Pocket Tactics Presents: The Year in Mobile Board Games 2018

By Matt Skidmore 24 Dec 2018 0

As 2018 draws to a close, it’s time for us to look back and reflect on another year in the land of mobile gaming. Specifically, we’re going to focus on board games – the past couple of years has seen a growing wave of 'born digital' and digital ports of board/card games, and these are proving a popular replacement for premium experiences as other genres seek their riches elsewhere.

Board games and card games are intertwined with the identity of Pocket Tactics’ readership, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t spend some time looking at how 2018 has treated one of our favourite genres…

A Slow Start

It was a real sluggish start to the year. In fact, it wasn’t until May that the first really impressive release blasted onto our screens. Among the Stars is a card drafting game that shares many similarities with the multi-award winning 7 Wonders. With engrossing gameplay, a neat spatial element and an interesting, if rather short campaign mode, this space station building game is well worth trying.

ATS4

June got off to a blazing start with the release of One Deck Dungeon; a game that manages to condense traditional pen and paper role playing games down to their very essence. Two heroes venture into the dungeon, overcoming the various challenges with just their wits and a fistful of virtual dice for company. Tackling the dungeon with a mix of different characters ensures longevity, with the only downside being the rather steep learning curve. Overall, an app that our reviewer concluded made the actual physical game obsolete.

Holiday in the Sun

July gave us the chance to jet off to Istanbul to indulge in some wheeler-dealing at the Grand Bazaar. The game turned out to be both captivating and intense, as the players raced from store to store, trying to collect enough rubies to claim victory. Istanbul can be a very tight game that feels quite ruthless, with a single ill-thought-out move costing you victory. However, the seamless interface alongside the tried and tested gameplay make this a winner.

IstanbulZoomedout

No summer holiday would be complete without a good book. Word game Hardback is the sequel to Paperback. It is a deck-building word game that takes its core ideas from the original game whilst adding a little more flexibility to help you build even more impressive words. It may be more of a matter of refinement rather than revolution, but for fans of word games, this is another bestseller.

All the Leaves are Brown

Moving into the autumn, and the chance to take a bracing ramble through a New England forest in Indian Summer. Uwe Rosenberg is one of the biggest names in board game design. Although Indian Summer is very much at the lighter end of his impressive canon, it makes for a great mobile game. The game shares the same tile-laying, grid-filling gameplay of both Patchwork and Cottage Garden, however this time, the action is geared towards more experienced players.

Indian SUmmer Header

With no points to worry about, this is a race to fill your board as quickly as possible. The result is that in spite of the mellow theme this game still manages to be both tense and captivating. It is my personal favourite board game conversion of the year and I eagerly await an announcement that the final part of the trilogy, Spring Meadow, will appear on touchscreen at some point next year. If you fancy even more autumnal exercise then recent release Morels is also worth foraging for. It may be a straightforward game of set collection, but the quirky illustrations and well-balanced gameplay make for a mouth-watering snack.

Hopes for the Future

Throughout 2018 the behemoth publisher Asmodee has continued to gobble up large chunks of the boardgame publishing market. Consequently, they also have an ever-growing presence in the digital arena. Asmodee has acquired and released a diverse array of apps, although their approach has been a scattergun one. Not all of the games selected for conversion have been a good fit for mobile. Love Letter springs to mind as an experience that sorely misses the face-to-face interplay between players.

Love Letter In Game

Personally, I would really love to see more games that make the effort to develop single player campaigns around the core boardgame rules. Let’s face it, we don’t always have the time or the patience to play asynchronous online games. Furthermore, the extended period of playing time takes away from the immediacy; the final outcome is an experience that hardly ever feels entirely satisfying. In the past, Galaxy Trucker did a brilliant job of building an engaging campaign around the basic rules and Splendor also added some very enjoyable single player challenges. This year, Among The Stars added a fun if rather short-lived campaign, which hinted at greater things but never really delivered. Of course, some games are already perfectly suited to the digital format. One Deck Dungeon, which is a quick playing solo game managed to make a seamless leap to digital formats.

An interesting trend has seen independent game developers recognising that boardgames can provide a rich source of ideas and inspiration. A game doesn’t have to be a straight conversion to succeed; indeed without the constraints of a cardboard counterpart, these games are free to be more adventurous and bolder in their design choices. Critical hits such as Antihero and Meteorfall show how the creation of born-digital games can scratch the boardgame itch in a way tailored to fit mobile formats.

On The Horizon

Having said all of that, there are still shelf-loads of boardgame’s poised to hit the mobile market. Let’s take quick looks at a few that have caught my eye.

Proving that Brexit isn’t the only long-running saga, we still wait with bated breath to see if Asmodee will finally confirm whether or not Scythe will finally be making its way to mobile. This 4X board game, set in an alternative 1920’s Europe, has earned loads of acclaim. Maybe Teresa May’s negotiations would be more fruitful if she strapped herself into a mech before heading off to Europe.

scythe pc

Another classic board game that we should be seeing soon is Castles of Burgundy. The game has you building settlements by manipulating a clever dice allocation system. A more recent classic that will have many players licking their lips is Terraforming Mars in which players compete to build settlements on the red planet. The snag is that the players must also improve the environmental conditions by raising the temperature, improving the atmosphere and creating oceans.

Fans of the deckbuilding card game Ascension will be pleased to see that Shards of Infinity is being ported to mobile devices. It may be from the same designers but this time there is much more direct confrontation, plus the ability to level up your cards.

Finally, one of the best apps of recent years, Through The Ages, should be getting a new expansion that throws even more leaders and wonders into the mix – Definitely looking forward to this one.

What have been your top moments in digital board gaming in 2018? Let us know in the comments!

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