Board Games Gone Mobile: iPad Flexes its Muscle

Back in April, I took at look at the mobile app scene and came to the conclusion that board games were entering a golden age of electronic adaptations. It's only been two months, yet so many new great game apps have been released and announced that I could not list them all if I tried.

Some of the biggest news has an increase in support for the Android platform. Codito Development, who have been on a tear with their iOS releases, will be porting Medici, Ra, and Tigris & Euphrates to Android. Big Daddy Creations will be porting over the popular Neuroshima Hex app as well. As Android phones improve, and the smartphone user base in general continues to expand, I expect the Android marketplace will see many more great games come its way.

While Android and iPhone are still going strong, the iPad has taken the furthest leap forward during the past two months. Even though it has the lowest number of users, the platform is growing fast (almost 5 million iPads were sold in Q1 2011 alone), so the app store selection is racing to keep up. If you are a new iPad owner, or one in need of a few new games, here are a few that are worth your attention:

Ticket to Ride

Up until now, Small World from Days of Wonder has been hands-down the best implementation of a board game on the iPad. Who else could unseat that game but Days of Wonder themselves, publishing their most popular title, Ticket to Ride, last month.

A 2004 Spiel des Jahres (Germany's Board Game of the Year award) winner, the gameplay is solid without question. What makes this app a champ is all in the implementation. Online games are supported between users of the iPad, PC, and Mac versions of the game, which means you'll never wait more than a minute to find a few opponents. As someone who has played both the iPad and PC versions, I can attest that once you go iPad, you'll never want to go back.

The app also launched with some day one DLC, allowing users to purchase the Europe, Switzerland, and USA 1910 expansions. For just over $10, you can grab $140 worth of board games. Tell that to your spouse when you go to justify your $500+ iPad purchase! In July, the app will update to include local multiplayer and other promised yet unannounced improvements.

Bohnanza

Another hit game to be sure, Bohnanza is a fan-favorite card game from 1997 that has players competing to run the best bean farm, proving that you can put just about any theme onto a game as long as the mechanics are solid. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise to veteran hobby gaming fans who may be familiar with designer Uwe Rosenberg's later titles, though.

This is a game that is all about trading, so it was interesting to see a title with heavy player interaction hit the app store. A unique rules twist states that players must use the cards from their hand in the order of which they were drawn, forcing players to negotiation beneficial trades in order to form successful farms. The app only supports 2-player local play, and offers up weak AI to substitute in a large multiplayer experience, so while it is not a perfect app implementation, Bohnanza is still one of the better family card games to hit the iPad.

Hey That's My Fish

In a bit of unexpected news, Fantasy Flight Games jumped into the mobile gaming scene by self-publishing their iPad version of Hey, That's My Fish! Their first entry is one to impress, as well. Rarely do you see a game where the designers have gone through so much effort to provide a functional UI with high quality graphic design.

Hey That's My Fish! plays like a mix of Don't Break the Ice and checkers. Penguins move around the board collecting fish, but cause pieces from the board to fall off as they do so. When a penguin gets trapped, it is removed from play. In the end, it is simply the player with the most fish who wins.

Originally published in 2003 by Mayfair Games, Fantasy Flight will be re-releasing the physical board game later in 2011 with some fancier components. Perhaps building some buzz in the iOS App Store will help move this reprint off of store shelves?

Tikal

Tikal is also a past Spiel des Jahres winner, taking the award home in 1999. While the gameplay is solid, the implementation is not as sparkling as the previously mentioned Ticket to Ride. Still, when judged against its peers in the App Store, it still comes home a winner.

This game puts players in the role of Central American explorers, and serves as a good introduction to both tile placement and area control game mechanics. Players slowly build the modular board as they roam the jungle in search of new temples to claim, and can only attain victory by maintaining control over these monuments. Tikal is particularly well-suited for a hobby gaming fix on the go as it is a game focused more on turn-by-turn tactical play rather than the deep planning and long-term strategy that a mobile gamer may not be able to afford the attention to.

Looking into the future for mobile gaming, the iPhone will likely be the star over the next few months as it will continue its steady march of releases with a few all-time classic board games mixed in. Expected throughout the rest of 2011 are such great games as: Puerto Rico, Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, Caylus, Through the Ages, Le Havre, and El Grande.