of Catan to force your opponents to kneel before you as supreme ruler.

The iPhone app for Catan contains all the components that make the board game so successful and fun, with a few new twists. Although you can play with up to four human players by passing the phone around form turn to turn, hot-seat style, you can also play against the computerized AI opponents. Each of these bitmapped bandits have a distinct personality that you can learn over a few games, so you can try and predict their moves, just like playing against your old friends. Again, nothing can compare to the real thing, but Catan: The First Island provides a very rich and rewarding experience in the palm of your hand.

Catan: The First Island is available in the Apps store on iTunes for $4.99.

Carcassone could be considered another enjoyable gateway game, and you can discover it – and share it with friends – on your iPhone. Carcassone is based around the concept of a sprawling medieval township, like that in historical Carcassone, France, in which you take turns drawing random tiles and placing them advantageously next to existing ones. During the game, you can add onto or complete castles; long, winding roads; or large farming fields in which you can place your followers – known affectionately as Meeples. The player with the most points, as determined by “captured” territory that your Meeples rest upon, at the end of the game wins.

The iPhone app features both multiplayer and AI play, with up to 8 players per game. The only drawback to the app is that there is no hot-seat function; all human-interactive play is handle via local network or internet play. Still, the art, the easy-to-use interface, and the near-limitless replay value make this electronic version of a board classic worth checking out.

Carcassone is available in the Apps store on iTunes for $4.99.

Roll Through the Ages
Roll Through the Ages might not yet be considered a gateway game, but I’d roll the dice and bet that it soon will be. This truncated version of Matt Leacock’s Through the Ages is a fun and rewarding dice game based on building “a thriving civilization – in under and hour!” Gameplay is pretty straightforward – you roll dice equal to the number of cities you’ve built and use the results to build other cities or developments (which give you special abilities) or monuments, which give you extra points at the end of the game. You can read a far more in-depth review of game mechanics and fun factor by my Examiner colleague Skip Maloney.

The iPhone version of Roll Through the Ages features all the same addictive gameplay as the original, only you don’t get the thrill of rolling those oversized, wooden dice each round. The app game features solo play and hot-seat play against four of your good friends. However, there is no computer AI to play against, which is a bit of a letdown. Still, it’s a wonderful way to pass the day, building a grand civilization all from the relative comfort of your semi-reclining airline seat.

Roll Through the Ages is available in the Apps store on iTunes for $4.99.

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