Now that we’re firmly in the midst of summer (or winter, for those of you on the upside-down half of the planet) I asked the regular contributors to share their favourite games of 2013 up until this point. This isn’t any sort of ranking with a lot of pseudo-empirical numbers or analytics or anything like that. It isn’t even necessarily “the best” games of the year so far — we’ll save that kind of unabashed linkbait for Christmastime.
After the jump, the iOS games from first half 2013 that have set our hearts all a-flutter — one from each PT contributor and two from me because it’s my site, goshdarn it.
Magic: 2014 is reliably great. As are the Frozen Synapse port, Ascension’s Immortal Heroes, the promising Spiral: Episode One and, yes, the perfectly simple Totems. But the game I keep returning to when I’ve worn out other options is Games Workshop and Nomad Games’ Talisman: Prologue.
Here’s a game–a proof of concept, really–which embodies the ideas I’d be happy to see portable gaming at-large adopt. First, that the difference between a physical table top game and the surface of a phone or tablet isn’t all that much, and that whatever is lost in the transition from RealSpace to VirtuSpace is excused by the two formats’ main commonality: they keep games communal, shareable, and open to the player mechanics-wise.
Second, that games can be about storytelling without actually having an official story; in Talisman I’ve had a goodly monk’s quest to recover holy artifacts twisted to evil by Mephistopheles, an assassin employed by a time-bending warlock, and a troll who just adored getting beat to a pulp, and all in the natural course of play. Which brings me to the “third” bit: randomness, done well, is a valid mechanic, darn it. Here’s to more like Talisman: Prologue.
If I put on my objectivity hat, I have to concede there’ve been better games this year than Gemini Rue. But in my subjective view, my objectivity hat doesn’t quite fit my noggin. (My girlfriend, an avid but frustrated knitter, insists that *no* hats fit my noggin.) I reseat it, I yank down on the brim, I try to match my wardrobe to it, but the damned thing never feels quite right. So indulge me while I remove it and wax romantic about the best adventure game I’ve played in years.
Imagine you’ve never smelled petrichor because your city’s streets don’t dry before the next deluge. You’ve seen the horizon a few times, but only on the occasional trip into orbit. You’re afraid to ask the name of anyone else in your tenement. People are still human, of course. They still smile and laugh, but only in surprise—nobody ever expects it to happen.
The skies are dark, the world is grim and stifled, and you know your future will resemble your past. Despite all this, you understand that there are large forces at play in the galaxy. The universe manifests differently to different people. Somewhere out there are fortunes to be made and lost, secrets to be kept and spilled, causes worth the shedding of blood and tears. But these all occur on the periphery. You’ve got to look after yourself first, right?
If the above paragraphs describe you, get thee to psychotherapy, stat. But first check to make sure you aren’t an NPC in Gemini Rue.
Shifts is a scrappy little underdog of a game. The interface is a little over-complicated and under-responsive. The art runs the gamut from “rare gem” to “starving artist sale”. But it feels like a labour of love, because it is. Shifts is the very first outing from rookie devs Threadbare Games. It gets so many things right — things that many better-pedigreed iOS games don’t — that it’s easily the year’s most underrated title as far as I’m concerned.
Shifts is everything I want an iOS solitaire board game to be: well-themed, strategic, and infinitely replayable. As such, it’s been a fixture on my iPad since I discovered it back in January and I don’t reckon it’s going anywhere anytime soon. Threadbare are working on their follow-up acts: turn-based fantasy racing game Goblin Grand Prix and sci-fi squad tactical Terra Omega. If they’ve got half as much heart as Shifts and just a little more polish, they’ll be able to stand up with the best games on the platform.
It’s a great time to be a board gamer who also owns an iPad, ports of great board games are seemingly coming out at a breakneck pace. This year alone saw great ports of games like Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy, Talisman, and Warhammer Quest. The cream of the crop, and my most played app of 2013, however is Agricola from Playdek.
Playdek took a rather dry board game and breathed life into it, making it one of the most accessible and beautiful board game apps on the market. Whether it’s trying to beat my Single Series score, or playing with the fantastic online tools that Playdek offers in all their games, I see myself playing Agricola for a long time to come.
Ascension: Immortal Heroes
The Immortal Heroes expansion for Ascension has done more to shake up my strategies than any previous expansion. The critical moment in my development as an Ascension player was the realization that it was better not to buy a Heavy Infantry most of the time. The strategy I favored over many hundreds of games very rarely changed that. With Immortal Heroes in the mix, my decision tree is more open than it’s ever been. It also gives me the joy of the power fantasy, as my late turns frequently involve tremendous activity. While I wouldn’t especially enjoy watching someone else’s five-minute turn, and so probably wouldn’t be too enamored of this expansion played face-to-face, on iOS it makes me gleeful.
Ace Patrol is significant for a couple of reasons: it’s the first new design from game design deity Sid Meier in a few years, but it’s also the best original iOS game by a major console/PC publisher yet. Despite suffering from a confusing pricing model and tacked-on feeling multiplayer, the core game is a jewel. Pushing around your WWI biplane miniatures while they bank in and out of the clouds and strafe zeppelins is the most fun I’ve had with a game this year on any platform.
Calling out Ace Patrol and not 2K/Firaxis’ other big release, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, isn’t a knock on that latter game — in fact, XCOM is probably the better product all around. But I played XCOM to death last year on PC, and Ace Patrol is still fresh after a couple of months of solid play.