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The Weekender: Pascal’s Rage-r Edition

We’ve got a nice meaty update for you today. Couple of interesting new premium titles, as well as a few other other interesting movements in the free-to-play world. The industry is well and truly awake now, so expect more news, updates and releases coming down the pipeline over the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, in mobile gaming… 

Out Now

Maze Machina (iOS & Android)

As we noted last week, Arnold Rauers and TinyTouchTales have a new game, which was released earlier this week. Maze Machina follows similar veins to past works like Card Crawl or Card Thief, but there doesn’t appear to be the same kind of progression mechanics. Michael’s review will be with us ASAP, so keep an eye out for that.

Pascal’s Wager (iOS)

This game attempts to answer the question “What if we made Dark Souls for mobile?”. Gritty, difficult, action-RPG are just a few words you could use to describe it. Depending on how much it actually is like Dark Souls, I’m sure you could use more vulgar words as well. It’s a pretty reasonable price for a game of this visual fidelity, and early indications suggest it works quite well on iOS devices right now. We’ll add this to the review list and get back to you ASAP. Android users, don’t despair – a port is due later this year.

If you liked Call of Duty’s mobile incarnation, it might interest you to know that another popular FPS title has made the jump the mobile as well – Warface has never really been seen a ‘true’ competitor to COD and Battlefield, but it’s been doing the ‘F2P Shooter’ thing for while now (it was first released in 2013!) and still going strong. The mobile version is called Warface: Global Operations and is available on both iOS and Android, still Free-to-Play.

Last but not least, Space Grunts 2 is now out on Android, if any of you have been waiting for the Google Play version.

App Updates & News

What would you get if you decided to merge 100-Player Battle Royale and Auto Chess? Well, according to Ubisoft, you’d get Might & Magic: Chess Royale, which is a new game coming at the end of the month. I’m personally quite a fan of Auto Chess games, although I’m not a big Battle Royale player (Fortnite is fun enough if you’ve got someone to play it with).

I don’t really understand how this can be a thing, but the press blurb claim matches won’t take longer than 10 minutes, so that addresses my main concern. We’ll find out more on January 30th.

might and magic chess royale

Narcos is a Netflix you may or may not have seen by now (not really my thing, but I know it’s fairly popular) following the family-friendly saga of the rise of the cocaine trade in Colombia in the late 80’s. It had a surprisingly decent (if tragically flawed) turn-based strategy spin-off game on PC and Console and now it’s getting a mobile spin-off in the form of… an Idle Clicker game. Yeah. Check out this bad boy.

You might also be excited to know that Playdek’s latest board game port, Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ? will be entering early access on Steam at the end of February. No word on a mobile version yet but we know Playdek will want to bring it mobile eventually, so it’s good to see progress being made.

In terms of individual app updates, there’s a few:

  • Star Traders: Frontiers continues to be Best Traders.
  • Santorini got a minor update
  • Call of Duty: Mobile’s Third Season has started
  • DOTA Underlords got a new balance/tweak patch
  • Black Desert Mobile has got a new World Boss, as well as the Node War PvP mode we’ve spoken about before

App Sales

It appears to be another week where there’s nothing really to shout about in terms of sales, so I thought I’d take a moment to clarify how I go about populating this section.

Games go on sale all the time, but I tend to stick to the ones we’ve covered, or at least more obviously within our ball-park. Sometimes though you see the same games go on sale repeatedly, and they’re not always the best price. For example Klarus Victoria (Predynastic Egypt etc.) have all their games on sale again, but it’s the same price they always discount to.

Icewind Dale is also half price again, but that’s not the best price it’s been and there’s a couple others like this. We’ve covered all these games before and I do try to monitor whether a price is “good” price, as highly subjective as that concept it.

That being said, Beholder’s latest sale is the best price it’s ever been at $1.99, down from it’s previous typical sales price of $2.99. Maybe there are some of you who don’t own it yet who would like to, but again the older a game is the less relevant I feel it is at times in terms of discounts.

Seen anything else you like? Played any of the above? Let us know in the comments!

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Stellaris Galaxy Command resurfaces in select regions

By Joe Robinson 15 Jan 2020

You may remember that back in October Paradox Interactive tried bringing Stellaris, their popular sci-fi 4X grand strategy game, to mobile. Sort of. It was a free-to-play MMO Strategy spin-off title called Stellaris: Galaxy Command that had more in common with, say, Hades Star than it does ‘OG’ Stellaris.

It’s now returned to the Apple App store after a three(ish) month hiatus, as the original launch did not go well. Within 24 hours it had come to light that quite a few art assets in the game looked suspiciously similar to assets from other games, such as Halo. I’m going to redirect you to an article Kotaku ran at the time, as it covers the key points quite well.

That’s not taking into account that early indications suggested that Galaxy Command was kind of a reskin of the developers other sci-fi MMO strategy game, Nova Empire, which had existed for a while and is still available to play now. We’ll be interested in seeing whether they’ve managed to diversify the two games more in the interim.

Unfortunately we’ll have to wait, as this latest release attempt is actually a soft-launch, and only applies to a select few countries: Sweden, Canada, Australia & New Zealand.

stellaris galaxy command returns

Even for a soft-launch, that seems quite lean, but I imagine the company is taking a more cautious approach considering what happened last time. We’ll let you know more as soon as we can, but if you’re in one of the target countries and take it for a spin, let us know what you think.

In the meantime, everyone else can pre-register for the game on the official website.

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Silmaris Review

Storytelling games have found quite the home on mobile devices. Beyond the deep well of generic choose-your-own adventure games you have a lot of options, like the mobile versions of well-regarded gamebooks like the Fighting Fantasy series. Other developers have transformed those books with elaborate new digital mechanics a-la the Sorcery! series. Then there’s the return of classic adventures like King of Dragon Pass and its sequel Six Ages, fresh takes on the genre like 80 Days and Over the Alps, and cool made-for-mobile experiences like Reigns. With that cornucopia of interactive adventures, it’s hard to whole-heartedly recommend Silmaris.

Silmaris is a game made up of two fairly distinct parts. Firstly, you have various procedurally-generated segments of story that present you with challenging choices with no clear ‘right’ answer. Here, you determine whether your king is a conqueror or negotiator, or something else entirely. Then you have a dice game of resource management where you try to accumulate and hold on to the weapons, grain, spies, etc, that you need to accomplish your goals. You can do a lot with those dice, including invading other nations, building treaties, establishing smuggling routes, slaying monsters, and developing your own city.

Silmaris Screen samples

The game’s central mechanic is simply opposed dice rolls. Dice (six-sided, but with only two different faces) are accumulated to represent military strength, diplomatic clout, accumulated grain, and so on, with five different colors of resources in total. Each one allows you to take different actions in the world: conquer cities, establish treaties, go on adventures, etc. You choose how many dice you want to spend and roll them against your opponent. A sixth resource lets you reroll when you fail. The game helpfully points out the odds of each roll as you commit more dice to it, so you get a good idea of what your chances are. On the other hand, failure can come quite suddenly: run out of rerolls on an invasion of your capital city and you’re out of the game.

Between the do-or-die moments when your dice are helping you accomplish something, for the rest of the time you’re pretty much just deciding how to best accumulate dice so that you have the right ones when you need them. Accumulating dice using your strongest adviser is generally your best option – so much so that the quick roll option on the home screen just makes all five of those rolls for you. If you’re low on a certain type, however, you may need to make suboptimal rolls or trade dice between pools. This especially happens when you are under attack from the other kings and you desperately need all hands on deck to recruit enough soldiers that you can fight another day.

Silmaris Review Army and Court Screens

Your choices in the resource management game come down to maximizing your pools and available rerolls. Is it better to hold on to your reroll tokens, or spend them on a more expensive adviser that will give you a permanent one or two dice bonus? Can you afford to go after an artefact, or do you need your army at home? Will you pull in more dice by conquering or allying with another state?

The dice game takes a fair amount of management, but it’s so abstract it can feel more like busywork than really commanding a giant army or managing an elaborate spy network, each of which are resolved with identical opposed rolls. Since much of the fun of the game is based on choose-your-own-adventure storylines, it’s fine for the resource management side to be less detailed. In a game like Reigns, you have just four resources that react exclusively to choices made in the story, and the game milks a lot of tension out of that balance.

In Silmaris however, between sections of text you spend a lot of time watching rows of dice spin and moving different colors of dice into different pools. The dice management game would probably benefit from moving more in one of two directions. It could either become more simplified and abstract by eliminating some dice pools and reducing the number of rolls that come in between pages of the story. Or it could become more detailed and thematic, adding, for instance, various military units, buildings and a more complex economy.

Silmaris Market Screen

But that’s only half of the game, and the meat of why you would want to play Silmarils is in the story sections. These bits of fantasy are well-written and include some really nice and evocative art. A lot of the story bits play out over multiple turns and they can be influenced by the state of the board as well. Angering another power in the story mode doesn’t just result in penalties there, but may make dice rolls against them more difficult.

Unlike King of Dragon Pass, Silmaris‘s fantasy world is fairly straightforward stuff in the Tolkein/Dungeons & Dragons mold. The consequences for your actions can be surprising, but they are never mystifying like in Dragon Pass. There are no weird cults or warrior duck tribes, no fantastic rituals or inscrutable offerings. The style is also more straight-faced than Reigns, which had dark, weird humor and stronger characterizations for its advisers. Silmaris‘s story is compelling enough, but not as surprising as those games that have come before.

Silmaris World Map Story

Ultimately, though, the two sections of the game don’t mesh very well. The story does have an impact on the dice rolling, but it’s hard to say how much. It definitely sets up problems that need to be solved with dice, and will often reward you with one of the key re-roll tokens as a prize. More often, though, you’ll win only one or a handful of dice of a certain color — the same thing you get just for going through the standard rolls every turn. It makes the story decisions seem a bit weightless.

Silmaris is a pretty interesting lightweight kingdom simulator with some fun storylines. It should take quite some time to dig through all the written content of the game, and once you get the hang of it, the dice part becomes less tedious. There are better options for story games on mobile, but you could also do much worse.

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Upcoming Mobile Games 2020 – The best new iOS & Android Releases!

By Michael Coffer 14 Jan 2020

For mobile games, 2020 is stacked, 2020 is perfect, and we’re here to see you through it. This living text will continually document the biggest and best games for our favorite niches and genres. Scroll down for details, or just scan the list for quick inspiration.

Upcoming Mobile Games 2020

  • Commandos 2 (Squad Tactics/Strategy)
  • Company of Heroes (Historical Wargame)
  • Rebel Cops (Tactical Strategy)
  • Roll for the Galaxy Digital (Board Game)
  • Slay the Spire (Card Game/Roguelike)
  • Teamfight Tactics Mobile (Autobattler)
  • Legends of Runeterra (CCG)
  • League of Legends: Wild Rift (MOBA)
  • Fury of Dracula (Board Game)
  • Mage Knight (Board Game)
  • Sagrada (Board Game)
  • Wings of Glory (Board Game)
  • Root (Board Game)
  • Runescape Mobile (MMO)
  • Diablo Immortal (Action-RPG)
  • EVE Echoes (MMO/Simulation)

There’s a lot of cool stuff potentially due out this this year, let’s take a look at them in more depth…

Company of Heroes (Real-Time Historical Wargame)

Release: Early 2020

Company of Heroes is an oldie but a goodie, and Feral is slowly documenting their development process with blog updates. Starting with D-Day and going forward, the game covers WWII’s pivotal battles in the European theater. It will be excellent but without early access or excessive chatter, the exact timeframe on this one is difficult to pinpoint. It was supposed to release in December 2019 though, so it can’t be too far off.

Commandos 2 (Squad Tactics/Strategy)

Release: TBA pending console/PC rollout

Commandos 2 is taking its sweet time coming but will be a sore sight when it debuts in 2020. The game’s delays are due to its ambitions, for in addition to refining its control scheme it is also aiming to launch on consoles and PC. It’s a mixture of squad-command and RTS, and manages to merge historical scenarios with detailed characters and specialisations..

Rebel Cops (Tactical Strategy)

Release: “Soon” (as of Nov 2019)

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 The mobile version of the spin-off to This is the Police was announced in November last year – it essentially doubles down on the gritty Police drama’s tactical layer. The player must lead a “ragtag squad of cops in rebellion against their town’s new criminal power.” The game is already out on PC if you want to give it a browse, otherwise look out for it’s iOS and Android release sometime soon.

Fury of Dracula (Board Game)

Release: TBC

Fury of Dracula Digital

This was one of the first announcements of 2020. Fresh of their new found independence, Nomad Games are striding forward with gumption. They’ve acquired the license from Games Workshop to develop a digital version of the fourth edition of Fury of Dracula, which is a classic asymmetrical board game from the late 80’s. We know a mobile port is ‘likely’. but we’re not sure what the timetable will be in terms of platforms and in what order. We’re optimistic at the moment for a 2020 release, but you never know.

Roll for the Galaxy Digital (Board Game)

Release: Beta running, full release TBC 2020

Not much is known about this one other than Temple Gates are working on it. They’ve made some decent board game ports in the past so chances are good this one will be pretty decent as well. They were accepting beta sign-ups at the start of December 2019, so with any luck it won’t be too much longer before we see this one hit our mobile shelves.

Slay the Spire (Card Game/Roguelike)

Release: Early 2020

slay the spire mobile 2020

We were expecting this to drop last year, but in December the developers said the mobile port had to be delayed into 2020 so they could finish up the console version, which would in turn allow the mobile version to be deployed quicker and smoother. We were told “early” 2020 though, so hopefully it won’t be much longer.

Dire Wolf Digital

Riot aren’t the only company with the potential to take 2020 by storm (See below) – Dire Wolf Digital still have a bunch of licenses they’re set to develop. They most recently released Yellow & Yangtze at the end of 2019, but we’re not sure which order they want to tackle the rest of them in. Just to recap what they’re working on:

  • Mage Knight (Boardgame, Classic)
  • Wings of Glory (Boardgame, Historical)
  • Sagrada (Boardgame, Aesthetic)
  • Root (Boardgame, Asymmetrical)

A RIOT OF COLOR…with scads of stuff from Riot Games

Teamfight Tactics Mobile (Autobattler)

Release: Mid-March 2020

This is confirmed to be coming to mobile, sooner rather than later this year. It’s a cute if boilerplate take on 2019’s Auto Chess, with hexes instead of a square-grid layout, and a battle roulette draft for equipment builds. More swingy, not less, in an already chaotic genre for something ostensibly ‘Chess’ based.

Legends of Runeterra (CCG)

Release: TBA 2020

Riot’s (incredibly belated) answer to Hearthstone. Just the other year it felt like MOBAs were the mobile hotness, now the shoe is on the other foot and everyone with a franchise is eager to pump out a card battler. The rules quirk here is the phase system which sees players taking turns attacking every other turn. An open beta will be hitting PC later this month if anyone wants to give it a go there, as it’ll be cross-platform with mobile at launch so your progress will carry over.

League of Legends: Wild Rift (MOBA)

Release: TBA 2020

A true mobile variant of Legaue of Legends for our phones, keeping much of the original alive. It’s a twin-stick control scheme with a slimmed-down roster. So not a clone or port, but tweaked to be a close as possible. Footage and early impressions are hard to come by, as this is just now entering beta, but it could be a killer substitute for LoL’s dedicated fans.

The Best of the Rest

EVE Echoes (MMO/Simulation)

Release: Currently in Beta. Full release late 2020

This EVE Online spin-off is well into its beta test. Features are slowly being added but early feedback indicates that the grand, sweeping scope of the classic Eve with a minimum of the necessary trimming to make it work on mobile. Slowly, steadily it’ll grow into the sci-fi second life that its parent game provides. Vast military and economic campaigns coordinated with a great number of other players.

Runescape Mobile (MMO)

Release: TBA 2020, Early Access available now.

As the video trumpeted above, Runescape Mobile is currently in Early Access on Google Play. It’s very much an early-access ride, though, with iOS and a full launch still on the books for later this year. Not to be confused with Oldschool Runescape, this MMO is accessible and crossplatform, looking to innovate as much as capitalize on people’s deep-seated nostalgia for the original’s web experience.

Diablo Immortal (Action-RPG)

Release: TBA 2020

Project is still alive and well as of BlizzCon 2019, but updates are few and far in-between. Quality Action-RPGs are in short supply, so it will inevitably garner interest once it debuts. In the meantime the genre has diversified and evolved, what with Path of Exile 2’s announcement. Based on the level of polish in the trailer, a release this year is probably in the cards but for now Blizzard is playing this one close to the chest, with no additional information or access outside of their announcements.

Minecraft Earth (Augmented Reality/Location-Based)

Release: Early Access available, full release 2020

It’s now out in Early Access in most major territories, although the ‘full’ release won’t be till later 2020. The creative sandbox aspect of this only gets stronger with the augmented reality elements. Will become a worldwide time-sink for the craft-y kind. This is more of an open-ended, rolling early access literally sweeping across the globe piece by piece. 1.0 can’t come fast enough, and if Mojang knows to seize the moment it’ll be here this year.

More upcoming mobile games 2020

This list isn’t extensive – there’s plenty we’ve probably missed out on for forgotten about. We’ll add in new games as they get announced or flagged to your attention, but here are few quick notes to keep in mind. We’ll rotate these games into the lists above as we find out more information:

  • A new MMO based on Final Fantasy XIV
  • A Might & Magic based Auto Chess game (with Battle Royale?)
  • Magic: ManastrikeMagic meets Clash Royale
  • Knights of Ages – an Arthurian legend based tactical strategy game
  • War Tortoise 2

Missing in Action – 2019 No-Shows

These games were announced last year but never arrived, and have not released any new information as to when they might be releasing.

  • Phantom Doctrine (Turn-based Strategy)
  • Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad (Collectable RPG/Battler Thing)
  • Game of Thrones: Beyond the Wall (As Above)
  • Out of the Park GO! (Sports/Management)

Missed anything, agree or disagree with our picks? Write, comment or tweet us, and by championing those hidden gems, everyone will benefit. Expect constant revisions with updated timelines and members as more developments come to light.

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The Legends of Runeterra Open Beta may be PC only, but mobile users should jump in anyway

By Joe Robinson 13 Jan 2020

Last year Riot announced a whole suite of spin-off titles from their golden boy MOBA League of Legends. This included not only a ‘for reals’ mobile version of the game, but also a new card game called Legends of Runeterra, where the iconic LoL champions are re-imagined as powerful playing cards.

This is going to be Riot’s (somewhat belated) attempt to ‘do a Hearthstone’, and if you didn’t know about it or forgot the specifics, here’s a quick recap video:

It’s already been running through some closed beta sessions since it was announced. Come January 24th, 2020, it will be launching into Open Beta on PC. That’s not great news for us mobile junkies, but if you are interested in trying the game out when it comes our way it might be worth jumping in early and playing on PC anyway. Reading the official FAQ reveals a couple of details:

  • When the game does launch officially, it will launch on mobile at the same time as PC (we think, based on the wording).
  • It will be a cross-platform game.
  • There will be no-more account resets, so anything you do in the beta on PC will then instantly be available to you in the mobile version when it’s out.

If you do want to check it out and require 24 hours early access, you have until 11:59 PM PT on January 19th, 2020 to pre-register for the game on PC. You will then be given access from 11am PT on January 23rd, 2020 as will everyone who’s pre-registered up till that point (on PC, mobile won’t count).

At the same time on January 24th, the Open Beta will kick off properly and anyone and their mum can simply sign-up to download and try the game out. Unlike Riot’s Auto Chess-like Teamfight Tactics, Legends of Runeterra is a stand-alone client.

We don’t have any details yet, but Legends of Runeterra is due to release later this year on PC, iOS and Android.

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The Weekender: Arnold ex Machina Edition

I don’t know if you could tell but I’ve been doing a lot of random things this week. Early Jan is usually a slow time so might as well experiment to fill the void. Been doing a bit more news as interesting stories have cropped up, and also been refreshing our Apple Arcade coverage to try and get a read on where to take that.

Black Desert Mobile seems to be doing very well for itself at the moment, so we’re going to be updating and maintaining our guide on it for the moment. It’s genuinely a beautiful game, even on mobile, and if you enjoy MMORPGs then you should definitely check it out. Don’t let the free-to-play trappings put you off – there’s barely anything gated behind paywalls, but it is very grindy.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away…

New Releases

End of the Universe (iOS & Android)

Immortal Rogue released around 11 months ago and was one of the highlights of mobile rogue-likes in 2019. Developer Kyle Barrett has returned this week with another creation. This one swaps an immortal vampire-thing with a star fighter. It’s a shooter designed for one-touch player, and has rogue-like elements as well as lots and lots of space monsters. We haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but we’ll add it to the review pile. Here’s some gameplay to tide you over in the meantime:

App News & Updates

Speaking of Black Desert Mobile, they’ve added yet more content to the game this week with a new PvP Guild War mode. Here’s an official summary:

Guild War is a PvP mode specifically made for guilds, where Adventurers can engage in battle against enemy guild members in the open world of Black Desert Mobile. Guild masters and officers can declare war by entering the enemy guild’s name in the guild window. At least 10 guild members are required to attend within 48 hours along with a payment of 3 million silver from their guild fund.

You can read more in the patch notes here.

While we’re on the subject of MMORPGs, it seems there’s an official Final Fantasy XIV spin-off game in the works for mobile in this genre. It will be set in a parallel universe to the main FF15 game that was released in 2016. It’s being developed by developers JSC and GAEA in conjunction with Square. Enduins has more details.

If I were to ask you what you thought the most talked about game on Twitter was in 2019, what would be your answer? It’s not what I thought it would be, but it was in the same ballpark – Fate/Grand Order is the winner, with Fortnite coming in second. PocketGamer.biz has the full top-ten list if you want to check it out.

Last and certainly not least, our good friends over at Tiny Touch Tales are working on a new game due out on January 15th on both iOS and Android. From Mr. Rauers himself:

Maze Machina combines a simple turn-based swipe to move mechanic with a tile based item system that allows for endless combinations of tactical attack, defense and utility moves on a small 4×4 grid. Short game sessions allow for quick bursts of tense gameplay which you can hop in and out of at any point. In various modes and high score challenges you can measure your skill against other players.

We’ve missed having a new TTT game to play around with. Michael’s already lined up to do the review, but because he’s also away on holiday we might not have it ready for launch day. Will be done ASAP, though. Here’s a trailer:

Best App Sales

There’s honestly nothing worth shouting about this week as far as I can see, although feel free to suggest anything you’ve seen you think readers should know about.

That’s all for this week – see you all Monday!

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Dragon Castle: The Board Game Review

What looks like Mahjong, smells like Mahjong and plays like Mahjong but isn’t actually Mahjong? Dragon Castle, that’s what. If you watched someone playing, taking matching tiles with at least one free edge off a pile, it looks exactly like solitaire Mahjong. Even down to the oriental iconography. The designers admit that the Chinese classic inspired them. But when it gets down to the claws and scales, this is a very different dragon indeed.

Most of the time, players will do the solo Mahjong thing on their turn and pick up a pair of tiles from the stack. If you’re familiar with the genre, you’ll understand the same strategy concepts apply. You want to try and set up future moves to free tiles you want down the line. At the same time, though, because this is a competitive multiplayer game, you don’t want to free up easy pairs for your opponents to collect.

dragon castle review 1

If there isn’t a pair then, obviously, the game doesn’t end. Instead, you can either take a victory point and toss the tile or take the single tile and a shrine. Shrines, and whatever tiles you’ve got, get used in the second and not at all Mahjong-like half of the game. This is all about arranging your tiles on a cramped play mat to score points.

Your aim is to try and create groups of tiles of the same colour. The bigger the group, the more points it will be worth. This creates an immediate dilemma: do you risk trying to build a single big group, or go for smaller, quicker scoring opportunities? The right answer depends on what tiles look to be available in the stack and what other players are collecting. It’s a tricky balancing act you’ll need to master for success.

dragon castle review 2

It’s also only half of the high-wire wobbling you’ll want to consider. Once you’ve scored a group of tiles, they’re turned face down and you can place new tiles on top. You can also add one of those shrines that you take when you only pick up a single tile. Shrines score points depending on how many face-down tiles there are beneath them. So again, with an uncertain and player-driven game end, you’re balancing building high against wasting shrines.

Together, these factors interlock to create a fascinating, compelling and rather novel whole. There’s a lot to consider with each and every move. And while there’s no direct, in-your-face interaction, the game doesn’t feel dry. Strategy is very much dependent on watching what others are doing and reacting accordingly. There’s no sense of lacking interaction when the player before you snatches the last tile you needed for a high scoring set out of pure spite.

dragon castle steam version

This mobile adaptation has most of the key elements in place, but it’s a little spoiled by some minor shortcomings. It looks good on screen and plays fast but on phone screens, you have to cycle between the main board and player mats. That’s a bit of a pain, but it’s essential to good play. Bigger-screen formats get to see the player mats in each corner, which is much better. There’s also, bafflingly, no undo option which can be a bit frustrating.

There are three levels of AI but even that hardest won’t stay challenging for long, and there’s no other single-player content. Thankfully, then, the online play is fine. It’s easy to set up and join games and the asynchronous experience is smooth. It’s only a shame there’s no option to let games run longer than seven days.

dragon castle review 3

Once you’ve got to grips with the base game, Dragon Castle has a bunch of variants to keep you interested. You can build the stack of tiles in a variety of different shapes for one thing, some of which work better with particular player counts. If you’ve played the physical game, you’ll understand why having an app stack piles for you is a blessing.

There are also a slew of Dragons and Spirits you can add to the game. The latter award all players extra victory points for fulfilling certain conditions. The Dragon of Fortitude, for example, gives an extra point per shrine placed on the edge of your mat. Spirits, meanwhile, offer a special power players can pay for by discarding a tile or shrine. The tiger-like Spirit of Destruction lets you remove a tile from the main stack, denying it to your opponents.

dragon castle game over screen

All the Dragons and Spirits are well designed and change the strategies needed to win, often quite drastically. The Dragon of Tranquility offers everyone bonus points for building smaller, separate stacks of tiles. It then follows that it makes more sense to build higher and shrines becomes more useful. Each combination makes games feel fresh.

Dragon Castle is a great board game that deserves more time in the limelight. This app is a great way to check it out. Hopefully, the few small missing features in this adaptation won’t stop it winning a legion of new digital fans.

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Nomad Games announces Fury of Dracula digital port

Nomad Games is a studio to keep an eye on this year, we feel. Having recently extracted themselves from their close partnership with Asmodee Digital, the world is seems is once again theirs for the taking and they’re already putting into action their master plan:

Step One: Get a new Games Workshop license
Step Two: ???
Step Three: Profit

Nomad Games are perhaps best known for their digital port of Talisman, one of Games Workshop’s cult classic board games (before the miniatures firm doubled-down on all things Space Marines). Seems the studio has managed to bag themselves another ‘old school’ license, as Nomad has today announced they are making a digital version of Fury of Dracula.

Originally published by the Warhammer giant in 1987, this is a Hidden Movement game about a group of vampire hunters who need to uncover clues in order to stop Dracula (who is played) before he creates an unstoppable army of mindless thralls! Nomad plan on adapting the fourth edition of the game, which was released in 2019.

We don’t know much more about the project at this point. Nomad aren’t ready to commit specific platforms yet and in what order they’ll be developed, but we did get a “more than likely” comment on the game coming to mobile platforms. Whether it’ll be first, same time as PC/Console or later down the line we don’t know yet.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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Apple seems very pleased with themselves right now

It’s easy to speculate and talk about the App store as an outside observer, but I always find it more interesting to look at how companies like Apple talk about themselves in official press blasts. Granted, it’s PR and must always be taken with a grain a salt, but it’s still interesting nonetheless.

One such press release has just come through from Apple, talking about how the company has done over the past year (with a few insights of the past decade or so as well). They talk about everything from the App store to Apple Music & Apple Pay, but naturally only a couple of things are relevant to us here.

Apple App store phone2

As far as the App Store is concerned, it seems that since the launch of the store in 2008 developers have earned over $155 Billion USD. A further note claims that a quarter of that ($39-ish Billion) was earned in 2019 alone. Other numbers being shared:

  • $1.42 billion was spent between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve 2019 (up 16% on the previous year).
  • $386 million was spent New Year’s Day 2020, which is a 20 percent increase over last year and a new single-day record.

There’s no information as to how these numbers are split – as we’ve seen in terms of evolving trends the past couple of years, it’s easy to imagine most of this money is going to free-to-play titles. Probably Fortnite.

Apple Arcade is mentioned as well, but there’s nothing worthwhile to be shared. No numbers in terms of subscribers or anything like that, which is a shame. There was a commitment to adding “new games and expansions every month,” though.

So, Apple’s doing well then. Yay? I guess? It’s hard to know how to really feel about this information as an outlet that focuses primarily on a subset of games that many say is on the decline. Numbers like this probably won’t help matters if you’re a company looking at that number and worrying your share is too small.

If any developers fancy sharing some of their profit numbers for 2019, even if it’s just in terms of how it relates to that total figure, you know where to find me!

What are your thoughts on the App Store right now? What did you buy during the holiday period (or on New Years Day, if that was you?). Let us know in the comments!

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DOTA Underlords has gone from 200K to 18K Peak Players in six months

By Joe Robinson 07 Jan 2020

It seems y’all have stopped playing DOTA Underlords. A reddit thread on r/Games has pointed out the Steam Charts listing for Valve’s own Auto Chess take, which shows the game as lost over 80% of its player base since launching mid 2019.

In June peak players were just over 200K, where-as of the last 30 days that’s dropped to around 18,000. It’s worth bearing in mind though that Underlords went from 200K to 100K peak players in the first thirty days, with the decline getting more gradual in the months that followed. The average number of players is around 11K for the last 30 days, which while nothing to sniff at still indicates not as many people are playing as there used to be.

I’m not 100% sure if Steam tracks people who access the game via mobile… I want to say yes, because every-time I bring it up on my phone it then appears in my ‘Most Recent’ played games list within the Steam client, even though I don’t have it installed on my PC. I’d be interested in knowing how many of Underlords’ active players play primarily on their phones or tablets.

Reading the thread in full, you can get some interesting insights as to what core players think of Underlords’ journey since it launched into Beta. Many respect Valve for the experimentation and the better handling of the game versus Artifact, although some haven’t been impressed with the specifics of the updates that have come since. The inclusion of the titular ‘Underlords’ hasn’t really hit home, and the Jailbreak system led to so much confusion that the devs simply dropped it as part of of the December 18th update. Instead they’ve gone for a more direct rotation system, with 14 heroes currently removed from the game.

dota underlords rotation

Some argue that the development team at Valve don’t really know what they want to do with Underlords. You can look at what Drodo is going with the OG Auto Chess game as one route for evolution, but I think Hearthstone Battlegrounds has shown that Auto Chess games can be much more than what we’ve got currently. Underlords was offering its own ‘quick-play’ format called Knockout, and it seems they’ve incorporated the lessons learned from that mode into the Standard and Duo format as well, making all games shorter by default. This will serve as a decent enough short-term solution to help with retention, but I feel like Underlords really needs to step up their thinking.

The ‘Auto Chess Wars’ in general haven’t been as heated as I thought they would be – we had an initial rush of knock-offs and me-toos, but nothing major in the latter half of 2019 apart from Blizzard’s‘ own “Hearthstone but Auto Chess’ experiment. TeamFight Tactics seems to be doing the best out of the ‘big’ auto battler games, and so far no other big-name western publisher has tried to get in on the action.

It will be interesting to see where this new ‘hot’ genre goes in 2020 – I hope it doesn’t die off completely, but a lack of real innovation may lead to stagnation.