Games are quite literally the gifts that keep on giving – each time you play, the joy of the gift reaffirms itself. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the best games to give this holiday. Any gamer should consider these a welcome digital stocking stuffer!2
Who It’s For: Universe conquerors; fans of Twilight Imperium who have lives; people who are tired of Risk.
What It’s About: Players assume the roles of alien races and attempt to control the known galaxy.
Why It’s Cool: Big Daddy Creations has done the impossible: taken one of the current darlings of the board game world that is easily the best-in-class of 4x games, and manage to deliver a best-in-class app that captures the intricacies of the board game while simplifying set up and tear down. With randomly generated galaxies and variable player powers that demand different strategies, there’s enough in this game to keep you busy for months, and the excellent UI design allows you to focus on what counts: crushing your opponents into space dust.
Who It’s For: People who play D&D for politics instead of kobalds; Eurogamers looking for new stuff to build.
What It’s About: As one of the anonymous Lords of Waterdeep, players outmaneuvering each other while hiring adventures to do their bidding.
Why It’s Cool: Lords of Waterdeep is an excellent introduction to worker placement games, and Playdek’s fantastic translation is a great introduction to Lords of Waterdeep. The key concepts are easy to grasp, but the variable actions available with each game and the hidden agendas of each player keep things fresh play after play.
Who It’s For: Future Farmers of America; Settlers of something other than Catan; anyone still playing Farmville.
What It’s About: Farming isn’t just for food anymore – build the most impressive fields to win!
Why It’s Cool: Agricola is a name often bandied as an example of what modern design is all about, and sits at the other end of the worker placement spectrum from Lords of Waterdeep. You’re not only competing for resources to make your own farm bigger and better, you also have to make sure you can feed the small army it takes to keep your fields full and your sheep shorn. If you don’t think farm building can be a cutthroat enterprise, you’ve obviously never played.
Who It’s For: Andromeda Strainers; doomsday preppers; fans of first responders.
What It’s About: Four terrible diseases threaten to obliterate humanity – can you cure us all before it’s too late?
Why It’s Cool: A shining example of how to use technology to have fun face to face, Pandemic plays equally well with one through five humans on the same iPad. As a cooperative game, the players either win or lose as one, cohesive unit. The animations really offer the feel of playing a board game, and the music provides just the right atmosphere of tension as you race against time and the frailty of your fellow man.
Who It’s For: World conquerors; anyone who things Flying Dwarves are funny; people who are tired of Risk.
What It’s About: Randomly-generated fantasy races vie for control of a tiny kingdom.
Why It’s Cool: Easy to learn but difficult to master, Small World 2 features a staggering combination of races and powers to ensure that no two games are the same. With boards that vary in size with the number of players and accessible multiplay options, Small World 2 is a game with incredible replayability – especially with additional races and powers available via IAP. (Note to the budget-minded – as long as the player who starts a game has the expansions, everyone involved can benefit!)
Who It’s For: Fans of Japanese maids; Dominion junkies looking for a fix; employees of the 1%.
What It’s About: A deckbuilding game about hiring maids that’s a great replacement for Dominion. No, really.
Why It’s Cool: Love them or hate their pricing models, Goko has well and truly demonstrated that they just can’t get the iPad client for Dominion out the door. While we wait – probably forever – there’s Tanto Cuore. If you can accept the theme (and let’s face it, Dominion isn’t long on that itself) you’ve got a decent deck-building game that features most of the same mechanics and scratches most of the same itches, but innovates just enough to be arguably more interesting than the base game that clearly inspired it. With the typical Playdek polish, you can’t go wrong.
Who It’s For: WWII aviation buffs; tactical wargamers; people who don’t like the free to play model.
What It’s About: Relive history as the air forces of the two major players in the WWII Pacific Theater.
Why It’s Cool: With a complex flight model that manages to get simplified without losing any tactical depth, Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies is a dream come true for fans of classic aviation. A series of single-player missions teaches you the ins and outs of the game’s hidden intricacies. Once you’ve mastered them, design your own dream squadron and take the fight online – and thanks to the lack of IAPs or game-stopping timers, you won’t have anything standing between you and aerial superiority.
Who It’s For: People who play D&D for kobalds instead of politics; people who wanted more strategy out of Diablo.
What It’s About: Set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe, a pack of heroes viciously murder every dungeon-dwelling creature they can find.
Why It’s Cool: Games Workshop is on a roll releasing digital versions of their classic boardgames, and Warhammer Quest is probably the crown jewel. All the elements of the boardgame we remember for our childhood are here, though some of it is locked behind the dreaded IAP paywalls that have become all too familiar on the platform. Still, with everything in vibrant color and an incredible attention paid to every conceivable detail, there’s a lot to love here even if you stick to what’s included in the base game.
Who It’s For: Fans of Harry Potter; CCG strategists tired of the winner-buys-all grind; any gamer in the last 20 years.
What It’s About: Take your deck filled with creature summons and magic spells through a series of one-on-one duels to prove yourself the mage supreme of the multiverse.
Why It’s Cool: Magic the Gathering is a deep, rich game with nigh infinite strategic options – and a price tag to match. In a neat compromise, this app features a series of pre-prepared decks that you can unlock, and cards that you can earn as you win with them, allowing you the strategic depth of deck building without the need to constantly shell out for new cards. New this year is the sealed mode, which allows you to build your own deck from a pool of random cards and take on other homebrew builds online. The app serves as both an introduction to Magic and a great alternative for casual fans who love the strategy but hate the collecting.
Who It’s For: Grinches; sociopathic mysanthrops; Pandemic fans curious how the other half lives.
What It’s About: Assume the role of a super virus, and mutate your way to the top of the gene pool as you infect and destroy the entire human population.
Why It’s Cool: Plague, Inc. is the only game on this list not new this year, but it’s still worth a look for a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s one of the rare games in which the goal is to destroy all of humanity that is both strategic and fun. The second is that the developer is clearly committed to it – the game debuted in May of last year, and in that time has received a staggering 18 updates (an average of about one per month if you’re keeping score) that have implemented more options, new gameplay modes, and content galore. Almost all of it can be unlocked through play, and none of the purchases are necessary to win or to enjoy the experience. If the holiday stress has you wanting to kill someone, don’t stop there – kill the whole human race!
That’s it for this roundup, but that’s by no means it for great board games on iOS! The iTunes store goes freezes for maintenance on 12/21, but you’ll still be able to buy awesome games, and we’ll do our best to keep you in the know of any last-minute awesomeness that sneaks under the wire.