Down the memory hole: Playdek’s stealth cancellations of Smash Up and more

A smash too far.

A smash too far.

Playdek can do damn near anything. Over the past couple of years, the esteemed iOS developers have done more in the mobile space for hobby gamers than anyone, creating genre-defining digital versions of tabletop games like Ascension, Summoner Wars, Agricola, and Lords of Waterdeep. But there’s one thing Playdek doesn’t know how to do: cancellations.

Like a girlfriend contemplating a text message breakup, the generally self-assured Playdek choke when it comes time to drop the hammer. For the past year, Playdek have kept schtum about three games that were once in their future plans but now appear to have been cancelled: the unique genre-mixing card game Smash Up, introductory-level wargame Tank on Tank, and the more advanced tactical wargame Commands & Colors.

In my interview with him in December, Playdek CEO Joel Goodman could only be drawn out on the subject far enough to say that “[t]here’s been partners and games we’ve talked about before where the relationship might evolve.”

I decided to try and find out what the other half of those relationships had to say. Here’s what I discovered.

Tank on Tank

Bail out.

Bail out.

First officially announced back in August of 2012, Tank on Tank seemed an inspired pick on Playdek’s part. Wargaming has always been a fairly niche hobby, but Lock N Load Publishing’s WWII board game is regarded as one of the easiest games in the genre to pick up and play.

In April of 2013, Playdek pushed Tank on Tank back to 2014 (and also pointed to a forthcoming Playdek/LNL announcement that never came), but at some point later in the year, Tank on Tank vanished from the Playdek website Guantanamo-style without so much as a press release from San Diego.

When I spoke with him this week, Lock N Load Publishing head honcho Mark H. Walker told me in no uncertain terms that the project to bring Tank on Tank to iOS was dead. “Playdek won’t be doing Tank on Tank,” Walker says. “No real problem, just wasn’t the right time for it with them.”

On the bright side, Walker tells me that Lock n’ Load: Heroes of Stalingrad, their PC tactical game long in the making with Slitherine/Matrix, would be out for desktops this February. But we shouldn’t expect to see Tank on Tank or any other Lock N Load wargames on iOS anytime soon, at least not coming from Playdek.

Commands & Colors

Cannae'd. [Image by <a href="http://boardgamegeek.com/image/1358815/commands-colors-ancients">Thomas AH.</a>]

Cannae’d. [Image by Thomas AH.]

Announced in the fall of 2012 not long after Tank on Tank, Playdek’s iOS adaptation of GMT’s widely respected tabletop wargame Commands & Colors was a bold pick for Playdek. A more complex and flexible game system than Tank on Tank, it would also have proven a harder sell outside of the core wargaming audience.

Like Tank on Tank, I was told by Playdek in the spring of 2013 that Commands and Colors was delayed and then the game disappeared from Playdek’s website shortly thereafter.

GMT‘s co-founder Gene Billingsley had a carefully worded reply for me when I inquired about the status of Commands & Colors for iOS. “No comment, other than to note that Playdek is our partner for [Commands & Colors] digital games.”

That comment suggests that GMT still has an ongoing contractual relationship with Playdek, but it doesn’t sound to me like development is underway.

Smash Up

Smash Up in play. [Image by C. Kirkman]

Alienated. [Image by C. Kirkman]

Of the three games on this list, the unique “shuffle-building” card game Smash Up seems like the one that slots most neatly into Playdek’s wheelhouse, but it too has been black-bagged. The game was bounced off of the Playdek website last May shortly before the release of Agricola, and Playdek haven’t uttered a peep about the subject since.

My emails to Alderac’s Todd Rowland, the publisher of the tabletop version of Smash Up went unanswered, but it looks to me like the fate of the iOS version of Smash Up is pretty clear.

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Playdek’s a business and they have to make business decisions — I don’t think anyone could reasonably begrudge them that. And it looks like they’re about to make an all-hands-on-deck effort over the next year or so to make the ambitious tactical RPG Unsung Story a success. They might well be throwing projects overboard to focus on that.

But it’s odd that they won’t just rip the band-aid off and announce cancellations once and for all. From what we’ve seen, Tank on Tank is definitely out and I think the smart money is that Commands & Colors and Smash Up are, too.