The Taste of Digital Analog: iOS Games Reviews

There comes a time in every gamer’s life when they look up from their work/latte/nap and search their souls for the answer to a very important question: “Should I get an iPad?” In this gamer’s case, the answer – finally – was a resounding yes. And, lo, I gathered Christmas funds and gift cards and nickels and dimes and journeyed to my local Apple store for that magical thin tablet wherein I could occasionally turn my extreme analog passion into a passing digital pastime. Now that said tablet is in my possession, I – and many others – may ask another very important question: “Was it worth it?” Honestly, I’m not sure just yet but I’m going to write about the whole thing anyway, so let’s just get started.

For the most part, the following reviews will be from the iPad user’s experience. However, I’ll be sure to note when an app is optimized for iPad and iPhone. Since I also have an Android phone, I’ll note if there’s a comparable Android version of the app, as well – and if it’s any good.

Ticket to Ride

Search the internets for a “best of” list of must-have iPad apps, and Ticket to Ride is at the top of the list. What most lists fail to mention, however, is the hefty (for an app) price tag of $6.99. In the end, I decided to hand in the cash to check out the game for the sake of comprehensive journalism – at least, that’s what I told Monkey238, anyway. Thankfully, the money seemed well-spent. The Ticket to Ride app is gorgeous and smooth, with no hiccups (so far) and an extremely user-friendly interface. The AI is just as sneaky and annoying as playing against a certain Monkey who always seems to know what routes I need at just the right time. And even the sounds – and soundtrack – won’t make you want to claw at your ears after a few hours of play. In fact, I’m betting more than a few won’t be able to stop humming “Red River Valley” for days – and like it!

In summary, unless you’ve played Ticket to Ride until you never want to think about nor get near a train again in your lifetime, this app is a real treat for the tablet.

Impression score: 6 out of 6

Ticket to Ride is produced by Days of Wonder and is compatible with Game Center. It’s available in the iTunes store for $6.99.

Forbidden Island

If Ticket to Ride is considered by many to be the “killer app” of iPad boardgaming, Forbidden Island may just assassinate it. And although I’m not the biggest fan of coops, even I was seduced by its beautiful charms the moment I saw the starter screen. The graphics and interface are superb, and the sounds are immersive, but what sets this app apart is the attention to detail. One of the layout options is labelled “tabletop,” and it allows gamers situated around a table the ability to easily see their turn position and cards – because they’re oriented toward the player. That may not be the sexiest feature you’ve ever heard of, but to this gamer (and lover of the little things) it’s actually a selling point.

If you’re a fan of Forbidden Island – or just coops, in general – then this app is a must-buy. If you like digital boardgaming, then this app is a must-buy. If you like pretty, sparkly things, then this app is a must-buy. Or, you can just go back to playing Bejewelled for the 856th time.

Impression score: 6 out of 6

Forbidden Island is produced by Button Mash Games for Gamewright and is compatible with Game Center. It’s available in the iTunes store for $4.99.

Puerto Rico

Ah, Puerto Rico. The Euro darling of the hardcore gamerati has finally gone digital – and what an app! Now every gamer can thrill to ka-ching after ka-ching of coin-jingling sound clips as their little round brown blobby things go flying into plantations and warehouses – at least I think they’re plantations and warehouses. They all kind of look the same. But, hey, at least we get to see corn and indigo flower and grow in tiny little garden plots – as long as we throw a little round brown blobby thing at them. How do you throw those little round blobby things around? I have no idea – I just randomly touch the area near my swarthy (or regal) avatar and they come flying out. There’s no such thing as control when the icons/buttons are 8 pixels X 8 pixels. And the soundtrack – just try and get the acoustic guitar jams of Angels We Have Heard on High peppered with a vague Spanish rendition of the traditional Gloria en Excelsis Deo out of your head after the first thirty minutes of it on repeat. I’ll tell you right now – you can’t, unless you put on some Hansen, and I think we all know where that’s headed.

But, hey, at least it’s Puerto Rico. On the iPad. In glorious HD.

Impression score: 3 out of 6 (because, hey, it’s Puerto Rico)

Puerto Rico is produced by Ravensburger Digital and is compatible with Game Center. It’s available in the iTunes store for $7.99.

Kingsburg: Serving the Crown

I first played Kingsburg the board game back in October after hearing countless comparisons to Alien Frontiers. After playing, I can safely say that, other than dice and dice modification, Kingsburg is no Alien Frontiers. However, I still found the experience enjoyable and contemplated picking up a copy – so when I saw that the app was available, I jumped at the chance to give it a shot. After playing, I can safely say that, other than dice and dice modification, Kingsburg the app is no Kingsburg the board game. Since the game is optimized for the iPhone, the developers have had to make certain concessions with the user interface – concessions which are actually quite annoying. The most blatant offender comes when choosing how to allocate your dice to the court advisors. In the board game, you can clearly see all the advisors laid out in order with the value of dice needed to gain their favor and take their gifts. Not so in the app; players must first create a value combination with the dice and then an advisor is revealed. With three and, sometimes four, dice and the +/-2 value tokens thrown in the mix, the variations can add up, and players will spend half the game turning dice on and off again to find the “sweet spot.” For anyone who has never played the board game and who isn’t familiar with the mix of advisors, this lack of a tactical overview could be a real game-changer, not only in figuring out what you want to do each turn, but also in understanding and countering the possibilities of your opponents.

Despite the annoyances, the fun and challenge of the board game is still intact, and Kingsburg will probably satisfy those i-gamers who like to have a little dice in their deeper games – at least until the long-anticipated Alien Frontiers iPad app makes its debut.

Impression score: 4 out of 6

Kingsburg: Serving the Crown is produced by iNigma and is compatible with Game Center. It’s available in the iTunes store for $4.99

Roll Through the Ages

And speaking of dice, I originally grabbed Roll Through the Ages when I had an iPhone and it was at the bargain price of $.99. It was worth all 99 pennies. The app doesn’t throw a whole lot of flair at the player, but it doesn’t need to; the user interface is fairly easy to navigate, and the rules aren’t that difficult to grasp, especially for players who’ve played the analog game. One of the best/worst features of the game is the food monitor that lets you know when you have enough food to feed your people. It’s the best because it lets you be a bit lazy and speeds up gameplay by doing all the calculations for you. It’s the worst feature because it never tells you exactly how much food you have, so you could be rolling in the wheat and not even know it. This, of course, slows gameplay at times because you have to backtrack and figure out if you’d rather have two workers or two food on those split dice. Overall, though, Roll Through the Ages is a decent port of a solid casual game and will satisfy the digital dice cravings nicely – especially for iPhone users who want to play a quick 15-minute game on the daily bus/train.

Impression score: 4 out of 6

Roll Through the Ages is produced by Vintru, LLC and is not compatible with Game Center. It’s available in the iTunes store for $2.99.

Bang! HD

Bang! is one of my gaming group’s all-time favorite card games, and holds the position of not only the most-played game, but the most-owned game. Every friend, family member or coworker we all introduce the game to seems to want it for their next reunion, party, or camping trip. And so, on the day I bought my iPad, right there in the Apple Store while I was waiting for the complete set-up, I logged into the free Wi-Fi and plunked down the coin for Bang! The port over to iOS remains one of the best I’ve seen for any game, with slick graphics, fantastic sound and a very useful interface – and that’s all fine and dandy as long as you just want to play Bang! as a straight card game. However, what seems to be hard to distill into digital form is the sneaky, backstabbing, social play that makes the analog game so darn fun to play. In Bang! you have to play your cards right, but just as in Poker, you’re typically playing your opponents more than the cards. The same is true in the original Bang! and without the full social experience, this version falls short.

I will give credit to the developers, though, for trying to make the AI seems as human as possible; quite often, I’ve found them to be almost as sneaky as those two-faced varmints I work with and play against. Almost.

Impression score: 5 out of 6

Bang! HD is produced by Palzoun & SpinVector and is compatible with Game Center. It’s available in the iTunes store for $4.99


Those of you dear readers and friends who know me best probably also know my opinion of the average Reiner Knizia game – best left on the shelf. Now, don’t get me wrong, I admire the good doctor’s prolific nature and his zeal for games, but me and a Knizia game typically go together like hammers and panties; that is to say, not well. From time to time, though, I like to revisit things that I find unpleasant or unsavory – much like some foods – and see if I have acquired a new taste. And, so, I bought some Knizia. I decided to go with a mechanic I really like – bidding – in order to ease myself into the shallow end rather than diving head first into the deep. It was a good decision, and I’ve found that I really like Medici. There’s not an awful lot to the game – over three rounds either bid, or not, on lots of one to three items from five different categories, scoring end points when the five slots on your ships are full. However, what the app adds to the experience is both subtle and engaging. The sounds are minimal, the soft, shifting blues of the waves behind the ships are pleasant, and the interface is straightforward. Overall, there’s not much to not like about the game or the app. I always love when I’m pleasantly surprised by what’s on my plate.

Impression score: 5 out of 6

Medici is produced by Codito Development Inc. and is not compatible with Game Center. It’s available in the iTunes store for $.99 (a bargain!)

Elder Sign

Many of you who follow me on Twitter already faced the onslaught of tweets when the Android version of this was released in early November. So it should come as no surprise that Elder Sign makes this review list. Not only did I feel that the Android port was worth every bit of the $4.99 that I paid for it, I did and still would recommend it to everyone within shouting distance. Thus, when I first purchased my iPad, one of the most pressing questions was whether I should shell out a whopping $6.99 for the iPad version – for an app I already had on another platform and enjoyed. In the end, my love for everything Lovecraftian (and Launiusian) won out and I relented – and I’m so glad that I did. For every eery and heart-stopping moment that I enjoyed this dice-chucking (or glyph-flinging) game on the Android, I found as much or more joy when witnessing the creepy hordes bearing down on Arkham on the iPad. The art is amazing (naturally), the user interface superb, and the sounds are incredibly immersive. And, as an added bonus, the app amps up the difficulty from the analog version. Whether you own an iPad, iPhone or Android device, you really can’t go wrong with going insane in this cyclopean effort.

Impression score: 6 out of 6

Elder Sign is produced by Fantasy Flight Games and is not compatible with Game Center. It’s available in the iTunes store for $6.99 for the iOS, and in the Android Market for $3.99.

Hero Academy

Ok, so this one’s technically not a board game, but it totally could be. I stumbled onto this little gem by accident on – where else? – Twitter, and immediately had to check it out. I soon discovered that the game involved variable set up on a square grid with a host of fantasy characters such as wizards, knights, archers and clerics – much like a cross between Summoner Wars and the home arcade classic Archon. Each round, players have to decide how best to use five actions to move/deploy/equip their various characters, equipment and special items in order to gain the upper hand against their opponents and deal damage to the opponent’s power crystals. Players can win the game by destroying the opposition’s crystal(s) or forcing them to run out of reinforcements. Overall, the game has a similar analog feel to Titan, but with the quick pace and ease-of-understanding of SmallWorld. In other words – it’s awesome fun, and you should fight me. My name is dicehateme. Naturally.

Impression score: 5 out of 6

Hero Academy is produced by Robot Entertainment and is not compatible with Game Center. It’s available in the iTunes store for FREE (although it won’t be long before you sign up for the in-app upgrades).

Related posts:

  1. Dice Hate Me at the Bookstore: The Games Bible
  2. The State of Games, Episode 20 – The One About Family Ties
  3. The State of Games, Episode 22 – The One About Two Pairs
  4. The State of Games, Episode 23 – The One About the Unpublished Masses
  5. The State of Games, Episode 11 – The One About the Last Game On Earth
9 Responses to “The Taste of Digital Analog: iOS Games Reviews”
  1. Darrell says:

    Wow, some new games I have to get and try now. Others (Puerto Rico) I have already purchased and felt the deep sting of disappointment. Now I’m off to get BANG and MEDICI!

  2. Josh says:

    Sweet, I might need to pick up Medici and Kingsburg at some point. You might also try Ra, Hey, that’s my Fish!, Jin Li (though you have to buy the iPhone version and play it double sized), and Tigris & Euphrates (which I think is a Universal app, and not just an iPhone app).

  3. Lorien says:

    I hate you for once again making me lust for an iPad…

  4. Jonathan says:

    As good as Ticket to Ride on the iPad is (and I think they did a fantastic job), the killer app of digital board games is actually Carcassonne. If I recall correctly, Monkey was not a big fan of the actual board game, but it was one of my gateways to Eurogames. The digital adaptation is spot-on, and still one of the best implementations of online multiplayer I’ve seen. In my book, everything else has to get bumped down to a five so I can give Carcassonne a 6. Seriously.

    Settlers of Catan, unfortunately, went a different route and the app is sorely lacking.

    Ascension’s app is pretty good, but works best if you already know how to play the game… and Ascension is one of my least favorite deck-builders. But for now it’s the only one on the iPad, and I’ve been playing a lot of online games against people. Two others you might check out: Cargo Runners and Wizard Hex by Trouble Brothers. Their online multiplayer leaves a little to be desired, but the games themselves are pretty fascinating. And Wizard Hex is downright gorgeous.

  5. dicehateme says:

    Darrell – I think you’ll like both Bang and Medici. Plus, they’re not wallet busters!

  6. dicehateme says:

    Josh – I do enjoy Kingsburg despite the annoying interface. I do have Ra, and was going to review it, but I figured one Knizia game at a time. 😉 I played Hey, That’s My Fish! on Shawn Purtell’s iPad and really liked it. I may have to get it. Same goes for Jin Li and T&E. So many to buy!

  7. dicehateme says:

    Lorien – Get one! They have some amazing storyboarding and even quick video editing apps that I think you’d like, as well. 🙂 Just playing devil’s advocate here…

  8. dicehateme says:

    Jonathan – Yeah, I just can’t justify spending 10 bucks on Carcassone, even if it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. It just won’t see much play in this household. But I have heard really wonderful things – I’m glad they produced good quality for all the Carc lovers! And, yeah, not really wanting to play Settlers on the pad, either…

    I do have Ascension, but I’m still learning the ropes. It’s ok for a deck-builder – at least it’s more exciting than the new Dominion app that just came out. I got it and it’s… well, it’s Dominion. *yawn* Thanks for reminding me of the Trouble Brothers! I’ve been wanting Cargo Runners forever!

  9. Lee says:

    I’ll second the recommendation to try out Tigris & Euphrates and add to that one more, Caylus. Both are very nice digital versions and play well. Welcome to iPad gaming, Chris!

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