Tabletop • I’ve been on a quest of late to find the best two-player tabletop games the world has to offer. Card games, board games, dice games…it doesn’t matter, I just want fun games to play with my wife around home or with a friend now and then. I may have stumbled onto something with my latest conquest, The Fox in the Forest.
Tabletop, iPad • Mac Gerdts created the board game Imperial way back in 2006 and, while it looked like any other Dudes On A Map title, its theme made it anything but. That theme can best be expressed by something that Elliot says in the first episode of Mr. Robot, “There’s a powerful group of people out there that are secretly running the world. I’m talking about the guys no one knows about, the ones that are invisible. The top 1% of the top 1%, the guys that play God without permission.” Imperial and it’s “sequel”, Imperial 2030, put you in the shoes of the monsters with enough money and power to manipulate the world for their own gain. Oh, and there’s also a rondel.
iOS, Android, PC/Mac/Linux • “What game had you up so late last night,” my wife asked. I had been up until 1 AM or so, a rare thing is the age of the barbarian-monkey children, aka our seven-year old twin boys. “Predynastic Egypt,” I replied and was quickly greeted with a look of confusion. I explained it was a game set in Egypt, but well before the pyramids. It was a strategy simulation covering two millennia of ancient Egyptian history where you play as a nomadic tribe and grow that tribe, turn by turn, from humble origins toward the ultimate goal of unifying Egypt under your control within 220 turns. “Oooh, I want to play it,” was her immediate response. [Nick’s wife is cooler than my wife. Mine just elbowed me in the back and called me an idiot. -ed.]
iOS, Android • Dave has given me the impression that HexWar are the Lucy van Pelt to our Charlie Brown, repeatedly advertising wonderful games and delivering troubled ones once we get our hopes up. I assume that, once the running gag had been established, the challenge for Charles Schultz was to find a way to create interest in a joke with a predictable ending. With Lightning: D-Day, HexWar did it by translating to app from a well-regarded, unusually simple WWII card game famous for its poorly-written rules. I had hoped that the combination of a lower degree of difficulty than their ambitious past games mixed with an easily addressed problem in the cardboard version made this a superb candidate for an unqualified HexWar success. Then again, we all know how this joke ends.
PC/Mac (mobile version coming soon) • When Antihero launched for PC/Mac last week I assumed that, like any board game, I would get 3-5 plays in and be ready to put quill to parchment and regale you with opinions so clear and well thought out that they’d bring a tear to your eye. While Antihero is definitely a board game, I found that 3-5 plays simply wasn’t enough to see everything it has to offer. I’ve worked my way up through the campaign and several skirmish games, and even an online game or two and I think that I finally have Antihero’s nuances all sorted out. I can’t promise that my florid prose will bring a tear to your eyes, but I can promise you that Antihero doesn’t disappoint and is a well designed and intriguing board game.
iOS, Android • I’ve heard people mention three web-based boardgaming sites often: Brettspielwelt, Yucata, and, um, Bootyjew (that’s what I’ve always heard it called, and I am proud of myself for finding a link despite that). BSW has always sounded the strongest, but it wasn’t enough for them–now they’re coming for our mobile devices, as well. Their first foray: Friedemann Friese’s Friday, a sterling choice. It’s a well-regarded solo game with complexity just a bit above Onirim‘s, so they avoided the twin bottomless pits of development effort: AI and multiplayer, like Pitfall Harry. I looked it up–that’s actually the name of the character from Pitfall! I’m not excited about it, it just seemed like a waste of punctuation to end a sentence with “Pitfall!.”
iOS • In upgrading from my iPad Air, with its long-inadequate 32GB of storage, I was mostly looking for more storage, Pencil support, and the ability to care less about the nature of the deposits left by my children’s fingers. I’m not terrifically picky about screen wonderflonium, the camera, or the speakers. I don’t even care about the ability to have a full-sized keyboard in the cover, because I’ve been surprisingly happy typing on the screen. So, as a hardware reviewer, I’m not exactly curmudgeonly, but I expect to be insensitive to a lot of what I’m seeing written about the new iPads. People who review lots of devices have more incentive to care deeply about what seem to me like rather minimal differences.
iOS Universal, Android, PC/Mac • Every now and then a game appears on the App Store and it just clicks. It takes hold immediately, as early as playing through the tutorial. There’s more than just a sense of “fun”, whatever that means, but an urge to really dig in and explore. It doesn’t happen often. I remember it happening when I first played Pathfinder Adventures last year, or the first time I loaded up Hearthstone, and it happened again last week with Age of Rivals. What a game.
iOS • Format plays much the same role in modern writing that fate played for the ancient Greeks. Monument Valley 2 is exactly what that title suggests, and the original was so popular that there’s little need for reviews. But I’m a game reviewer, and to resist describing it would invite the intervention of displeased gods. So: Monument Valley took the inspiration for its puzzles from M.C. Escher, its visual style from Helvetica and sunsets, and its lightly-presented narrative from maturing, regret, and making amends (and how distinct are those, really?). It was the sort of gem which made people feel like there was still something they could use to show off the potential of touchscreen devices to jaded onlookers. MV2 refines that success very gently.
iOS, Android • Jaipur on tabletop has long been highly regarded as a fairly light and quick, but still satisfying, economic game. The translation is everything we could hope for from an Asmodee digital title. Asmodee’s online service could improve in numerous ways (most notably by allowing asynchronous games), but they tend to choose games which support relatively large player bases so it is, at least, usually possible to find opponents. Solo play includes a generous campaign with a variety of tweaks to the formula, and, of the three AI opponents, only the easiest seems like a pushover.