Review: Epigo!21 Oct 2013 0
Finishing a game of Eclipse this weekend, it dawned on me why I’ve been having such a hard time with this review for Epigo. As our game wrapped up, and I finished in my standard position of dead last, my friends and I were texting and calling each other about what we should have researched, or why my starbases weren’t enough to hold off their plasma missles, or any of the other myriad reasons why I suck. The game told a story that we, as players, all felt a part of. It was more than a game.
In every game of Epigo, I move some tiles. Sigh.
That’s what’s made this review so difficult. Epigo is a game that should bore me to tears and should have been deleted within a couple days after install but, after a few weeks, I still find myself enjoying the hell out of this game. What’s wrong with me?
At a glance, Epigo is your typical iOS abstract board game: completely nondescript pieces in 2 colors, and a board made of squares. It also looks about as dry as Mayberry on a Sunday. Don’t let the dust fool you, however, because Epigo has something that most other abstracts don’t. Mindfuckery. Epigo is the Roborally of abstract games.
Each player begins the game with 8 tiles, numbered 1-7 and one marked with an ‘X’. The ‘X’ tile is removed as game start, and the object is to push 3 of your opponents tiles off the board. That’s it. The trick lies in how moves are played. Each player secretly chooses 3 numbered tiles, and their direction of movement, and then the tiles are revealed simultaneously. Tiles are slid one square in the direction played, pushing tiles along the way. Higher numbered tiles go first, so those 6 and 7’s are pretty important. Unfortunately, if you both play the same numbered tile, nothing happens and the tiles remain where they were. You’ll soon find yourself not playing your best move first to prevent the obvious block…or is your opponent thinking the same thing and holding off with their 7 tile so you should play yours now? That’s right, every game of Epigo is like drinking with Vizzini.
In the standard version of the game, pieces are lined up against each other in head-to-head rows. This is a fine version of the game, but Red Finch Software also included four other variants that include new rules and board setups. My favorite is Relentless, in which pieces cannot be blocked and the board opens with both sets of pieces intertwined around the entire board. Other variants have the “X” tiles remain on the board and act as the board edge, or have your pieces swap places when the same tile numbers are played. Each variant requires a different strategy and each one feels different enough from the others to not be a gimmick, but something that you’ll actually want to play occasionally to mix things up.
All of this might sound pretty great, and it is, but the app has its issues as well. First of all, it’s buggy. The game was unplayable on my iPad 2, locking up after the first turn in every game. On my iPhone 5, the game was playable, but the sound would often drop out completely. Considering that the in-game music sounds like it came right out of Silent Hill, this actually isn't the worst thing that could have happened. Other issues with the game aren’t the app’s fault at all, but are inherent to this bluffing style of game. While the game includes 4 levels of AI, trying to bluff or outguess your phone gets pretty old pretty quick.
This is the type of game that needs a human opponent. And, while the game offers both pass-and-play and online multiplayer, this game screams to be played while looking your opponent in the eyes while lying through your teeth. Even pass-and-play isn’t as compelling because it’s a my turn, your turn setup. This is a game that screams for using the iPad as a board, and then using your iPhone to secretly assign your moves. Get on this, Red Finch!
In the end, Epigo isn’t just a great abstract game, it’s a pretty great board game, period. Unfortunately, the things that make it great are what make it not quite the perfect fit for mobile devices. That said, even though this is a game that begs to be played face-to-face, playing on your iDevice is a pretty good second option. Even when trying to bluff your A6 chip, Epigo is still a great way to kill a few minutes.