Pocket Takes: Lost Cities, Ninja Dinosaur Showdown, and Oktoberfest Manager

Lost Cities

Lost Cities embraces skeuomorphism but it does so beautifully.

Lost Cities embraces skeuomorphism but it does so beautifully.

iTunes Store, $3.99. iPhone.

Renier Knizia might be board gaming’s most prolific designer – even if you aren’t a board game geek yourself you’ve probably seen the name before. There are dozens of games bearing Knizia’s imprimatur in the App Store produced by scores of different designers – you’re left with the impression that Dr Knizia is a workaholic who’s never met a licensing deal he didn’t like. iOS ports of Knizia games range in quality from the elegantly polished to the downright crude.

Lost Cities falls on the elegant end of that spectrum – in fact, the whole spectrum will need a recalibration. Lost Cities is the finest Knizia game on the App Store and one of the best head-to-head multiplayer games, period. Developers Coding Monkeys set a high bar for themselves with their pitch-perfect rendition of Carcassonne from 2010, and Lost Cities picks up right where it leaves off. The game impresses right from the start with a fully-voiced, dynamic tutorial that reacts to how you play – anyone developing a digital board game should buy Lost Cities if only to experience the tutorial first-hand. It’s the standard against which all future tutorials will be judged. How I would have liked to have had such thoughtful handholding the first time I played Le Havre.

Whether Knizia foresaw it or not, Lost Cities is mechanically ideal for asynchronous multiplayer. There is no datum or stratagem that you need to keep track of mentally – everything is either on the board or in your hand, and if you pick up a game after leaving it idle for a day or two it is trivially easy to reverse-engineer the strategy you might have had in mind before the interval.

Everything about Lost Cities gleams with quality: the graphics, the music, the single-player AIs – I could go on, but I won’t. The one knock on the game is that it’s not a Universal app, but it looks and plays fine at double resolution.

SCORE

5 out of 5

Ninja Dinosaur Showdown?!

I wonder if there's a Ninja Anti-Defamation League somewhere.

I wonder if there’s a Ninja Anti-Defamation League somewhere.

iTunes Store, $2.99. iPhone.

Ninja Dinosaur Showdown?! (I’m only doing that interrobang once) is probably the best Plants vs Zombies clone I’ve seen yet, but it’s not quite up to PopCap’s level of polish. PvZ is a defense game (the bête noire of Pocket Tactics) but it’s one of the top 25 all-time apps for two good reasons: it’s undeniably charming and it keeps the player busy.

Charm is something Showdown has in buckets. The array of imaginative enemies and ninjas (the “towers” of this game) are automatically entered into a humorous bestiary that is a kick to browse through – clearly the devs made a catalogue of reasons that PvZ works and hewed closely to it with their own design. This is no bad thing.

Showdown is also careful to keep you occupied – again, like PvZ. Defense games fall apart when they leave the player with nothing to do (cfFieldrunners 2), and Showdown corrects a bit too far into other direction, getting quite frantic at times, but it feels strategic enough. Your ninjas can be moved from row to row as required, giving the gameplay a tactical flexibility that PvZ lacks.

Taken as a whole, Showdown isn’t a bad way to burn a coffee break, but it doesn’t quite rise above the limitations of its genre and doesn’t ever match the level of craftsmanship of the game it emulates. The units that unlock periodically aren’t enough to keep the gameplay from growing stale, and game’s menus can befuddle. Still – it’s a capable enough successor to Plants vs Zombies that is brimming with content – fans of the genre should give it a go.

SCORE

3 out of 5

Oktoberfest Manager

Oktoberfest Manager just a little sexist.

Oktoberfest Manager has an old-fashioned sexism about it that is a bit distasteful.

iTunes Store, $4.99. iPad.

You might recall that I got my hopes up after seeing the trailer for Oktoberfest Manager – I thought perhaps we had a mobile successor to Theme Park. No genre has fallen as far down the freemium rabbit hole as the tycoon game has – it’s in desperate need of a redeemer. Oktoberfest Manager is not it.

The game models a Bavarian beer garden in fairly primitive 3D – it’s not exactly Infinity Blade but it does the job. The player has to turn a profit running an Oktoberfest beer hall – renting a tent, hiring barmaids, and so forth. The game offers a linear progression from the cheapest option in a category to the most expensive – there’s no variation to the decision tree and you’re given little to do after you’ve set everything up. For all that I’ve criticized Kairosoft games for being overly-simplistic, Oktoberfest Manager is even more so.

The banjo music is nice, though.

SCORE

2 out of 5