iOS Universal, Android •
If you deep dive into the unpublished drafts currently chained up in the Stately Play dungeons, you’ll find a screed titled, “Board Games Suck”. It was started as a rant against the current state of the hobby which, as anyone will tell you, is going gangbusters. Unfortunately, while we’re getting thousands (literally) of new game releases each year, I’m finding my interest in about 98% of them is close to zero. This is mostly in the euro game category where every new game I hear about sounds like an excuse to rehash overdone mechanisms, paste a popular yet loose-fitting theme on it, and get it into the hands of the usual suspects so the hype train can start rolling. So, why haven’t I published the article? Well, my heart is telling me that an article with that headline isn’t a great idea on a site that covers board games. Also, #notalleuros. There are still a few new games here and there that get my blood flowing. Most of them are designed by Vital Lacerda, but one that wasn’t came out back in 2014, won the Kennerspiel des Jahres, and still gets table time. That would be Rüdiger Dorn’s Istanbul.
What sets Istanbul apart from other games having you turn resources into other resources and, eventually into the most boring of game thingamabobs, Victory Points? Mostly the movement mechanism that has you dropping off and picking up workers as you travel orthogonally about tiled “board”. Instead of plodding along always taking the best routes, you need to think 2-3 moves ahead or else you’ll run out of workers and be forced to trudge back to the Fountain to collect them all while enduring the mocking of your opponents. Thus, you’re setting up the most profitable paths, knowing that you’ll need to revisit sites to pick up your assistants along the way. This planning, and being able to see your opponents’ plans, makes Istanbul a meatier entree than your usual cube-pusher.
The just released mobile port by Acram Digital cements them as one of the top board game devs in the industry. Not only is the app gorgeous, using the game’s already beautiful art, but the UI is easy to use and might be the most user friendly board game ever created from 1s and 0s. Every space, card, and token has its own help window easily showing you just what everything in the game does. Other games have tried this, but they usually put you into a “help mode” where you can click and see things outside of the game state. The way Acram has instituted it makes it seamless and doesn’t interfere with the entire reason you’re there in the first place, playing the game. There’s also a very short tutorial that gets you going with the basics, but it’s this constantly on, but not intrusive game information that makes it a breeze to play.
The solo game is fine, with three levels of AI to butt heads with, but the online multiplayer is where the app really shines. Games are asynchronous and can be played up to five players with the wonderful addition of the ability to add AI players to multiplayer contests. I’m not talking about replacing slow players with AI (which the app does), but you can start a multiplayer game with four or five players and make two of them AI so you and a friend can play without having to deal with the less than spectacular 2-player rules. It’s a great feature and one that I wish other games would incorporate [I’m looking at you, Through the Ages -ed.].
Acram has also included multiple ways to play the game such as different set up rules for Short Paths (a shorter, easier game), Long Paths (longer, more advanced game), and also Random or In Order setups. All of these are covered in the cardboard version, so to see them all included in the digital version is a nice touch. The app also includes an even more advanced variant which gives each player a Neutral Assistant who can be picked up by any player.
2018 started out a bit slow on the digital board game front, but in the past month or so we’ve had the wonderful One Deck Dungeon released, Scythe is looking good in Early Access, and now Istanbul leaps to the front of the 2018 class. It doesn’t hurt that it’s based on one of the best euros of the past 5 years, but they still could have messed it up. Acram did anything but. It’s currently available for iOS Universal, Android, and will be coming to PC/Mac whenever they get that little debacle with Valve ironed out, but it’s looking like September at this point.