Now Boarding

The iPad has come into its own as a second platform for board games, and sometimes the digital version plays even better than the cardboard original. Here’s a guide to some choice App Store offerings.

By Jason Reich • October 15, 2013

Much of the joy of board games comes from the intimate nature of huddling around a table with friends and scheming over the clatter of rolled dice. But on those lonely evenings when a like-minded group of players can’t be found, the iPad makes a fine substitute. Board game apps have been available for the device since it was released, but a recent crop of games have gone beyond a straightforward cardboard-to-digital translation by taking advantage of the iPad’s strengths. The tablet isn’t just a convenient way to find a match whenever the mood strikes; it’s also an excellent tool for learning new, complex games without enduring the bored sighs that ensue when one poor sap is forced to interpret the rulebook. Better yet, the iPad never complains about setting up the game or putting it away, and it’s always, always the banker.

Small World 2

Small World 2

By and large, the board games I grew up with, like Monopoly and Risk, are referred to by game snobs as “Ameritrash.” Lightweight and overly luck-based, there’s not a whole lot of game in them. Roll some dice, and eventually one person whomps everybody else. Yet I still have a soft spot for the games that sparked a thousand childhood arguments, hence my love for Small World 2 (published by Days Of Wonder, $10). Thanks to the power of Kickstarter, Days Of Wonder has expanded their original Small World app with additional maps and extra options for online play. The result is Risk without the boredom. Players assume one of 20 different races and invade each other’s space in a battle for territory. Like Risk, whoever has more armies mercilessly crushes her neighbor. But there’s a twist: At any time, a player can abandon his minions and start fresh with an entirely new race. Each creature has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some enjoy attack bonuses, while others get extra armies or score points for controlling different parts of the map, so players have to adjust their strategies every few turns.

Small World is a perfect example of where the iPad shines as a board game machine. It remembers how to play so you don’t have to. The game’s rules change constantly—+1 for this, roll again for that—and on the table, it’s easy to overlook the small details. With the iPad in charge of keeping score, it’s comforting to know the app won’t “accidentally” forget to count your Commando Skeleton bonus points.

Summoner Wars

Summoner Wars

If you like your fantasy characters kicking the crap out of each other with a more sober theme, Summoner Wars (Playdek, free) is a customizable card game in the vein of Magic: The Gathering. Players deal out cards representing various wizards and warriors to create a battlefield on the table between them—think Stratego with magic spells. Summoner Wars is free with one character class, and additional decks are available as in-app purchases. (All the games discussed here include a tutorial, and with the exception of the cooperative games, all offer online play against actual opponents.)



In contrast to “Ameritrash” games are the vaunted “Euro”/German-style games, which downplay conflict and generally have more abstract themes. Settlers Of Catan is often credited with being the “gateway game” that gets people into Euros, but Ticket To Ride (Days Of Wonder, $7) and Carcassonne (TheCodingMonkeys, $10) are two other terrific points of entry. In Ticket To Ride, you’re competing to control train routes across a map of the United States. Carcassonne sees you laying tiles to build medieval French cities. Both games rely on strategy but are easy enough to learn that a new player can be competitive. And if your friends are jerks, both offer ample opportunity to screw your opponents over by taking that one last tile or train card they need. Ticket and Carcassonne were two of the earliest board games to be released on the iPad, and they’re pretty straightforward translations of the tabletop versions, but the fact that the online lobbies are still busy is a testament to their enduring popularity.

Stone Age

Stone Age

Stone Age (Campfire Creations, $7), on the other hand, has been given a fresh coat of paint in its leap to digital. You take charge of a caveman family locked in a mortal struggle to evolve faster than the other caveman families in the valley. Players take turns placing their workers on the board in order to collect resources like wood, stone, and clay, which are used to construct huts and score points. Amorous cavepeople can also retire to the “love hut” for a little baby-making. More family members means bigger harvests, but it also means more mouths to feed. Stone Age is a great introduction to the hallmarks of Euro games, like worker placement and resource management, and its cartoony prehistoric art makes it more approachable than the dry-as-dust economic themes of some other titles.

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories

For those sensitive souls who don’t enjoy forcing grubby cave children to starve, the iPad hosts a handful of cooperative games, in which players work in concert against the game rather than against each other. Ironically, around the table co-ops have a tendency to stir up just as much conflict as competitive games. Because the game’s behavior is predetermined, whoever knows the rules best often does the thinking for everyone, instructing the other players on the “correct” move in a given situation. Ghost Stories (Repos Productions, $6) heads off the personality clashes by letting you take on all the player roles in a solitaire game.

And good thing, too, because Ghost Stories is brutal. Up to four players (or one multitasker) assume the role of monks who are trying to exorcise a sleepy village of its hellish demons. Each round, ghosts are drawn from a deck and added to the board, and the monks take turns banishing them, as monks do, by rolling their Tao dice. Meanwhile, the ghosts have paranormal abilities of their own, most of which involve making your fancy Taoist monk magic not worth diddly squat. The players win by busting all the ghosts. If the monks are overcome, everyone loses. Get ready for this to happen over and over and over again.

Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island (Button Mash Games, $5), created by the designer of the popular co-op tabletop game Pandemic, also makes a good showing on the iPad. Hapless adventurers are dropped on a tiny island that’s rapidly sinking beneath the waves, and they must work together to scoop up treasure before being sent to their watery graves. Sure, the stakes aren’t as high as Pandemic, which sends players around the globe trying to eradicate a suite of deadly infections. But it’s the small scale that make Forbidden Island and Ghost Stories claustrophobic as hell. They’re tight, unforgiving games that work great as solo iPad experiences.



Perhaps no iPad title was more anticipated by board game aficionados than the translation of Agricola (Playdek, $7). Currently the No. 2 game of all time on BoardGameGeek’s rankings, expectations for Agricola’s digital version were high, and Playdek has delivered a gorgeous product that represents a big step forward for iPad board games. Agricola tells a tale of poor 17th-century farmers who, despite their perennial starvation, can’t resist competing to build the biggest estate. Players upgrade their farms by building rooms, plowing fields, and raising livestock. And yes, as in Stone Age, you can also crank out kidlets to increase your workforce. (Child labor laws weren’t much of a thing back then.) A true Euro, Agricola is tough. It’ll take a few plays to figure out how the many moving parts work together, but the game counterbalances the intricacies that are inherent in many German-style games by giving players the sense they’re creating something. It’s rewarding to watch your family grow and your pastures fill with sheep.

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116 Responses to “Now Boarding”

  1. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    Oh, I remember some of these games. I’ve played Stone Age, Agricola, and Small World, but none on the iPad. Thinking about it, those three make a fair bit of sense for tablet play because none of them have asymmetrical knowledge; no cards to keep secret from other players or anything like that.

    Personally, the main reason I’d consider playing a board game on a tablet instead of a table would be to keep track of the rules. It’s fun to roll dice and move pieces around, and no tablet is going to have the kind of “resolution” that a big table provides, but you also never need to worry about bumping the table or having enough room for every player’s pieces.

    Lemme guess, though: these are all iOS exclusive, aren’t they? I can’t really blame them. I don’t exactly have reason to complain, either; I don’t own any tablets, anyway!

    • Erik E Erik says:

      Something to solve the issue of asymmetrical knowledge, that I’m surprised that more developers haven’t utilized, is how the Scrabble iPad game gives you the option to use bluetoothed iPhones as letter racks, downloaded as secondary free apps on each iPhone. You flick the letters off the screen once you’re ready to use them, but, otherwise, they stay secret.

      I keep hoping someone discovers that this would be a good way to hide the fact that I have a bunch of orange train track cards in Ticket To Ride.

      • Gipson says:

        I’ve never played Ticket to Ride on tablet, though I’ve got friends who swear by it. I don’t know, if you’re saying that other players can see your deck and know what colors you’ve been bogarting (beyond what’s obvious from your draw selections), that seems like a bit of a game breaker.

        • Jason Reich says:

          Nope, online is the same as the physical version: other players can’t see your tickets or train cards, but they know what cards you’re taking from the supply, and can often guess which connections you need to fill to finish your route. The pass’n’play option is a bit trickier since it’s easier to “accidentally” see your opponent’s cards as the tablet changes hands but it hasn’t been a gamebreaker.

      • Derek Kupper says:

        I keep expecting that to happen too – it’s such an awesome mechanic. Even to include it as an option….
        A lot of games let you slide up your cards, then hide them when not in use. That’s okay, if a bit clunky.

    • Derek Kupper says:

      The fiddly bits part is huge. However, my biggest reason for playing is that almost all of the iOS versions have AI and asynchronous multiplayer. While I can only get to a game night once every few weeks if I’m lucky, I can play a game of Eclipse whenever I want, without resorting to strange solo variants.

    • David Schallert says:

      Agricola actually does have some asymmetrical knowledge, the minor improvements and occupation cards. Otherwise agreed. There is many a board game I would love to be able to stop having to set up and tear down!

  2. hcduvall says:

    Sigh…how I wish even half of this was on Android. Anyway, I know there’s a physical version, but I can’t imagine dealing with something like Ghost Stories that way. I get lost just looking at that board.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

      There are a number of reasons for the paucity of Android titles, many of them having to do with Google Play’s poor relationship with developers. If a developer gets told that Google Play won’t take their game unless it gets released in Android first, how do you think they are going to react?

      • zerocrates says:

        Does Google Play actually reject things like that? I’ve never heard of any exclusivity requirements. If they were rejecting things that came out on iOS first I’m not sure they’d have any games at all.

        I feel like I’ve always heard the gulf was mostly down to devs (rightly, I’m sure) seeing Android as a less lucrative market, and having to support a much bigger range of devices.

      • BobbyMcD says:

        As a mobile game developer for iOS and Android I can tell you that the #1 reason developers don’t bother with Android is because the sales figures are so much lower.

        Our titles have sold anywhere from 5:1 up to 20:1 better on iOS. Given that, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it to develop and promote for Android. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

        Also, piracy. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve always suspected that Android apps are much more pirated than iOS apps and that may contribute to part of the difference in sales.

        • Enkidum says:

          Given that to pirate an android app, you just need to have a cracked app, but to pirate an iOS app, you need to have a cracked PHONE (or tablet, obviously), I think the barrier to piracy is far harder for iOS.

    • nattyish says:

      Ticket to Ride actually has an Android version. But it’s tablet-only, which means I am still waiting to live out my dream of playing it on my phone while riding actual trains.

      • Todd VanDerWerff says:

        On the contrary! I have Ticket To Ride on my Android phone right now!

      • fieldafar says:

        Your phone may be able to play Ticket to Ride if it has a resolution higher than 1024×600.

        • nattyish says:

          Cool, that’s good to know. Someday I’ll get around to shoving some more pixels into my phone. Or, you know, maybe get a new one or whatever.

  3. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    AHEM, Boardgame snobs use Ameritrash to describe theme heavy games with slapdash mechanics (such as Arkham Horror), whereas Eurogames are mechanically solid but thematically dry (like Carcassonne here). Monopoly and Risk are just referred to as trash by boardgame snobs, by and large.

    It’s also worth noting that Ameritrash is more a term of endearment at this point than an insult. And that the coolest games combine both theme and mechanics that fit that theme, without a lot of superfluous stuff. The games are evolving and spreading ideas so rapidly, it’s awesome to watch happen.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

      I have a certain affection for Monopoly and Risk because I grew up playing them with my family, even while recognizing they are terribly designed games.

      The games from my childhood that I have no affection for: Mousetrap and Perfection. The former rarely worked, the latter teaches kids the adult joy of anxiety.

      • MrSportsFish says:

        I would love to play a Monopoly-looking game that is actually interesting. The game board is a masterwork of design, even if the game play is super dull. Careers came close, but it was uglier and still kind of boring.

        Yeah, Mousetrap and Perfection are kind of terrible. Boggle’s fun, though!

        • i and 1 says:

          I haven’t played it in ages, but PAYDAY was pretty fun back in the day. Faster than Monopoly, and pretty dynamic. But maybe it would suck for adults, I have no idea.

        • morley says:

          Someone must have come up with a Monopoly house rule that replaces the die roll with some other mechanic? Maybe that’d inject some strategy into the game.

          • Derek Kupper says:

            One of the things about Monopoly – 95% of people playing don’t play by the actual rules. The two biggest ones that are played “wrong”:
            Free Parking doesn’t get you any money – it’s just a spot to land.
            Any property that is not purchased when you land on it is immediately put up for auction. Anyone can bid, even the player that landed on it. Playing like that makes a much more cutthroat and aggressive game.

          • Enkidum says:

            Even so, the game is kind of broken. The correct strategy, which pretty much everyone follows, is to buy everything you land on, if you can afford it. So there’s no auctions until you’re close to bankrupt, and by the time one player is close to bankruptcy 90% or more of properties will have already been bought.

            All the strategy of Snakes and Ladders with the length of Axis & Allies!

          • Derek Kupper says:

            Oh, it’s not a great game either way. ;) I think there could be a way to play with auctioning a tile you just landed on to get it cheaper, or make others bid too high. But I dunno. I still won’t play it.

          • Flying_Turtle says:

            The Free Parking thing drives me nuts. Everyone complains that Monopoly takes too long, and how do we solve that? By making it harder to go bankrupt, of course!

            There is a PC version of Monopoly from the mid-90s where the auction rule can be exploited early in the game. Some of the AIs (most of which have bizarre names, like “Tarbosh” and “Zanthia”) will do anything to win an auction, and it’s kind of amusing to watch an AI player blow their entire $1,500 to get their hands on Connecticut Avenue.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          I’m very curious as to what you mean when you say Monopoly is “a masterpiece of design.”

          Regardless, a common recommendation for people who like monopoly but want something more involved is Power Grid.

          • Aaron says:

            Power Grid, like most math-based games of its ilk, has the problem of being solvable. There is a calculable and optimized value for each plant, and while the order in which they appear may be random, there is always a clearly correct move, which makes playing after a while a little boring. (It’s at least better than Factory Manager.)

          • MrSportsFish says:

            The design thing is just my opinion, but I really like how the game looks and feels in terms of shapes, colors, and illustrations. The tokens and property cards are also nice components (imagine if the properties and the chance deck were all printed on standard playing cards).
            Thinking about it more, I think that the brilliance of the design is in being non-genre-specific without being bland.This makes the design flexible — it is easy to put other content (London street names, National Parks, Star Wars) into the Monopoly template and also easy to use Monopoly as a brand to advertise things like lottery tickets and Big Macs. Sure, Monopoly is “about” buying and selling property in Atlantic City, but the design is independent of that theme. I think this makes Monopoly more timeless/iconic in terms of design — more like Chess than Settlers of Catan.

          • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

            That makes sense. The monopoly board and pieces are definitely iconic, though I’d argue that that has more to do with how entrenched the game is in the mainstream.

            I was thinking you meant in terms of game design rather than art design.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        Mousetrap was only fun to fiddle with the parts themselves. I played the actual game attached exactly one time.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          There’s a game to it?

        • Gipson says:

          I honestly can’t remember what the GAME of Mousetrap was. Is it just a race like Candyland or are there other mechanics beyond the trap?

          • Enkidum says:

            It’s pretty much just a race. You can get various negative/positive effects by landing on certain squares, and once you’re in the final stretch you just go around and around a small circle until the mousetrap falls on you or you get enough cheese or something.

            It’s pretty dumb, is what I’m saying.

    • CNightwing says:

      I think most Ameritrash games fall apart when one tries to play them competitively, because the slapdash mechanics will make exactly one or zero strategies a winner. In the former case, despite other strategies seeming useful, they are usually rarely so. In the latter case the game relies too heavily on luck – heck, you can level that accusation at Settlers of Catan if you still play it with dice.
      Arkham horror is a fantastic game because it’s not competitive, so it doesn’t matter how many different decks of cards there are, and my god those rules are complicated with all the expansions, you’re still trying to beat Cthulhu, and as with any game of that Mythos, losing is often more fun!

    • GaryX says:

      I still enjoy Risk. Fuck da haters.

    • Cliffy73 says:

      Sorry! is the best board game ever created, and I’ll kill any man what says differ’nt. I knew I’d never fit in over at BoardGameGeek when I saw the default assumption there that because it’s completely random and without strategy (not **entirely** true, but pretty close) that it’s not going to be any fun. But the tension generated when you’ve got your last guy three spaces from Home and your opponent keeps drawing 12’s is hilarious.

      • Gipson says:

        Sorry! – teaching children that being a dick is satisfying and rewarding.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        The thing that Sorry severely lacks is choice. You aren’t playing a game much more than you are watching a random number generator. Apparently Sorry Sliders is recommended as a fun game that is similar to Sorry, but I’ve not played it.

        It’s fine to enjoy goofy games like Sorry, but the hobby has so much more to offer than that, which is why people get defensive about it and try to shit all over “casual” stuff like monopoly and what-have-you. I think it’s kind of a goofy response, but understandable.

  4. zerocrates says:

    Half the fun of Carcassonne is seeing the different landscape you generate each time you play. The experience of having the field grow inexorably toward the edge of the table (because stupid Scott keeps just adding straight sections onto the end of his one road every turn), and having the finished countryside and militarily-unsound football-shaped castles stretched out over all your playing space at the end of the game is just lost in the transition to digital.

    The only benefits I see to going the tablet route for boardgames are space and scoring. Carcassonne, for one, is pretty easy to score, and I’ve got plenty of box-stacking room, and no large-format tablet for that matter. Cardboard it is.

    • Enkidum says:

      The other huge factor is price. Most of them are between 5-15 dollars on the iPad, vs 30-50 dollars for the box. So for significantly less than half the price, you can build yourself a completely portable library of kick-ass games.

      I have to admit I’ve never actually used a tablet to play a game with other people in the same room, and I can imagine it could get a bit weird. But if it’s at all playable, it’s a huge, huge advantage. It’s like articles – I read hundreds for my work, and I don’t print them out any more. Yeah, reading on the tablet really isn’t quite as nice for the eyes as reading real paper, but the convenience factor is so much higher.

      (I guess, though, the fact that you have to shell out 300-500 bucks up front does put a dent in that price factor. I would recommend getting one given to you by your boss, like me.)

      • boardgameguy says:

        This is the issue. Playing games on a tablet in the same room ends up being kind of lame. It is, in my eyes, for those interested in solitaire, networked play, or when you are stuck in an airport or on a plane.

      • Cliffy73 says:

        The iPad essentially makes board games playable for me. I have a six year old daughter that I can play simple games with, but I have neither the kind of friends who are interested in this stuff nor the time to go hang out with them and play for a couple hours if I did. But I can flip open my iPad and play Settlers of Cataan against the computer whenever I want, and if I don’t have time for a whole game, I can leave if for a few days without having to give up my dining room table.

        • Enkidum says:

          Yeah, I learned how to play Carcassone, Settlers, Ticket to Ride, and Le Havre on the iPad, all of them solo. It would be nice to try them in meatspace, but it’s a hassle.

      • Derek Kupper says:

        Even with the $400 investment for an iPad, if you’re saving 30-70 dollars per game (Eclipse lists at $100, and is something like $10 on iOS), after 10 purchases or so, you “break even.” I wouldn’t say that everyone out there should replace their game collection with a tablet. But in some cases, even ignoring the Solo/Asynch play parts, being able to bring 20 board games to your local group in a book sized container (or on vacation with you) can be fantastic.
        I’ve always wanted to have some sort of flatscreen table to play on, that I could connect my iPad up, and have a 4’x8′ table/screen – like what the MS Surface was originally. Someday!

    • CrabNaga says:

      Betrayal at House on the Hill gives me a similar feeling when you see the eventual layout of the house. Sometimes you get a house with a weirdly sprawling first floor that juts off in a straight line, sometimes you get a house that actually blocks off the main entrance (you know, the one you used to enter the house), sometimes you get a house with a gigantic basement and is practically a shack above ground (albeit a two-story shack).

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      I played Carcassone first via Xbox Live, and enjoyed it enough to buy the physical version. I still prefer the digital version, honestly, though I probably say that about most board games I’ve played.

  5. nattyish says:

    The best explanation of why Monopoly is possibly the worst game ever created comes courtesy of Dinosaur Comics. It’s horrific and so true.

    They also did one explaining the nightmarish world of Scrabble.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      That’s funny, and also weird. I’m not sure what to think about those comics that reuse the same panels over and over and over.

      • Cliffy73 says:

        That they’re great?

      • nattyish says:

        Well this one is one of the best-written comics out there, so I would say it’s great. Can’t speak to anything else using the same device.

      • Derek Kupper says:

        At one point the author basically said “this was great for the first 100 comics, but now I kinda regret that decision.”

        22/7ths, ya know?

  6. Doctor Jaw says:

    No love for Elder Sign Omens or Ascension, eh?

  7. DrFlimFlam says:

    I picked up Le Havre on sale and man, that game is dense. I’ll get back to it eventually.

    Lots of good recommendations here. I don’t know how many folks are baseball fans, but ESPN’s Keith Law is a HUGE fan of board games, both physical and on tablets, and he has a great critical eye towards which board games make the transition well.

    Ticket to Ride, Catan, and Carcassonne are the perfect points of entry in my mind. Forbidden Island and Pandemic are right there for cooperative play as well.

    The price of these gets to the core of the tablet experience, at least for me. It may not always feel like a good deal, paying $5-10 for a single game, but these are the games that are worth the money, not the free or $0.99 apps that have no interest other than bleeding you dry $0.99 at a time.

    • boardgameguy says:

      Le Havre is great but it is no Agricola, in my estimation. Worker placement without growth gets difficult, especially in 3 or 4 players games of Le Havre where you only get one turn per round.

      • DrFlimFlam says:

        I don’t know how much stock I can put in the opinion of a man who is defined by the name of the topic we are discussing.

        Maybe some. Just a little.

        • boardgameguy says:

          I’m getting money from Big Board Games. All my opinions are suspect.

          Le Havre is great fun though. If I had as many plays of it as I do of Agricola, I might have a different perspective. However, now that the designer Uwe Rosenberg released Ora et Labora and referred to it as his refinement of Le Havre, I might pursue that further instead. And it’s got a brilliant resource wheel. http://boardgamegeek.com/image/1130745/ora-et-labora

      • Jason Reich says:

        I considered Le Havre but not only is Agricola prettier on the iPad, I found it much easier to learn. I’ve never played the tabletop version of either but the sheer number of buildings in Le Havre was initially overwhelming. I still don’t feel like I have a real handle on it. Agricola is full of hard decisions but I think it’s a bit friendlier in terms of understanding the flow of the game and what your goals should be at different stage.

        • boardgameguy says:

          The buildings is what gets me too in Le Havre. I guess the occupations are comparable but because you have them at the beginning, its easier to figure out what you want to do with them.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        Have you played Caylus? I’m thinking of picking up a Worker Placement game soon and am torn between Agricola and Caylus.

        • boardgameguy says:

          I’ve not. It’s been on my list for a while but none of my friends have it. I guess it was kind of the first worker placement done well. But I think Agricola is pretty dang close to being perfect (depending on which rule set you use).

        • boardgameguy says:

          I thought I replied, but maybe disqus lost it. I have not played Caylus in spite of wanting to. I think it was the first strong execution of worker placement. I love love LOVE Agricola, however, and since it can be played with 1-5 players (with strategy changing dramatically between solo and multi player games) I don’t believe you can go wrong if you choose Agircola.

        • Derek Kupper says:

          Caylus is great. It has a more interactive gameplay – buildings benefit other players, you can steal things others want, going to the castle is a competition, and them the bailiff. I feel like Caylus has fewer winning strategies, it that may be because ice played a lot more of it than Agricola. It’s also more static – everyone always has the same pool of buildings, vs Agricola’s occupations and minir improvements. Both are well worth playing though. Spend the $5 on Caylus. Even if you don’t like it, you’re supporting good games on iOS.

          • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

            I don’t own a tablet or smartphone or anything, so Caylus would run me like $30 or $40 or whatever. But I’m probably going to get it and Agricola regardless.

  8. Girard says:

    Tangentially related question, but maybe the intersection of iPad owners in this story’s comments and art people (@caspiancomic, @spacemonkeymafia, @effigy_power) on this site might know: Are there any decent, free, interesting artmaking apps for the iPad? Either simple drawing, or making weird simple animations, or non-instagram-filter photography stuff?

    I’m starting my secondary ed student teaching placement this week, and in one of those weird outcomes of public school funding/grant realities, this cash-strapped ‘alternative education center’ (e.g. school for kids who’ve been expelled from everywhere else, or who have police records, etc.) has an iPad for each student in the art room. I’ve never used an iPad before, and don’t really like the idea of their use in schools, but in the absence of real computers I think it’d be useful to take advantage of them to do some kind of cool digital art thing that might be engaging to these kids who are (understandably) kind of checked-out when it comes to any sort of schoolwork, including even art class.

  9. Sarapen says:

    Peeps, Jade Empire is going for cheap on GOG in case that was on anyone’s wish list. The Enhanced Edition of The Witcher is also going for free with any games bought, so you can also buy Legend of Kyrandia or something.

    • NakedSnake says:

      Yea, I got the Kyrandia trilogy. They are definitely a bunch of games I never heard of at all back in the day, but their legend has grown since.

  10. Mega64 says:

    For my fellow Android users who are also gimped on getting awesome board game apps, at least we have Dominion (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mehtank.androminion&hl=en

    Sniff around on the actual site a bit (https://code.google.com/p/androminion/ and you can even find branches that add the latest expansion and one currently working on adding multiplayer.

  11. CrabNaga says:

    How about games that you wish had electronic versions, but currently do not? My top choices would be Risk Legacy and Betrayal at House on the Hill.

    Risk Legacy’s main gimmick is that you make permanent changes to the board and rules as you play (across multiple games, which through some quantum anomaly only take about an hour to play). However, it’s also meant to be played with a core group of people, since players get specific bonuses or traits as the game develops. Being able to have the option to have different “save slots” where you can start fresh if you play with a new group of people would be a godsend.

    Betrayal, on the other hand, simply just has a ton of pieces, and rules that get pretty complex at times. The game could be sped up considerably with having all this stuff automated. Another major thing is the fact that the traitor, once the traitor is revealed, has his or her own rulebook for each specific haunt scenario, and the traitor is sent off to read the scenario alone while the heroes read theirs and plan a general strategy. This is kind of a cool mechanic, since it sort of reinforces the new divide between heroes and traitor, but becomes a bit of a problem if there’s no real place the traitor can go that’s out of earshot of the heroes. Putting up that wall through the magic of technology would streamline the process. Man I’ve been talking about Betrayal a lot lately.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      I’d argue that the physicality of Risk Legacy is what makes the thought of it so compelling. When you meet certain requirements you write on the board changing it forever. you rip up and throw away the cards. That kind of thrill means nothing when translated to digital.

      I’m pretty much on board for solo boardgames on a tablet or whatever, but I think a HUGE part of the appeal is lost when you aren’t sitting at a table with other actual people and a bunch of cardboard and your brains.

      • CrabNaga says:

        I agree that the physicality is lost, but I’d rather not have to pay $40 to have a fresh board.

        And yes, that physicality component is lost for practically every board-game-to-video-game transition. However, it’s a lot easier to get people together online to play a game than it is to get people together for a game night. Something I’d also like to see in these sorts of “ports” is putting effort in to make the game look more like its own video game, rather than a graphical representation of the actual game pieces. Like if a digital version of Risk looked more like a game of Civilization, for instance.

        • The Lascivious Snape says:

          I can understand not wanting to drop $40 on a fresh board, but that’s why you take the spirit of Risk: Legacy to its furthest point: only play one full game of it in your life … ever!

          It will always be that one game of Risk: Legacy you played, and whoever in your group took ultimate victory, that fact will be theirs forever more. No rematches.

          • AGreatDisqusUsername says:

            Yeah, it’s tough to argue the amazing value of Risk: Legacy. My group just finished what is supposed to be the 15th and final game of the campaign, but we’re going to continue to play because
            a) We’re in a three-way tie and though the rules state that a tie at the very end is broken by a one-die roll-off, that’s lame as hell
            b) We still have one packet of cards left to open.

            We’ll likely still play on our board after our campaign is “complete”, because it’s been so satisfying to create this board that nobody else will ever own. For a group of 5 people to enjoy this experience for what has turned out to be over 4 months, I’d gladly pay $40 to experience it again.

    • boardgameguy says:

      A nicely implemented of Through the Ages could be nice since it really does have the fiddliest of bits.

      Also, I always want Dungeon Lords. Always.

    • Derek Kupper says:

      There are a lot of coop vs the deck games I’d think would be amazingly easy to convert. While many of them have gorgeous pieces and lose something in the translation, it would be nice to be able to occasionally play them without 45 minutes of set up.
      Stuff like Mage Knight, all of the Dungeons and Dragons games (Wrath of Assomething, Legend of Drizzt, Castle Ravenloft, etc), the Gears of War game (hey, it’s actually really fun!), Space Hulk: Death Angel, even Arkham Horror. Those games require very little AI – it’s already built in to the game!
      Also, Twilight Imperium 2 or 3. Hell, any of the big Fantasy Flight coffin box games – Rune Wars, TI, WoW, all that. I love the pieces, but I’d also like to have a quick way to play.

      Also, Blood Bowl Team Manager, as it’s one of my favorite games of all time.

      • boardgameguy says:

        Mage Knight is a GREAT suggestion for a game that would benefit from a app version. So many rules, so much set up time…

  12. Cloks says:

    Carcassone is such a good game. It’s easy to learn, hard to master and scales differently between groups of people. There’s such a strategic difference between 2 person games and 3,4,5 person games that it feels almost like a completely different beast.

    • Gipson says:

      Carcassone is terrific, but I’ve played it so damn much that I just can’t anymore. Even the best games eventually get boring. My game group always likes to play new stuff and learn it together, but the host’s wife – who joins on occasion – only wants to play stuff she knows. This limits us to Carcassone, Alhambra and Dominion.

      • Cloks says:

        Maybe she’d respond well to new games with simple rules, like Love Letter? There are also enough Dominion expansions that it can be a completely different game for quite a few plays.

      • boardgameguy says:

        I see that too. Some people just don’t like learning new rule sets, even with expansions. So when we have game nights, we try to balance one known game with an unknown or heavier game and let people opt out.

  13. Gipson says:

    Fuck Agricola. No game that takes that long to play should be that boring.

    I’m clearly in the wrong though, because it was Agricola that dethroned Puerto Rico as the top-rated game on BoardGameGeek for a time. And what is Agricola but a more long-winded and insufferable Puerto Rico?

    Love Small World and Forbidden Island, though.

    • boardgameguy says:

      Have to disagree about Agricola. I find it anything but boring from the tension of trying to find an optimal strategy but keeping it adaptable enough should the spaces you need in sequence be taken.

      But I wholeheartedly agree that Puerto Rico is insufferable.

      My biggest qualm with Small World: the starting player has a HUGE advantage in that they not only get first choice of where to start on the board, they also score their last turn before being attacked by the remaining players, frequently resulting in the last player getting piled on since that is the only player whose score will be affected.

      • Gipson says:

        It might be my own fault in the way I play Agricola. I rarely need more than 10-15 seconds to decide what I want to do, or what five things I want to do depending on what gets taken. Meanwhile the other players agonize for 2-3 minutes each play. So, my experience is: wait 10 minutes, quickly grab my piece, wait 10 minutes, quickly grab my piece.

        Just too much downtime in that game for me. I guess you could argue that it’s not really “down” time, because I should be using it planning my next move, but again, I just don’t need that long.

        It’s certainly a well-designed game. I’m not surprised it’s popular and lauded, it’s not for me. Maybe with a turn timer where everyone had max 30 seconds to make their selection or forfeit their grab.

        • boardgameguy says:

          I’ve threatened friends with playing speed-Agricola for this very reason. We’ve actually done it with Dungeons Lords before.

        • Derek Kupper says:

          Agricola against the AI on iOS fixes a lot of that. ;)
          I actually started playing the app version to learn. Then when I played in person, I was shocked at how long it took for a turn. I had the same issue – “Just go! It’s either first player or a sheep, pick one!” I placed within seconds of my turn, because I knew. The other players seemed to devise an entire strategy each placement.

  14. doyourealize says:

    Been wanting to play Agricola for a while now, and this might be the perfect time to pick it up. The price for the board game is a bit much for trying it out, but this is perfect.

    Nice list altogether. I’ll be sure to check some of these out.

  15. ItsTheShadsy says:

    What do you know, I JUST bought a physical copy of Forbidden Island on a whim! Good to know it’s fun.

    • DrFlimFlam says:

      I highly recommend playing with four people. I tried it was a two-player game and it needs to be perfect – PERFECT – to win because of card hand limits. Four players you can win a few times, get a feel, and then ratchet up the difficulty.

  16. Derek Kupper says:

    This is a great article! I actually bought my iPad specifically to play board games, so I have a few. ;)

    Some others:

    If you like Deckbuilding games (Dominion type games, sort of like M:tG but non-collectible, and you assemble your deck as you go) then Ascension is one of the best, and is free right now for the base set. Nightfall is horror themed one that has denser mechanics (and is arguably not quite as good as Ascension) that I quite enjoy.

    For Eurogames, Le Havre is a hugely popular, very complicated game that’s worth playing. Dominant Species is a bit complicated on the iPad, but also very much has the “someone to keep track of all the fiddly bit” points.

    Caylus is one of the granddaddies of worker placement games, and has a great iPad version. There’s also Puerto Rico (one of the top 10 on boardgamegeek) and the spin off, San Juan.

    If you like rolling virtual dice, Kingsburg and Alien Frontiers are both variations on worker placement that are fun.

    Zombie Dice is mindless push your luck fun.

    Pandemic is another great Coop game that just released last week. Yggdrasil is another less well known one with a cool Norse theme.

    My most anticipated iOS release ever was Eclipse, which is a 4x space game in boardgame form. It’s not quite as good as Twilight Imperium 3, but can be played in 30 minutes, and the AI is generally pretty smart.

    Neuroshima Hex is a tile placement war game that I play almost daily.

    Then a random selection list: Ra, an auction game from Reiner K, Scotland Yard, a sort of Clue variant, Titan, a *hugely* dense wargame from the 80’s is fun on iOS. Tikal, Kingdom Builder, Medici, Penny Arcade: Gamers vs Evil, Talisman, It’s Alive, Button Men, BANG!, Samurai, Tigris and Euphrates, Can’t Stop, Bohnanza, Kingdoms, Hive, and like a number that I’m forgetting. ;)

    There’s also an iOS version of Cyclades, which I’ve always wanted to play, but has no AI.

    • The Lascivious Snape says:

      Lots of great options in there, especially Penny Arcade: Gamers vs. Evil, which is my favorite from the deckbuilding genre, and Neuroshima Hex, which would be brilliant on tablet for the same reason Jason liked Small World, it keeps you honest about all the little details which can be hard to keep straight in that game.

  17. The Lascivious Snape says:

    Anyone play Galaxy Trucker?

    Just played for the first time last night and dug it a lot. It’s basically FTL the board game – build your ship, head out to space, get your shit fucked.

    • boardgameguy says:

      Galaxy Trucker is a blast. And since it came out in 2007, I think FTL is the video game version of Galaxy Trucker. Or, more accurately, FTL is the video game baby of Galaxy Trucker and Space Alert. I think what I’m trying to say is Vlaada Chvatil is the best.

      • The Lascivious Snape says:

        While I love playing tabletop games, I’ve never really followed their creators the way I do with videogames. So, it came as news to me that the same mind was behind Through the Ages, Galaxy Trucker, Space Alert, Dungeon Lords and the Mage Knight board game.

        Vlaada Chvatil is fucking incredible.

        • boardgameguy says:

          I feel like board games are really a designer-driven medium. It’s been a great way to track down games that sound interesting to me.

          What makes Chvatil so crazy is that his games use such different mechanics, rather than just variations on a theme like some other designers.

          Among my friends, one is a devote of Martin Wallace (Brass, Steam, London, First Train to Wensleydale, etc) and another to Stefan Feld (Castles of Burgundy, Trajan, Macao, Luna, Spiecherstadt). Antoine Bauza also has a range of neat games (7 Wonders, Ghost Stories, Takenoko).

          • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

            I’m all about Vlaada. And yeah, boardgames are very much a designers medium. When you buy a boardgame you’re getting the mechanics in a box, pretty much. Everything else is superfluous.

          • boardgameguy says:

            I even like his lighter fare like Travel Blog. Now I just need to try Bunny Bunny Moose Moose.

          • boardgameguy says:

            yeah, the rules are the only thing that matter. in fact, there is a whole community of people who make custom components to games or re-theme them with their favorite IP.

          • Derek Kupper says:

            Most of my current group are huge train game players, so Martin Wallace is sort of the patron saint of our group.
            Which makes it even more appropriate that I’m a Chvatil guy – it’s pretty representative of both our personal interactoins and our tastes. ;)
            I also find it funny that Knizia, who was basically the only superstar designer 10 years ago, is almost off the map now. I think it’s partially because he put out *so many* games, that he inevitably made some bad ones, and it just became sort of “Oh, another Knizia game? Okay, put it on the stack. We’ll see how it is after this new expansion for Dominion.”

          • boardgameguy says:

            Knizia really has diluted his ouput. But games like Ra, Tigris and Euphrates, and Ingenious are stone classics in my opinion. I’ve recently heard good things about Indigo, which is somewhat Tsuro-like.

      • Derek Kupper says:

        I am also a *huge* fan of Chvatil. Mage Knight and Space Alert are both at the top of my list of “Games I love to play” – they may not be the most precisely balanced and simple, but they are games I will play any time, any day, and have a blast every single time I do (barring the need to murder my friends for a bit after playing Space Alert). I bought Space Alert the day after I played it the first time, and I bought Mage Knight the day it came out, and played 3 solo games that night.
        Dungeon Lords has one of the best rule books I’ve ever read, and Through the Ages (don’t tell my old game group) is something I’d rather play than either Civilization or Diplomacy if we’re doing that sort of game.
        I had a horrible experience with Galaxy Trucker, because I didn’t realize just how awful it was going to be for my ship once we launched. I was so attached to the beauty I’d made, and then the asteroids … oh the asteroids…. But that was on me not getting what I was doing.

        • boardgameguy says:

          Many other designers could learn how to write a better rule book by paying attention to how Vlaada does it.

  18. BobbyMcD says:

    I’ve played half of those on the iPad (as well as in real life) and I don’t think any of them do particularly well in digital form.

    The big game board and the pieces and playing in person with friends are the real draw for most of those games. They just don’t translate all that well. Or maybe a better way of saying it is that they don’t take advantage of what a computer chip does well. They’re just ports.

  19. preslavrachev says:

    Hi. I am developing my own search and discovery platform for apps, called PinApp. Just wanted to let you know that I took all these games and built a board out of them: http://ios.discoverpinapp.com/user/john.smith/board_games

  20. MRF says:

    As neat as Playdek games are, Playdek as a company has done a lousy job supporting its games. I’m no longer going to be a customer of Playdek games for this reason.

    Summoner Wars is a fantastic game and the iOS port was great. There is a bug that emerged in iOS 7 however that prevents IAP purchases (used to buy the faction decks) from being used. It only affects some people. As noted on Playdek’s Facebook page (a link to a toucharcade forums posting) and also referenced on their twitter account, they were repeatedly warned about this bug during the iOS 7 beta but ignored it (claiming an inability to reproduce, although they also note on their Facebook page that one of their employees has this IAP bug on their own device). Yes, Playdek has apologized for this problem, but apologies are cheap: they have yet to fix the problem or to update their customers on the status of the fix.

    It’s been a month now, and customers that recently paid for new decks (that were themselves quite delayed) right before the release of iOS 7 are left with nothing.

    If you check the current reviews for Summoner Wars, you’ll see only 1 star reviews due to this problem. Playdek claims that other apps experience this IAP bug, but the only app I’ve seen it happen with or heard complaints about is Summoner Wars.

    • WLVA says:

      Agreed, and thank you for informing everyone. Summoner Wars is broken for many users, including myself. Read those reviews mentioned by MRF — when it comes to Playdek games, let the buyer beware!

      • Derek Kupper says:

        That being said, it’s one app, with one problem, that affects a subset of a subset of users (iOS 7). It’s not like everything they release is a giant tarpit of doom. I’ve never had any issues with any of the Playdek games I own. I know it’s amazingly frustrating not to be able to play things you paid for, but painting Playdek as some shyster company with broken products is completely inaccurate.

        Hell, I’ve lost my progress 7 times on the Magic 2013 app, and had to start over from the start, as have a large number of people, but that’s not to say that Magic 2013 isn’t a good app.

        • WLVA says:

          Yes, if you asked me a month ago whether to buy Summoner Wars, Ascension, or Nightfall, I would have highly recommended those Playdek games. After all, I’ve bought every IAP for the first two.

          Let’s not understate the case by noting that a “subset” of users have adopted iOS 7, when that’s 3/4 of all devices already.

          Playdek is a company with a completely broken product. They’ve known about the problem for a long time. They are lousy at communicating about when the problem will be fixed, and in the meantime they are turning out new games instead of supporting existing users.

          I’m sorry you’ve lost your progress in Magic 2013. If that’s a documented problem, I’d say that Magic 2013 isn’t a very good app. The proper response is to communicate that problem to the developers. If they fail to respond, and the problem persists so much that the game is completely unusable, I understand if you would be frustrated.

        • Mike M. says:

          Playdek is still selling SW and IAP on the App Store, instead of pulling the app temporarily or warning users in the description of the potential issue. Forum posts on Plaid Hat’s web site suggest that new users can encounter this IAP bug. Selling a known defective product is unacceptable and inexcusable.

  21. pookie says:

    Nice article. Would there bechance a similar one devoted to Android games?