Review: Reiner Knizia's Qin for iPad

By Owen Faraday 19 Oct 2012 0
A reader told me that my earlier Qin puns were incorrect because it's actually pronounced "Chin". The more you know. A multiplayer game of Qin in progress.

Knowing that this is German developer Elately's first game, playing Qin is like discovering a brilliant record from a new band. It's exciting in and of itself - Qin is a great game - but the thrill is magnified because you feel like you're part of a new story.

You couldn't ask for much more from an iPad board game than what Qin delivers - it's a classically easy-to-learn, hard-to-master game that is presented with polish and savvy. Players start the game with a fixed number of pagoda pieces, which they're racing the other players to lay on the board - the first player to put down all of his pagodas wins. The strategy of how you put them down (and how you force another player's pagodas back into his hand) starts to emerge after a couple of plays.

It's a fast-paced game for multiplayer (and ideal for pass-and-play), and the game ships with four highly competent AIs - perhaps too competent, in fact. The purported "easy" AI Li Mu is a ruthless old bastard - I think I might owe him money now.

In typical Reiner Knizia style, the ancient China theme is a paper-thin veneer. This is really an abstract board game with some period music and calligraphic dragons to do all the heavy thematic lifting. That's no crime: the music is gentle and inoffensive and the art is beautiful. There's actually a theme and a meta-theme at work here: you are (barely) role-playing an ancient Chinese dynast, but then the camera zooms out a bit and you're playing a board game pretending to be a Chinese dynast.

"Who put my Game Center in the Qin box?" Qin loves the pretence that you're playing a real board game - it's a bit hammy.

If you're a dedicated hater of skeuomorphism, you are going to find plenty of stuff to project your antipathy onto with Qin. The game's opening screen is an animation of the top coming off of a board game box and its components spilling out. Clearly this is meant to celebrate Qin's first-of-its-kind simultaneous digital and physical release, but being reminded of it every time you start the app is a bit much. After you've seen it a couple of times it feels a bit ridiculous and self-indulgent.

Skeuomorphism at its worst wastes your time and your screen real estate. Qin doesn't do that - the UI doesn't get bogged down in the art direction. The menus all make sense (and in fact, often use Apple's built-in iOS chrome - a surprisingly 2007-vintage touch given the amount of effort put into the presentation elsewhere) and there's no lengthy animations to suffer through during gameplay.

As a notice of Elately's arrival on the iOS gaming scene, Qin is an emphatic fist-in-the-air statement. I'll be playing it for quite some time to come and I'll be watching Elately's progress. But, to paraphrase Elvis Costello, you've got your whole life to make your first game. Let's see how they do with their next one.


5 out of 5





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