The iPad and the Board Game Geek

I’ve played a bunch of games on the iPad since getting an iPad 2 earlier this year. Though I’ve enjoyed Angry Birds and other made-for-mobile games, my favorites are actually boardgames implemented on the iPad.

I used to play a lot of boardgames before the kids came along. My favorite was, and still is, Through the Desert. In TtD each player establishes and extends camel trains, and earns points for visiting oases and waterholes, for marking off areas of the desert, and for having longer camel trains than other players. TtD presents interesting decisions, while being defined by fairly simple rules.

The designer of TtD , Reiner Knizia, is particularly good at simple rules framing interesting decisions. When I got far enough into boardgames to have a favorite designer (a little more than a decade ago), Knizia quickly took that spot, and has retained it ever since.

TtD is one of what is sometimes called Knizia’s tile-laying trilogy, which also includes Samurai and Tigris & Euphrates. In each of these two other excellent boardgames, play involves placing cardboard tiles on a board representing a map. TtD could have been implemented using tiles, but I’m glad to say that it includes little pastel-colored plastic camels.

Each of the games in the trilogy now has an iPad implementation. I want to get on with discussing these apps, so I’ll refer you to BoardGameGeek for further detail of the games themselves. There is a lot of information and opinion on these (and may other) games at BGG.

So, for each game, I’ll link to the main page for the boardgame and to a recent review of the iPad implementation; I’ll also provide the current price and a link in case you want to purchase. Here are those links for TtD (main, review, $2.99), Samurai (main, review, $4.99), and T&E (main, review, $5.99).

The most important point about the iPad implementations of the tile-laying trilogy is that each of the three iPad apps is well worth buying. Other similarities also deserve mention. Each app allows between two and four players, and each game scales well within this range. (The TtD boardgame takes five players, but I don’t think it takes five well, so I don’t regard the four-player limit as a problem with the app.) Each app allows play against other people, by either passing the iPad, or playing online.

Each app has an AI component to provide one or more opponents. Most of my plays have been against two AI opponents. I’d describe the AI for each app as respectable, but not strong.

Each app has a tutorial, so you don’t need to have played the boardgame to use the app. Indeed, the app may well be a good means of learning or trying out the boardgame. Talking of trying out, none of the apps has a free version for you to try before you buy.

Enough, for now, of the similarities between the apps; it’s time for the differences, and especially the differences that might steer you toward a particular one of the three apps. Through the Desert is the cheapest app, and the simplest game to learn. As I noted above, it’s my favorite boardgame. On the other hand, it may not be the strongest app of the three. When I first bought the game, back in April, it would sometimes crash during a game, and forget the game state. The current version brought “iPad 2 stability fixes,” which are working for me (as well as faster AI).

Samurai has the best user interface of the three apps. I don’t think I have a better-looking app on my iPad. More important, I find playing the app smooth and intuitive. The screenshot shows a game in progress: I’m red, it’s my turn, and I am choosing from the five tiles displayed at the bottom of the screen. If I had make a straightforward recommendation for just one of these three apps, it would be Samurai.

Tigris & Euphrates is widely regarded as Knizia’s masterpiece. It is probably the deepest of the trilogy. It certainly has the most complex rules. For this reason, I’d hesitate to recommend the app as a means of learning T&E.

So, based on my play, on the iPad, against the apps’ AI, I recommend these three iPad apps, and of course have made more specific recommendations above. I haven’t played any of the games on an iPhone, or online; so if you’re particularly interested in those features, you might want to check out the reviews (see above links) and discussion of the games at BGG and elsewhere.

Please feel free to leave a comment here if you have used the features I haven’t, or have anything else to add about these apps, or about boardgames as apps.

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