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Review: Dungeon Warfare 2

When a genre is defined by immobile structures shooting at lanes of slow-moving massed minions it’s easy to gain a reputation for being predictable. You could be forgiven for dismissing tower defense games as dull casual money grabs, especially as they become loaded up with IAP.

Not so much in Dungeon Warfare II. This game takes the classic Dungeon Keeper theme and builds on it with open, tile-based construction and extremely physical traps. Why should you just pelt your enemies with arrows when you can hurl them into bottomless pits, smash them against walls, or drag them apart with harpoons? Dungeon Warfare II has a surprisingly robust physics system for a game made of such tiny pixels, and one of the greatest joys in the game is sending a whole row of armor clad knights to the bottom of a river with a row of push traps.

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Unluckily, it’s often not so easy. The environments in Dungeon Warfare II are often quite mercurial. The changing maps are partly on you: the most useful trap you can lay is the basic barrier, which mobs avoid like the plague even if it means running your gauntlet of spinning blades and axes instead. On the other hand, those pesky heroes also have some tricks up their sleeves, since some tiles can be destroyed, whether by errant missiles or the deliberate efforts of minion miners who tear apart your carefully constructed mazes. What’s more, other mobs will zipline over pits or build bridges across them. You can’t sleep on Dungeon Warfare II or you’ll quickly find your best-laid plans blown up with a mass of dwarven bombers. 

The map itself is also frequently not your friend. Walls move, crushing some mobs to death but also opening up new paths for your enemies. Doors offer choke points but sometimes also shortcuts. Mine carts can do a lot of the work of running down heroes for you, but will also occasionally detonate a load of dynamite in the worst possible place.

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Each map then becomes something of a puzzle. It’s not simply a matter of spotting and defending choke points, but finding places where your traps can work in concert to multiply their efficacy, predicting the movements of the minions, preparing for new paths to open, and managing your budget. On top of this, you’ll have to compensate when your plans inevitably go awry.

All this tile-based complexity means that what Dungeon Warfare does really well is give the player a strong sense of place. It’s not just lanes and minions and towers, it’s demon-haunted tombs and lost jungle temples and abandoned ghostly mineshafts. Although the different environments are largely just palette swaps without gameplay effect, those switched pixels do a lot of work in building the game’s atmosphere.

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Dungeon Warfare II is also massive. Let’s start with just the 60 difficult and distinct levels you’ll want to work your way through. You can control the difficulty of each of these levels by putting buffs or restrictions down with ‘runes’ you pick up through the game. These runes grant you bonus experience points in exchange for increasing the speed, number, or ferocity of the minions you’ll face. Each map also has several bonus objectives, like avoiding any damage or completing the map in a time limit, which are occasionally mutually exclusive, requiring multiple, wildly different approaches to clear each map completely and unlock everything. There are also unlocks located directly on the maps that require some creative trap placement to blast open. When you’re all done with those, the game will also generate more levels for you procedurally–and given the inherent unpredictability of the game’s basic design, these can be almost as much fun as the crafted maps.

To tackle all these levels, you’re looking at over thirty distinct traps, each of which has several levels of upgrades. These traps are rarely dull and usually have some kind of special effect that can totally transform your approach to a level or symbiotic effect with other traps. Chakrams bounce around, making them a great choice for tight quarters compared to your basic darts. Slime traps slow minions, making a slime/spike checkerboard on your dungeon floor a deadly combination.

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If that’s not enough, you can also unlock skills that have universal effects and can grant you special powers. These are on three tracks of complementary abilities, letting you take on the game through aggression, finesse, or massive piles of cash. Then there’s the special items you can pick up from fallen heroes that offer their own buffs. Oh yeah: none of this costs any extra money; this is a purely premium game with no IAP.

It’s easy to bemoan the dearth of complex, satisfying gameplay on mobile, and especially in the tower defense genre, but you can’t do that here. Dungeon Warfare is certainly not the first dungeon-themed tower defense game, but it’s rare to see it done with so much verve.

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Zombicide coming to mobile next week no big deal

So you may not be aware, but Asmodee Digital launched a newsletter last year. I can’t exactly remember when but it was early 2018 I believe. By and large, it’s not the most useful newsletter in the world – it’s infrequent, a lot of the stuff it talks about we already know or is repeated, and generally it’s a bit vague even at the best of times. We do appreciate getting it though.

Case and point, the most recent newsletter lists these games are being ‘In Development’:

AD In developmentI mean this is fine – the Gloomhaven icon has a link to the official page, but the others don’t have anything. Some of this we knew, some of this we didn’t, but without any information regarding platforms, price, time-table etc… it’s just a bunch of icons at this point. Again we appreciate it, but we can’t always do anything with what it contains.

Then, every so often, there will be some utter bombshells, dropped in ever so casually:

Zombicide MobileSo yeah, Zombicide. April 24th. Mark your calendars I guess… we knew this was coming, but there hasn’t really been a peep out of the studio on this since it was announced so to suddenly learn it’s release next week is a bit of a surprise. The “finally” comment throws me me a bit – I mean, it’s not even out on Steam, so it’s not like we’ve been waiting around watching our PC-based brethren play this while we clutch our mobile phones in frustration. Unlike with their legions of other PC-only digital board games.

All that aside, another milestone in board games is only a week away. It’s good that we’re seeing both iOS AND Android ports at the same time. We’ll try and have a review ready for when it drops.

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Review: This War of Mine: Stories – Father’s Promise

By Matt Skidmore 16 Apr 2019

I can still remember playing games such as Commando and Operation Wolf at my local arcade. Back then my only concern was that I had enough coins left for another go; It was a time when we blasted our way through waves of enemies without a second thought. This War of Mine was released on mobile devices back in 2015 (following a steam release the year before). It received pretty much universal acclaim for its brave attempt to shift the focus of war from frontline combat to the day-to-day struggle for survival of everyday citizens.

It draws on the experiences of normal people who were forced to question their values and morals in order to eke out a living in a war-ravaged city.  Twenty years before the game’s release the Bosnian War raged and the people of Sarajevo were in the midst of the longest capital city siege in modern warfare. It was this bloody siege that inspired Polish game developers 11 Bit Studios to make This War of Mine.

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The original game is one of survival, in which the player leads a group of citizens in their struggle for existence. There are different scenarios, but in essence, gameplay involves savaging for food and supplies and crafting new workstations and equipment. All of this whilst avoiding the attention of soldiers and other hostile groups. The aim is to ensure that your people survive long enough to witness the announcement of the ceasefire so that they can rebuild both their city and their lives.

On some platforms, the Father’s Promise storyline was offered as additional DLC to the original game, but on mobile devices it is being sold as a standalone game. The game’s cheap price point, the short length and simplified options make it a great way to sample the This War of Mine experience without the need to invest in the full game. Father’s Promise takes a much more personal approach than the original game, focusing on the relationship between a father and his young daughter. It is a game where the story is all-important so I will have to tread lightly for fear of giving too much away.

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Suffice to say, Adam has lost his wife and now his sole purpose is to care for his desperately sick daughter, Amelia. Recently widowed, tired and hungry, Adam’s situation is a desperate one. He cannot even trust his brother, who simply sees Amelia as a ticket to escape from the city. The brother’s plan is to make for a humanitarian checkpoint that has been established to allow the sick and the young to escape from the conflict. However, despite his brother’s protestations, Adam thinks that it is currently too dangerous for his sick daughter to make such a journey.

There is no disputing that the original game was bleak, but at least you had a group of like-minded people to rely on. Adam only has his traumatized and uncommunicative daughter for company and thus the feeling of solitude and desolation is brought to the fore. Adam has to split his time between gathering food and equipment and taking care of Amelia. She is in desperate need of medical help, but in a country devastated by war, drug supplies are not easy to get hold of, not even on the black market.

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By day, Adam crafts equipment and gathers supplies, but he is forced to cast his net ever wider. He has to leave Amelia alone for longer and longer periods of time, putting her at greater risk. By night Adam ignores his growing exhaustion to stand guard over his daughter. He stoically ignores his own ever-growing hunger in order to ensure that Amelia is fed. As Adam staggers ever slower from place to place there is the looming feeling that sooner rather than later something has to give and that an event even more awful is about to happen.

The focus on the story means that the actual gameplay takes a back seat. With only a single character to worry about there is a lot less asked of the player. Controls couldn’t be simpler, with points of interest being depicted with icons. Tap one and Adam will make his way to the point and interact. This may result in him tuning a radio, removing rubble or cooking dinner. To make his life a bit easier Adam can build tools, a shovel, for instance, makes removing rubble a much easier task. When Adam is really tired he slows down, which can make getting around a tad frustrating. There are a few stealthy elements, but nothing too challenging; the developers have a narrative to tell and they want you to reach the end. The story itself is quite short but certainly doesn’t pull any punches, maybe it is a little too emotionally exploitative, but I guess that is just a matter of taste.

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Despite having been initially released as DLC, Father’s Promise still works remarkably well as a standalone game. The music is haunting and dramatic, often accompanied by the background sounds of gunfire and explosions. The gloomy monochrome images of ruined apartments and debris-strewn streets set the bleakest of tones. Adam and the other characters are tiny, in stark contrast to looming landscapes that he has to explore. It really brings to light the enormity of the odds that are stacked against him.

It is extremely tough to take such an emotionally charged story and turn it into a game without trivialising the subject matter. This is especially true when that subject matter is based on events that are still so recent and raw. Shifting the focus from group survival to one man’s efforts to protect his daughter makes for an even more personal and harrowing experience. Father’s Promise highlights both the terrible and the inspiring sides of human nature. Initially, it seems that everyone that Adam meets has their price and is intent on looking after number one. However, despite the suffering and devastation Adam still fights selflessly for his daughter. It will not take you that long to reach the end, nor will it prove too taxing but it will certainly leave a lasting impression.

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Warhammer Quest 2 Easter Sale Makes Starting the End Times Cheaper than Ever!

By Joe Robinson 15 Apr 2019

Granted, as much as we enjoyed 2013’s Warhammer Quest we weren’t quite as fond of the 2017 sequel Warhammer Quest 2. It’s not that it was a bad game, but at launch at least it lacked a lot of the tension and board game-like feels of the original entry.

Still, if there’s one thing we are fond of here at Pocket Tactics, it’s a sale. Developer Perchang are celebrating Easter this year by reducing the price of Warhammer Quest 2 right down to 1$, for an entire week starting today. This is on both iOS and Android.

That’s not a bad price to be fair, although the various IAPs, which are a mixture of class/race, weapons and two coin IAPs, remain the same price as before.

WHQ2 IAPsIf you’ve never played the game before and end up picking it up for the first time via this sale, let us know how you get on!

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The Weekender: Simulator Edition

It’s been a bit of a slower week than I’d initially planned – I was away on Monday, but I was hoping to post up a review of Egypt: Old Kingdom yesterday. It released by accident when we mentioned it in a past Weekender update but we were expecting it to re-surface today – no joy though. Still as soon as it turns up we’ll have our review ready.

Hopefully you enjoyed reading out thoughts on Cultist Simulator & NecroDancer: Amplified. We’ve got plenty more reviews coming down the pipe now, and Nick’s even returning after a break for some feature work.

Meanwhile, in the world of mobile gaming…

Out Now

Solar Settles (iOS & Android) – Full review coming soon!

From the mind that also brought us Minos Strategos & Militia, Solar Settlers is essentially a worker placement game about space exploration and colonisation. It’s inspired by board game design, featuring a central grid and ‘cards’ that you can use to either gain resources or change a space on the board, provided you meet the placement requirements.

You only have a limited number of rounds to settle the required number of colonists, but colonists need oxygen to survive, which you have to harvest from nearby planets. You also need fuel hydrogen to move them around, and ores to play cards.

We actually meant to mention this last week, but it completely slipped my mind. I managed to take it for a quick spin last night, and it’s pretty interesting. A bit low budget, but the careful balancing act of moving your colonists around, getting the resources they need, but also ensuring you settle everyone in time (which you need to draw cards for) is pretty engaging. The game features challenges and a ranking system as well.

SFD ROGUE TRPG (iOS & Android) – Full Review Coming Soon!

The roguelike train keeps on rocking along, and we have a new one to offer up to the gods of permadeath this week. SFD seems to be a tactical RPG first, with roguelike elements, featuring randomly generated dungeons, turn-based combat, over 200 weapons, spells & other items as well as 7 adventures to try out.

There’s a free demo available for anyone who wants to give it a whirl first, which gives you access to a single dungeon floor. SFD stands for ‘Sigma Finite Dungeon’, apparently.

Construction Simulator 3 (iOS & Android)

Having spent my career covering PC games more than any other platform, I discovered the world of ‘Simulator’ games quite early. Like, the OG simulator games – Railway Simulator, Farming Simulator… it tickles me to learn that mobile is not immune to these pervasive, cumbersome games about drilling holes and driving around.

Construction Simulator 3 has been out since March, we think, but it recently got given a 1.1 update that brought it up to our radar. It’s mainly about driving around, building and/or repairing things, and this time it’s set in Europe. I mean, now it’s got the Liebherr LB28! That’s bound to have made someone’s day – apparently, it’s a drilling rig that lets you set better foundations for bridges. Yes mate. (Small caveat – there do appear to be IAPs for some kind of in-game currency.)

We’re also putting a shout-out for Aldarix the Battlemage, which is an android-only game that was described by the developer as “Kinda like Hoplie, but with spells”. I wasn’t able to give it a whirl in time for today’s tome, but if anyone does end up checking it out, let us know.

Updates

Reigns: Games of Thrones (iOS & Android) (Review)

Ahead of the imminent release of Season 8, The Game of Thrones Reigns spin-off has been given a free update with over 100 new cards which tie in with the upcoming show. We imagine there may be more than a few spoilers, so beware. There’s also a sale running on Android.

Marathon Trilogy (iOS Universal)

We our information to TouchArcade for this one – you should check out Jared’s write-up for the full story, but it seems that after six the free iOS ports of Bungie’s classic Marathon games are finally getting updates again. The first milestone dropped at the end of January that brought all three games up to speed and workable with iOS 12, and then different games have been getting additional patches in the months since.

I never played the Marathon games, but I’m a big fan of Halo, so I’m glad to see this part of Bungie’s history is still being cared for on mobile devices.

Ticket to Earth (iOS & Android) (Review)

Investing in Ticket to Earth is continuing to pay off. Episode 3 was finally released in December last year, and this week the game has received a new update that adds in new tutorials, as well as ‘rookie’ and ‘veteran’ difficulty modes that focus the player on either the story, or the tactical puzzles respectively. It’s also running a sale on iOS.

Sales

Going to do a quicker round-up than what we usually do this week, as it’s mainly iOS-only sales, sorry Android users!

Team 17 are running a sale on most of their iOS catalogue, and Overhaul have made Baldur’s Gate half price. It’s not the cheapest it’s been though, so you can probably afford to wait. Another PT favourite, Space Grunts, is going for a couple of dollars.

The only sale this week that’s on both iOS & Android is Age of Rivals, which is a great strategy boardgame.

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

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Review: Cultist Simulator

Many a videogame has promised horror and darkness, some calling forth these more than others, but as whole the tone and genre has become practically anodyne. Familiarity breeds contempt. Zombies, vampires, nuclear wastelands. Compared to these, Cultist Simulator is a breed apart, the horror genre reforged. It takes the familiar and human and making it secret, alien, cruel. Within the game the player could found the titular cult, gain forbidden knowledge, lose parts of body and soul, and eventually ascend to a higher, stranger plane of existence.

This is just the prosaic, reductive, ‘gamified’ run-down of what ‘happens’ in the game, for those who simply want a cheat-sheet for the experience of play. Any such summary, mine or others, is bound to give short shrift, though, for the writing in the game is sublime and dense, full of cross-references and slow-building lore.

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Similarly, the game is an exercise in small actions building to grand consequences. While managing the main ‘verbs’ of the game (dream, explore, study, work) to gain resources and more esoteric scraps of knowledge, the aspirant navigates past histories and accounts of fellow occultists while dreaming of powerful entities.

The path for ascension is simply known as the House, and these entities (who are born, deposed, transformed) are known as the Hours. Each little interaction within the game offers a glimpse of what these hidden truths look like. The Hours have Aspects, you see, which are zones of existence, modes of action. Lantern, Grail, Forge, Knock, Moth, Heart, Edge, Winter. No, that’s not quite right. In this dim occultist’s estimation, it’s rather that fabric of reality, the nature of things themselves which bear the influence of these primary Aspects, and the Hours rule over them. Oh, and there are alternate histories, future timeline marked and erased like battlefronts on a map.

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So that’s the theme, roughly, and it’s heady nature is so potent that it is distilled in every snippet of text. Ornamentation is instruction, the occult is hidden in the open, and a canny player will learn to love the lore for its guiding principles as much as its rich mythos. But what of everyday life for our humble aspirant? Well, it’s shockingly full of toil and drudgery. Money is paramount, of course, but so are the three qualities of Health, Passion, and Reason, which are useful in work but can also be sacrificed to the ravages of disease or arcane rituals. To say nothing of lore fragments, gained at first locally from rare and unusual books, then later from far-flung tomes retrieved on perilous expeditions.

That’s the roadmap, and by dragging resources and items to their requisite tiles, the timer starts and the game moves forward. Because of its real-time nature, the game often feels like nothing so much as spinning plates, skilfully and with expert knowledge and vision, of course, but mechanically demanding, nonetheless. Fortunately there is a pause button, which is practically a must to plan properly and absorb the game’s rich atmosphere.

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Certain phrases stick out, some for their piquancy (‘pavane grace’), others as recurrent motifs (‘the skin of the world’). The game’s rhythm and constant upkeep is almost hypnotic, or better yet, hypnagogic. It is in this suggestible, wearied state that the player begins to learn, to see the cosmic underbelly of Cultist Simulator and reckon with its eldritch dream-logic. So there is a seamless synthesis between form and function, or as game reviewers like to say, gameplay and theme.

They aren’t twins here (Sister-and-Witch and Witch-and-Sister say cheers) so much as one entity which we split to make the whole more comprehensible. And this is why the game grabs new players and sucks them in, brainwashes them into thinking they are founders and leaders of cults when in truth all are dupes, all dance to the same tuneful mystery.

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‘Mystery’ in the grandest sense of wonder, but also the diminutive, driving potboiler sense. Figuring out how to stay alive and make ends meet is as much a struggle as occult concerns, to say nothing of Despair (the ‘wolf that devours’) or Fascination, which have ended many a run. Here the game is a little coy about its permadeath, one life, one run philosophy. Yes, game over is permanent. I miss the option to manually backup saves because on a cold-hearted practical note, the game is long and difficult, which makes permadeath losses especially stinging. Just a minor drawback.

In conclusion: yes, yes, a million hollow moons yes, Cultist Simulator is a good game, the kind which will haunt your waking moments with its patterns and intricacies. The app is so easy to use, making the repetition of the game dreamlike rather than simply dull, and though I’ve beaten it twice and wasn’t sure I could tackle another go-around, it seems like I’m a born again cultist. I’ll remember my fleshsack days fondly, looking back from the seat of the Glory upon those quotidian beginnings. But first I have to finish this last bit of research…

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Review: NecroDancer: AMPLIFIED

By attempting to re-package the roguelike back in 2015, Brace Yourself Games may have accidentally made one of the most compelling deconstructions of it in video games. Crypt of the Necrodancer finds ways to make turn-based dungeon crawling feel entirely new by barely tweaking the essentials and obfuscating it all under bright lights and big sounds.

You’re tasked with exploring a multi-layered, procedurally generated dungeon full of baddies. It sounds like every roguelike, proc-gen game you’ve ever heard. Ironically, it’s what you hear in Necrodancer that changes the entire landscape. This dungeon is a dancefloor.

The monsters mambo. The powerful, toe tapping beats of Canabalt and Binding of Issac’s Danny Baranowsky gives everything in earshot life.

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To move, you must hop from space to space to the rhythm. Like Rogue, when you move, everything else in the game moves. Unlike Rogue, the monsters will move on every beat, whether you do or not. You’re all swirling around each other, slam dancing to the same beat. Staying in time while slaying your foes and collecting loot keeps your combo counter ticking. This is vital for collecting large amounts of gold to spend on the occasional warbling shopkeeper and keeping your arsenal in top shape as your enemies grow ever powerful. You don’t have to move on beat; breaking your combo doesn’t necessarily hurt you. But why are we here if not to shake it like a salt shaker?

Roguelike have always been a patient, turn-based affair. The addition of a beat to move to adds a sort of time limit that makes decision making a frantic affair. You must keep moving, even if it means trotting in a holding pattern until you’re sure of the next move. The dungeon’s denizens won’t just let you meander, of course. They will all be trotting along, either towards you or in specific patterns that are often simple to determine.

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They all have their own sort of tells that inform you of when they’re going to strike you. For example, the turn before the skeleton attacks, they throw their hands in the air (possibly waving them like they just don’t care). These become a challenge to keep track of when multiple monsters with different rules all occupy the same room. In these moments, Necrodancer toes the line between stiff challenge and absolute mess pretty admirably.

This is all before tossing in traps, like the ones that can speed the tempo up temporarily. Other hazards like tiles of water that take two turns to leave make simple navigation difficult. Besides trying to find openings to attack the enemy in, you also need to avoid getting stuck. It can be incredibly demanding, and sometimes the mobile control options really let you down here.

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There are three types, traditional d-pads, side buttons, and swipe controls. None of them are particularly better than the other outside of the realm of preference. But they can but unreliably when you really need to tap yourself out of a jam. Some of it is the panic throwing you off rhythm, but other times, it’s just a two button input not reading on time.

Lots of exploration options open up thanks to your shovel. You can dig your way through most of the walls around. You often have to, if you want to open hidden doors to secret shops or find big treasure and equipment. It can also be used as yet another layer of strategy to get the jump on mini-bosses if necessary.  The kind of versatility that such a simple mechanic can provide to the rest of your arsenal is still a mind-boggling thing to behold.

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The is A LOT of content to get into in NecroDancer, especially the Amplified version that contains all of the DLC from the PC edition. Several zones, daily challenge runs, and continues modes can keep you bopping for dozens of hours. 14 different characters all have different ways to play the game to challenge you even further. There’s just so much to be done that those who can’t get enough Necrodancing will never have to.

There’s no NecroDancer conversation that doesn’t discuss its very stellar soundtrack at least a little bit. Maybe more incredible than the number of tracks that come in the game is the number of riffs and remixes that accompany them for when you go through stages as different characters. It may seem a bit like a no brainer for a music game to have lots of good music, but as it is the core of everything else this game provides, that is sounds so good so often feels like that much more of a feat.

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Importing music is also a feature that carries over from the PC port, but it’s kind of a mess on mobile. The app will access your Apple Music account and choose among songs that are downloaded to your device. But it can only seem to recognize certain songs. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to what it can and can’t register. But of the around 30 songs I downloaded as a test; it could only read 5. The packed in tracks are good enough, but the fact that this feature isn’t working well is a disappointment.

But as far as getting a rhythm game/roguelike fix that is unique and rewarding goes, you really can’t go wrong with Crypt of the NecroDancer Amplified. It’s clever, easy to learn mechanics and deep well of content is worth the price on any platform. The inputs could be more responsive, and the custom tracks are off the table, but otherwise, this is a very faithful port of one of the best indies of this generation.

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The Weekender: Not A Cult Edition

I thoroughly enjoyed going through one of Owen’s old articles earlier in the week – a side-benefit of taking over a site with a wonderful legacy like Pocket Tactics is that from time to time you get to see glimpses of a bygone era. Things that Owen, Dave and the community of the day cared about or were looking forward to and being able to contrast that to where we are now.

It’s the same kind of satisfaction I get from reading about history, and it was especially illuminating to get a peak as to what digital board games were like five years ago. As I said in the update, we looked at that article because a reader asked us too – if anyone else remembers any past features that they want us to look at again, feel free to drop me a line. Happy to do it again.

Meanwhile, in the world of mobile gaming…

Out Now

Cultist Simulator (iOS & Android) – Full review coming soon!

The indie PC cult classic has finally made its way to both mobile platforms. This is self-described as a ‘roguelike narrative card game’ where you must seek out unholy mysteries in a Lovecraftian 1920’s setting. You’ve got to recruit or indoctrinate new followers, craft items and summon spirits.

Cultist Simulator doesn’t have a tutorial as the developers feel part of the fun is learning how to play the game on your own terms, and the roguelike legacy system ensures your experimentation isn’t wasted. Michael’s already hard at work on our review, so look to next week for this thoughts. If you’d rather nor wait, the game is currently running a 30% launch discount!

Dungeon Warfare 2 (iOS & Android) – Full Review coming soon!

We’ve been waiting for Tower Defence RTS Dungeon Warfare 2 since last year, and we’re finally glad to see it’s been released. The original game launched in August 2016, although we didn’t review it at the time. Tower-defence games are often associated with Free-to-Play trappings, but Dungeon Warfare’s premium price-point means it’s managed to escape the stigmatism.

The sequel boasts 33 unique traps, over 30 enemies with special traits, 60+ levels along with at least five boss battles and lots of progression systems, loot and mode variants.

Updates

Evolution: The Video Game (iOS & Android) (Review)

Update 1.0.5 is mainly a quality of life improvement, so no new content so to speak. It adds support for iPhone X screens, as well as rewarding players to stick around in matchmade games to the very end if all other human players leave. There’s also been some tweaking as to the nature of Matchmade games.

Sales

Project Highrise (iOS & Android) (Review): $1.99

This is an iOS-only discount, Kalypso have discounted their building-simulator to just a couple of dollars. It’s a pretty decent, engaging management sim if you’re looking for something new in this genre.

Crowntakers (iOS & Android): $0.99

One of our favourite Roguelikes is also discounted to just a dollar, although again only on iOS. If it’s any consolation though, the game is naturally cheaper on Android anyway.

Evergarden (iOS & Android) (Review): $1.99

Intriguing garden-themed puzzler Evergarden is now its cheapest price since launch, so if you’ve been sitting on the fence now might be a great time. The discount is only on iOS because the Android version is still in ‘beta’ and is currently available for free.

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

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Then & Now: BGG’s All-time Top Ten Board Games on iOS & Android

By Admin 03 Apr 2019

Scythe BGG Top Ten iOS Android

A reader asked that we take a look at this article and give it a refresh, given how much has changed in digital board games over the past five years. PT regular Michael Coffer kindly went through Owen’s original words and found out what became of the BGG’s Top Ten list as of January 2014. We’ve also provided us with a new list based on the current top ten.

We’ve tried to leave Owen’s words intact, but I’ve made edits where needed and posted updates to each entry to reflect the current situation.

Original Story (Jan 17th, 2014)

We’re in the middle of a board game renaissance. Sales of board games are hot and getting hotter — industry observers called the summer of 2013 “the best summer ever” for the market.

Part of that success is wrapped up in the rise of iOS as a platform for digital board game conversions. I don’t know which one is the chicken and which one is the egg here, but clearly there’s some very influential people who think that digital board games have a very bright future, as evidenced by Silicon Valley-sized investments raised by digital board game purveyors like Playdek. Clearly, we’re going to see a lot more board games on iOS in the next couple of years.

It’s easy to see the appeal for board game publishers. When you decide to port a board game to iOS, much of the hard work in designing the game itself is already done, and you benefit from an existing fanbase for your product who will help spread the word about it — marketing is the toughest part of making a successful iOS game, as a lot of devs can tell you firsthand.

Board Game Geek is the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-meets-IMDb of the tabletop gaming world. BGG maintains a database of over 68,000 boardgames, all ranked by the site’s half-million-strong membership. That’s a pretty authoritative list right there.

Which of the board games in BGG’s top 10 can you already play on iOS? And which ones will you be able to play soon? I did a little asking around.

#10 – Le Havre 

Status: Available on iOS, iOS again & Android

Le Havre

2008 board game Le Havre is a quintessential “Euro” board game: light on the theme, but deeply strategic. Players collect resources and compete to develop the titular French port city without overextending themselves.

Update: Le Havre is in the rather unique situation of not only sporting more than one version, but more than one version on the same App Store. Due to the recent expansion of Asmodee Digital’s library of mobile board games, they’ve ended up either releasing or acquiring apps for games that have had version made in the past.

Codito’s original 2012 game is available on iOS, titled Le Havre (The Harbor). Asmodee Digital have their own version available on iOS known as Le Havre: The Inland Port, which is also available on Android. We should really do a comparison at some point. 

#9 – Mage Knight

Status: In Development

Mage Knight min

Mage Knight is a big huge genre-mashing game of significant complexity: it marries together lots of mechanics that usually carry whole games by themselves. The one time I tried to play Mage Knight at a board game night, we ran out of beer while we were still learning the game. In other words: an ideal game for a digital conversion, as the iPad can do a lot of the rules interpretation and computational heavy lifting for you.

WizKids, the publishing house who hold the rights to Mage Knight, just launched their very first iPad game: Quarriors, which Dave reviewed for us in December. I asked them about their plans for a digital Mage Knight, and they told me that they were planning on following up Quarriors with another iOS game, they just hadn’t decided which one yet.

Update: It seems nothing became of that plan, because nothing’s turned up in the five years since. However, we did get news back in January that Dire Wolf Digital have recently acquired the rights a whole range of digital board game apps, which includes a partnership with WizKids that starts with Mage Knight. 

#8 – Power Grid

Status: No Idea

This network-building game (not hugely dissimilar from the popular and easy to learn Ticket to Ride) is a license that Le Havre makers Codito tried to acquire back in 2012 but were rebuffed when publisher 2-F Spiele told them that a digital version was already in the works.

I wasn’t able to dig up anything more recent. Maybe an iPad Power Grid’s release is imminent. Maybe it’s stuck in development hell.

Update: Development hell is most likely – it hasn’t appeared in the years since, and we can’t find any recent information about it. 

#7 – Eclipse

Status: No longer available

Eclipse ios

This science fiction empire-building game was released for iOS last spring to considerable acclaim — here’s Kelsey’s review of it. Polish iOS board game specialists Big Daddy’s Creations don’t shy away from complex games (their previous release was intricate abstract wargame Neuroshima Hex), and they’re still releasing updates for this one.

Update: Despite critical acclaim and a release on Steam and Google Play in 2016 (the Steam version doesn’t have good user reviews), the developer seems to have gone bust and shut down. Due to the lack of post-release support, you can’t currently buy this on any platform (although if you already own it, you can download and play still). The current rumour is that the license holders are looking to make a new app based on the 2nd Edition of the game with a new studio. 

#6 – Terra Mystica

Status: Available on iOS & Android

terra mystica

Fantasy empire-builder Terra Mystica is much beloved for its dynamic play and asymmetrical sides, but it’s another  complex game that would be orders of magnitude easier to play on an iPad or PC.

Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be a digital edition of Terra Mystica in the works, and some off-the-record conversations I had suggested that complex IP rights arrangements with Terra Mystica‘s publishers in different regions might make an iOS edition difficult to work out.

Update: Oh ye of little faith. Terra Mystica would get a mobile release on iOS and Android three years later in 2018, developed by digital board game connoisseurs DIGIDICED. It’s so good, it’s on our list of the best mobile board games.

#5 – Android: Netrunner

Status: Yes & No

This William Gibson-inflected cyberpunk card game designed by Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield has been hugely popular since its release in 2012 and publishers Fantasy Flight Games have fed thirst for the game with a steady drip of expansions.

Fantasy Flight are famously quiet on the PR front and wouldn’t comment, but an industry source told me that Android is in the works. Fantasy Flight have been hiring digital artists lately, and since they’re not producing the recently-announced Witcher digital board game in-house, those new bodies have to be working on something. My bet is this.

Update: Except it wasn’t. An official mobile app of the game never materialised, although you can play it via a web browser thanks to jinteki.net. The physical game was also retired last year after a six-year run, meaning that no new card sets or official tournaments will be happening. So far, FFG seems to have turned a blind-eye towards the browser game so that’s your only means of getting that digital fix.

#4 – Puerto Rico

Status: Available for iOS

The oldest iPad app on this list, Puerto Rico HD has been up on the App Store since 2011 and German board game publisher Ravensburger (who had Codito build the app on their behalf) have updated the game every year to keep it current with new versions of iOS.

Like Codito’s Le Havre above, this game is none-too-friendly UI-wise.

Update: Nothing much more to add here – there was never an Android version, although the successor game San Juan also got a mobile release on both iOS & Android.

#3 – Agricola

Status: Available for iOS (& Android, sort of)

Ag2

The second appearance on Board Game Geek‘s top 10 for German game designer Uwe Rosenberg (who also designed Le Havre), Agricola is one of the most remarkable digital board games we’ve ever seen. Players run a medieval European farmstead and attempt to increase the size of their farms while managing to keep their growing families fed.

While it’s true to the rules that made the tabletop game such a huge hit, Playdek’s realisation of the game for iOS brings it to life in a way that only video games can, transforming the game board into a living, breathing farm village. We liked this one so much that we named it the Board Game of the Year and our Runner-up Game of the Year for 2013.

Update: Playdek’s version of the game never made it to Android, and the developer later sold the rights to the game to Asmodee Digital. DIGIDICED created a separate game in 2016 that is the digital adaptation of the two-player variant, Agricola: All Creatures Big & Small. They also sold the rights to Asmodee, and that game is available on iOS & Android. I know.

#2 -Through the Ages

Status: Available on iOS & Android

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This Civilization-style empire builder is one of our most anticipated games of 2014, though it’s far from a sure thing that the game will come out this year. The iOS conversion was originally in the hands of Le Havre makers Codito, though the board game’s publisher Czech Games Edition parted ways with them in 2012.

Czech Games Edition head (and TtA designer) Vlaada Chvatil told me this week that work is progressing on Through the Ages for iOS, but that his company’s current focus was the digital edition of Galaxy Trucker. Chvatil said that they were re-doing much of the art that had been made for Through the Ages, suggesting that maybe this one’s going to be on our 2015 most anticipated list, too.

Update: Vlaada Chvatil got in touch to say that he wouldn’t rule out TtA for a 2014 release.

Actual Update: Through the Ages wouldn’t actually turn up until September 2017, although it was well worth the wait. Available on both platforms, it’s also on our list of the best mobile board games. In a rare turn of events, Michael actually enjoys playing the digital game more than the table-top version. 

#1 – Twilight Struggle

Status: Available in all its glory for iOS & Android

Twilight Struggle Sales Header

Twilight Struggle is a game that I’ve been getting into myself over the past year. It’s an extraordinarily cerebral head-to-head contest between players taking the roles of the US and the USSR during the Cold War, waging an indirect campaign against one another as you vie for influence with client states and spread your ideology.

First released in 2005 (and designed by XCOM: Enemy Within designer Ananda Gupta), Twilight Struggle has been in the works for PC for years now and release is perennially six months away. Publisher GMT told me that there’s “no concrete plans” for an iPad edition, as all of their efforts are currently focused on the PC version.

Update: The PC & iOS versions of Twilight Struggle would eventually be released by Playdek in 2016, and it was glorious. An Android release followed shortly afterwards, and there was much rejoicing.

Board Game Geek’s Top Ten Board Games March 2019

Now that we’ve resolved 2014’a list, let’s have a quick peak at the list as it stands today, and see where we’re at in terms of digital adaptations for mobile.

10. Twilight Imperium (Fourth Edition)

No, and not in the pipeline, as far as we know. Stretching back aeons (okay, 1997,) this scifi game featuring seventeen playable races in its present incarnation (4th ed.) is epic in duration and execution. Its ambitious design has stood the test of time, offering a related tabletop version of the intricacies of 4X genre, what with the conflict of warfare being counterbalanced by technology, economy and general politicking and ‘diplomacy,’ which is as genteel a front for betrayal and vendetta as any.

9. Great Western Trail

Pfister’s proven himself a designers-to-watch since Mombasa, and his Great Western Trail does not disappoint. Long past are the days when victory point games were inevitably about homeland and empire, now it’s more en vogue to have peripatetic ‘journey’ themed games (Voyages of Marco Polo, the Century series of games). The Great Western Trail tasks players with a herd and a dream and sees them wrassle with dust and disaster. It’s fresh but already feels like a staple of many a game night.

The thirst for an app is ‘being shared with the team’ but no concrete plans have been announced or rumoured so far. 2016 is relatively young in board-game years, and unless you happened to be an Asmodee property, the turnaround for digital editions is years, not months, so don’t hold your breath, this one is likely but only in the far-flung future.

8. Scythe

In Scythe, mechs of fearsome size harvest and gather or wage war across Europe. This Eurogame strikes a tight balance between territorial conflict and engine-building and is well-beloved for its starting factions and their distinct identities and powers.

Asmodee Digital are publishing the Digital Edition, and it’s being developed by newcomers Knights of Unity. The game has been in beta Early Access on Steam for some time now but has yet to make the leap to iOS or a full PC release, though both are planned and likely to hit sometime this year. There have stretches of silence and delays up to this point, though, so until a hard date is available odds are 50-50 it’ll be delayed again. 

7. Gaia Project

Definitely maybe, especially since its spiritual precursor, Terra Mystica, already has one. If Terra Mystica were reimagined from the ground up and shot into space, it would look something like the Gaia Project, which is a little more sandbox-y and a little less blueprint-y. Still every bit as cutthroat but, going with that space theme, a more capacious and innovative design.

6. Star Wars: Rebellion

No and probably not happening, for a few reasons. Like Twilight Struggle, this game simulates a struggle between two factions for ultimate control and is heavy on bluffing and deception. No reason an AI couldn’t reasonably emulate these qualities, however FFG, generally speaking, doesn’t make digital versions of games to play solo. They haven’t digitised games featuring duels between two players and have given no indications to start. Oh, and Rebellion is a premium product of a premium I.P. so it’s exclusivity on that front means a digital version might cheapen the game’s status, from a business standpoint.

(While not on iOS, you should all check out the late-90’s grand strategy game of the same name, which is available on Steam. The board game is pretty much a replica in physical form-ED

5. Twilight Struggle

Present and accounted for, see above. 

4. Terraforming Mars

Coming soon™ since 2018. We’re closer to the finish now that the PC version is out, but this is one of those recent hits which rapidly had its app ambitions announced too long ago, and now everyone is collectively stuck tapping their watch, waiting.

3. Through the Ages

Present and accounted for, see above.  

2. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1

Unlikely, given that Legacy games stake their niche on physical alterations and a permanent end-state, concepts which don’t exactly translate well to a digital app. The original game, Pandemic, already has a digital version that’s quite good, so we imagine that’ll be enough for most people.

1. Gloomhaven

If any game needed a digital conversion, it’d be this behemoth of an Adventure/RPG. It’d certainly be a load off everyone’s minds (and backs, for the game weighs 10 kg). Last we heard, Asmodee Digital were making a digital version but they’ve only said it’s coming to Steam so far, so its unknown if it’ll ever come to mobile.

We hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane – let us know if there are any other older articles you want us to take another look at and update! 

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Review: Powernode

Powernode is marketed as a “zen” puzzler, but I didn’t feel very zen when I started playing. Immediately, it began to take its toll on me as I struggled in vain to make quick calculations with small numbers multiplying around me, all meant to go to various stations in need of ‘charging’. It’s a confusing, frustrating operation if you don’t know what you’re doing at first, and can turn anyone who isn’t great with organizing things or making neat pathways off.

That was at first. Over the course of the time I spent with it, I found myself getting a bit better with each session. Where I began to break down with simple number puzzles, I was gradually improving and quickening my pace, creating even better energy networks than I had before.

That’s where Powernode excels: Helping you get a little bit better each time you play, even if you come into the game thinking there’s no way you could possibly be good at it.

Powernode 1

Powernode will look immediately familiar to anyone who’s ever spent modicum of time with Mini Metro, a strategy simulation game that has you designing your own subway map between train stations.

Instead of getting passengers where they need to go by way of meticulously-organized train lines, however, you’re working to organize nodes, or number stations that fill with some sort of green substance when you successfully “power” them with the right sum. For instance, if you have a node marked “6” and two smaller energy crystals, we’ll call them, you need to figure out a way to use both of those crystals (perhaps they’re both “3” crystals) to get juice flowing to the node to satisfy its number requirements.

The diamond shapes emit pulses every few seconds that you can connect to the number stations in need of power. When the liquid has completely filled up a station, it will disappear. Of course, you’re not done there. As you continue to play, your micromanagement skills will need to kick into high gear, because additional numbers will sprout up like popcorn without any regard to where you are in your thought processes or whether you’re quick enough. When enough stations “die off,” you’re screwed, and it’s game over.

Powernode 3

Any node outside of your “network” will disappear as well, though. This makes things a bit more difficult. So if you had a 4 and a 2 node here and there creating a 6 node to power one across the map, those are now gone, as additional stations continue to pop up at random.

It becomes extremely challenging as the game ramps up. Early on, when you deal with smaller numbers, trying to get nodes together efficiently makes you feel like a champ. But as soon as things start going faster, the game can begin to stress you out considerably.

There are a few things other than the demanding gameplay that might annoy you, too. The more you rely on one node, the slower its efficiency. This forces you to continually re-evaluate how you’re going to power every station without having to make some sort of complicated web that looks more like a rat’s nest than power lines.

Powernode 2

But when you lay the power lines down, there’s no way to rearrange them unless the nodes disappear. This means whatever mistakes you make, with nodes in the way of others will be there for the long haul, forcing you to stare right at your foul-ups for the rest of each session. Powernode could have used some sort of “undo” method, but I didn’t see a way to do so aside from restarting the entire game.

It’s all very exciting as the game begins upping the difficulty. When you accomplish some particularly impressive feats later on, you’ll feel like an absolute genius. But if you’re not good at multitasking, or it potentially frustrates or stresses you out, this is not the game for you, as it won’t hold your hand in any way or offer any assistance.

If you need a puzzler that’s beautifully minimalistic, numbers-based, and extremely challenging, pick up Powernode – you won’t regret it.