Android Reviews

Review: Star Realms

The final frontier

The final frontier

Deckbuilding has long been the one board game mechanic that never quite lived up to its promise. It was born from the out-of-game experience every Magic player had of building a killer deck but, in practice, never really felt like that. Instead, games like Dominion and Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer use deckbuilding as a means to create a euro-style victory-point generating engine. Compare the feeling you get when your newly crafted Paladin deck in Hearthstone wipes out some poor hunter in ranked play versus the lack of a rush you get as you use a newly crafted Dominion deck to purchase another province. Somehow deckbuilding, an activity closely associated with the most Ameritrashy of genres, had been turned into a euro-styled efficiency engine.

Star Realms changes that. Here is a deckbuilder that actually feels like you’re building a weapon to smash someone in the face with. It feels like Hearthstone, only the deckbuilding takes place while you’re playing instead of outside the game. It’s incredibly simple, and yet layered enough that you can build satisfying combos that are guaranteed to make you grin as you put them together in your hand.

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Review: The Manhattan Project

I think I can hack together a workable prototype using the coffee roaster building from Puerto Rico.

I understand why plutonium and uranium are crucial fuels for a nuclear weapons program, but shouldn’t there be a third column for coffee?

The Manhattan Project bought tickets to the prom before asking anyone, got rejected, then went stag. That is, development on the digital adaptation of the highly-regarded tabletop game was already quite advanced by the time the Kickstarter campaign to fund it launched. Said campaign came up quite short, which left developer Domowicz Creative Group with strong feedback that polishing the app to their satisfaction was unlikely to pay off. In the face of that disappointing reality, they’ve taken pity on those fans of the game who saw the functional prototype in the pitch videos and have tidied up their existing work enough to make it available to the public, albeit in a less ambitious state than they had hoped.

If you’re familiar with Agricola or Lords of Waterdeep, you’ve seen the worker placement mechanic at the core of this game. It’s been a hot mechanic in modern boardgame design for a few years, in part because forcing players to compete for jobs produces subtle but constant player interaction while allowing conflict-averse players to focus on building their own engines of points.

The Manhattan Project innovates on this model substantially. This isn’t the bucolic live-and-let-live world of Agricola; as befits the theme of a high-stakes race to build nuclear weapons, you can deliver your opponents’ nuclear programs a fiery setback with bomber airstrikes, or steal their secrets with spies. You also have a level of control over the allocation of your workers which would make Oppenheimer (or Sammereza Sulphontis) envious. What you don’t have, sadly, is a polished app.

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Review: Blood Bowl

Of course, given the breadth of sexual euphemism, it would be hard to rule out anything.

“Touchdown” sounds a bit like a sexual euphemism, which explains the sporran. Also, the New York Jets.

It is widely agreed that the 1980s were a very strange decade. Neon legwarmers, obviously, but also Games Workshop and its hobby games casting a shadow greater than any other between TSR and Wizards of the Coast.

Their games were often forbidding investments of time and money, but offered both strategic depth and incomparable (if deeply silly) aesthetics once your hand-painted miniatures graced a well-laid table. Blood Bowl is the silliest of the lot: not only does it incorporate the exaggerated character design and overwrought world of Warhammer, it’s fantasy football the way many readers of Pocket Tactics will have imagined it when they heard the phrase. Sure, daytime sporting events between vampires and halflings don’t make any sense, but if you’re worried about plausibility in your Games Workshop games, I invite you to figure out Chainsaw Warrior.

The sport Blood Bowl simulates is actually quite light on rules–there are no downs or field goals or eligible receivers, and all manner of ultra-violence is perfectly legal so long as you don’t stomp on a prone opponent in a deliberate attempt to put them out of the game. Even then, officials aren’t that attentive and possess a FIFA-like open-mindedness about bribery.

Blood Bowl’s rules are poorly presented and have a few too many complex embellishments with too little return. In addition, there are roughly a hundred different skills with special rules and additional rules governing campaigns and skill development. While it’s wonderful to have the enforcement of these rules taken off your hands so you can focus on the intriguing strategic game underneath, Cyanide Studio’s iOS version is an awful tutor and you end up forced to do a great deal of tedious record-keeping, anyway.

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Review: Battle Fleet 2

Fernando hears the guns.

Fernando hears the guns.

The current vogue for turn-based high-seas naval combat games (see Pacific Fleet, Atlantic Fleet, and Naval Tactics) is a curious phenomenon that I suspect is a symptom of our collective unease with drone warfare, but I’ll save that for the day when War is Boring gives me a chance to write a column. It also might just be that battleships with 16″ diameter guns are terrifyingly cool. I’ll buy that, too.

As a rule, I prefer turn-based games with a vehement, old-timey prejudice. But I also accept that doing naval combat in neat, pre-ordered turns distorts the simulation a bit. A gruesome struggle of life and death becomes a badminton match played with high explosive shuttlecocks. The successful naval combat sim, then, is one that re-injects drama and excitement back into the proceedings.

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Review: Star Traders 4X Empires

Blah blah space battle, et cetera et cetera orbital weapons platforms. Come on, let's talk spice rates!

Blah blah space battle, et cetera et cetera orbital weapons platforms. Come on, let’s talk spice rates!

Star Traders 4X rounds all the requisite space-strategy bases for a game of its nomenclature; you find new systems, colonize them, strip them of natural resources and, in turn, funnel those resources into a burgeoning military-industrial complex. But, when it comes to mining the human drama which rests on the success or failure of this empire-building, the Trese Brothers’ latest isn’t as sure-footed.

Star Traders is a game where the fate of an entire system can rest on cooperation between three–often petty–groups of intergalactic merchants stranded in a remote stretch of the universe. These factions can either be an economic triumvirate fueling your conquest of the galaxy, or a perpetually warring band of toddlers who can’t be bothered to call off their trade embargoes, assassins’ contracts, and solar wars when a xenos fleet is steamrolling their holdings. To these traders, such grudges are just part of their (shockingly short-sighted) business, and to you–the overlord meant to keep all things balanced–they’re just another semi-obscured mechanic or cryptic maths modification among many, many others.

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Review: Qvadriga

The dead horse and flipped chariot probably aren't omens or anything.

My charioteer enters a turn at ludicrous speed. The absence of a “soil oneself” button among the available orders seems like a failure of verisimilitude.

Have you ever wanted to race chariots in the Roman Empire? No? Excellent–your prudent approach to risk would do the Dawes, Tomes, Mousely, Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank proud. Owning some chariots, though, and having some other schmucks race them for you (following your input during each turn-based race), sounds a lot more exciting than farming or trading grain for pots, while still leaving your Health Savings Account intact. I find management sims of interesting pursuits highly appealing (indeed, Owen first piqued my interest in Pocket Tactics by describing Phantom Leader as “Football Manager for fighter squadrons”), and Slitherine chose a marvelously under-used setting for Qvadriga, now ported to tablets from its desktop debut.

Cool theme aside, Qvadriga (Latin for a chariot drawn by a four-horse team) offers a moderately robust management sim complemented by an innovative blend of real-time and turn-based interaction with the actual races. You can move your enterprise to various cities around the Roman Empire, racing on tracks with different levels of competition in cities which specialize in various race-relevant arts. Your chosen faction provides certain global bonuses, but purchasing better horses or chariots can also improve your resistance to damage, top speed, and so forth. The charioteers themselves also have skills which they gain through experience on the track (though they may have some when hired), but all of this complexity is limited by your current city, which offers relatively few options for new purchases. Continue reading…

Review: 6 Takes!

A risky situation. The 100 has a slightly better chance of sneaking into the fifth spot on the top row than the 103, but then the 103 will almost certainly stick me with the whole row. Play the 103 first, and it's a bit more likely to take the row anyway, and you still have to find a place for the 100.

I have no idea why this game is themed around bulls.

6 Takes! (also known on the tabletop as 6 Nimmt! or Category 5) sits at roughly the halfway point between Uno and Go. It’s a popular family card game which is quite easy to learn, but manages to use a single mechanic to produce recognizable maneuvers and finely-balanced decisions. Players simultaneously select numbered cards from their hand, which are then allocated, lowest first, to the row which ends in the highest lower number. Play the sixth card in a row or a lower number than any which ends an existing row, and you collect a row’s worth of cards to score. That’s all you need to define the gameplay–just score the fewest bull icons, and you win.

For those of us who live in castles and sip Glensillynameich neat, that’s not the greatest pitch in the world [hmm, quite. --ed.]. But from my vantage point, deep in the bowels of Playroom Rinella, there’s a clear attraction to games my children can easily learn but which give me enough to think about to remain completely engaging. It’s quite stimulating to be constantly on the lookout for an opportunity to fill the fifth slot in a row with the number one higher than the last card, or to replace a row so as to force some opponents’ cards onto a row with less space. It’s similarly mortifying how frequently I forget about the existence of a full row while concentrating on the other three, and toss out a card guaranteed to gain me points.

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Review: Solarmax 2

If only real wars were so bloodless. And neon.

If only real wars were so bloodless. And neon.

“Is this it?” Solarmax 2 doesn’t make a great first impression. It seems like a singleplayer RTS streamlined so aggressively that the game was sanded right off.

You’ll ferry pretty little colored lights (your spaceships) from planet to planet in a small solar system. If your pretty little lights stay on an unoccupied planet long enough it becomes yours, and continuously generates more pretty little lights to play with. If your pretty little lights encounter pretty little lights of another color they’ll fight, popping and flashing until one side either retreats or is obliterated.

That description may be too condescending. Let’s try again. Solarmax 2 truly is a nice-looking game. The ambient music, subtle sound effects and understated visuals make galactic war appear downright lovely. Still, it all seems awfully trite — at first. Until, eventually, you find yourself having fun in spite of yourself. There’s a nuance here that isn’t evident right away.

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