iOS Reviews

Review: Yardmaster: Rule the Rails

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I hear that train a comin', it's rollin' round the bend

I hear that train a comin’, it’s rollin’ round the bend

Tabletop publisher Crash Games is a newcomer to the digital world, and Yardmaster is their first card game port for mobile devices. It’s tough to make a good iOS board game in your first crack at the platform (Cyclades, anyone?), but we’ve seen other first-time publishers/developers make great apps. Pandemic and the upcoming Galaxy Trucker come to mind as games that feel like the products of much more experienced studios.

Yardmaster is a first-time effort and it feels like one, too. It’s definitely not a total disaster, but the app is broken in some very important ways, even now a few weeks on from release. Worse still, the Yardmaster card game itself might not have been the best choice for a digital port.

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Review: Spymaster

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Disavow all knowledge.

Disavow all knowledge.

There was a time, I’m sure, early in Spymaster’s development when it was a fun game to play. I can just see the fun down there, buried underneath all the strata of free-to-play crap that’s been layered on top of it. Somewhere in the world there is probably a game reviewer or critic who has the patience to play Spymaster long enough to dust off that fun and excavate a shortcut to it.

That game reviewer is not me. I’ve spent probably three hours in Spymaster babysitting my fragile little punnet of easily-bruised peaches that this game calls WWII spies and I’ve had more than enough, thanks. Spymaster wheedles you for cash a couple of different ways, but its primary means of poking your wallet is to randomly injure your spies mid-mission. They can be healed, it won’t surprise you to learn, with real cash money.

Spymaster is ostensibly a game about espionage in Nazi-occupied Europe like Where Eagles Dare, but in practice it’s a lot closer to Goodfellas. Spymaster gives you a bunch of characters to get attached to, then holds them for ransom. Actual ransom. With real dollars. “Wow, level 3! This spy of yours is pretty great, huh?” Spymaster says in a Joe Pesci voice. “You should give us a donation, because it would be a shame if anything happened to her, am I right?” A lot of free-to-play games are crass, but Spymaster is a bully.

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Review: Etherlords

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The Al Bundy Rule: It’s not a good sign when the rolling and tumbling starts and you just want to get it over with.

The Al Bundy Rule: It’s not a good sign when the rolling and tumbling starts and you just want to get it over with.

Carcassonne meets Pokemon is a hell of an awesome premise. Build a custom overworld from individual tiles, uncovering its weird and dangerous inhabitants as you do so. These creatures can be added to your squad of fighters, which will do battle with other teams to claim the resources you need to keep building. That sounds great! How could a game like that possibly not be fun?

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Review: BattleRiders

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"Yeah, I'll show 'em who's buying a 'midlife crisis car.' I'll show 'em all!"

“Yeah, I’ll show ‘em who’s buying a ‘midlife crisis car.’ I’ll show ‘em all!”

I first queued up BattleRiders at the start of what proved to be a tortuously long Labor Day weekend bus ride from my hometown in New Hampshire back to Boston. This setting–overcrowded bus, overly sanitized air, a saccharine safety video and a highway choked with fender benders and multi-car pile-ups–proved to be the perfect contrast to BattleRiders arcade-y blast em’ up racing.

If the point of a good, pure racing game is to marvel at the speed and grace of the automotive age, then the point of games like BattleRiders is to remind us that the vehicles which we rely on for commerce and entertainment can just as easily serve as either tanks or missiles. Of course, the missiles here aren’t “improvised” so much as “explicitly deadly and heat-seaking,” but the point stands.

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Review: Province

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Owen Faraday and the Rondels will be opening for Pink Floyd on their next tour.

I like rondels. They may be hard to theme, but they offer interesting decisions and they sound like 50s backup singers.

Province is a two-player micro-euro board game for iOS with a familiar lineage: basically, Agricola and Le Havre had a baby (though it does have Imperial‘s nose. Le Havre is sure that’s just an anomaly). A lot of people saw a euro playable in under five minutes as quite a promising niche, with over 6,000 backers on the Kickstarter campaign* together raising almost ten times the asking price. Most of the games I know which are reliably playable in that time frame seem unable to accommodate strategy of any kind. Enter Province, with a bit of swagger.

The basic gameplay cycle is to move workers one place clockwise on a pie chart that lists a sequence of actions — this is known in board gaming argot as a rondel. Actions generate labor or money, then use these resources to build buildings which make resource generation more efficient or flexible (and give you one or two victory points, if you build them before your opponent). Each game includes a stack of five goals selected randomly from nine options, which also offer a victory point bounty. The game ends when this stack is exhausted, a player builds seven buildings, or there are no more victory points to be gained from building. It’s simple, meaningful, small, and feels like a knock-down, drag-out fight in the backseat of a car. Or as we call it in my family, “driving to grandma’s house”. Continue reading…

Review: Heavy Metal Thunder

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A game with read character (sheets).

A game with read character (sheets).

Back when I started writing for Pocket Tactics I mentioned something to Owen about growing up in the 80’s and playing a ton of gamebooks as a kid. Now, to be honest, the only reason I told Owen any of this was because I was angling to review Sorcery! from inkle Studios. Now, normally I’m not a very convincing person but for some reason on that fateful day in May, Owen bought it. No wait, he didn’t just buy it, he embraced it, and here I am writing another review of interactive fiction. [Break's over, back to the IF mines. --ed.]

This time it’s the apocalyptic sci-fi pulp-fest Heavy Metal Thunder from newcomer Cubus Games and, spoiler, it’s pretty damn good.

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Review: The Nightmare Cooperative

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"Meg, look at this place. This place looks like a mansion! It's like a mansion, look at all this stuff!"

“Meg, look at this place. This place looks like a mansion! It’s like a mansion, look at all this stuff!”

Let’s go ahead and stick “The Nightmare Cooperative” on the list of Surprisingly Literal-Minded Titles, just under Quantum of Solace and above Face/Off. It’s either a roguelike-y puzzle or a puzzle-y roguelike, one where you’re given a randomly selected pair of adventurers and tasked with plundering all four levels of a dungeon to drum up funds for a cash-strapped town. New pals sit sleeping in this subterranean deathtrap, waiting to join your fellowship should you wander over and wake them up.

The trick–and this gets worse with each new pledge for your gang–is that all your characters move and act in unison. That’s the “cooperative” bit. The “nightmare” part comes in, oh, around the thirtieth or fortieth time your priest gets dunked in an acid pit so the rest of your adventurers can snag some treasure.

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Review: Almightree

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The art style is a pastiche of Wind Waker meets Bastion, a blend I didn’t know I wanted until now.

The art style in Almightree is a pastiche of Wind Waker meets Bastion, a blend I didn’t know I wanted until now.

Terrible puns are a point of pride here at Pocket Tactics [our rec league jai alai team is called The Groan Gunmen -- ed.], but we might have been outdone by Almightree, a game about an arboreal magician who navigates a crumbling landscape using a technique called plantsportation. Surely our puns can sink no lower! [don't test me -- ed.]

But boy is this a gorgeous game, cel-shaded pastels juxtaposing vibrant colors against the terror of a dying world. The overlong opening cutscene might trick you into thinking this is a story-heavy experience, but as soon as you actually start playing you will realize the narrative is little more than window dressing to a pretty typical puzzle game. Unfortunately, Almightree’s roots are too shallow to sustain its beauty for long.

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