Out of nowhere comes a new sub-genre of the roguelike that can perhaps best be described as Rogue HaC (Hex and Counter). Part puzzle, part solitaire boardgame, this unique new fusion game has seen a recent explosion in popularity on the iPad. Here’s our rundown of the ones you need to know. (Quick note – all of these games are solo affairs, all of them are universal, and all of them cost $1.99)
Assault Vector is easily the most basic of the Rogue HaC genre, but it’s worth examining because it neatly lays the ground rules. The premise for the game is the stuff of all space opera throughout human history – you, a lone starship, must penetrate sector upon sector of deep space, blasting all opposition, with no hope of rescue or reinforcements.
Deep space, in this case, is represented by a hex grid, with several hexes filled with impassible asteroids that serve no purpose other than to create obstacles to movement. Your goal for each level is to make it to the gate that will lead you to the next level – you can repair or upgrade if you defeat your foes, but will carry forward as you are if you leave even one behind.
Each enemy has a different pattern of hexes it can attack. You will move one hex, and then each enemy will move one hex; if you’re in one of their attack hexes at any point on their turn, you’ll be hit for at least one point of damage. You can tap-hold on any ship to see its attack pattern. Ships that look visually nearly identical can still have different attack patterns, and the only really good way to identify the danger is to tap each one in turn. You attack back by the simple expedient of moving adjacent to one outside its danger zone.
There are a couple more wrinkles: you have a beam weapon you can use once per level, albeit with a limited range, and can also make a hyperspace jump once per level. The ranges of these powers can be expanded as you venture deeper into enemy territory. You can win by activating the massive laser cannon in sector 15.
The main thing Assault Vector has against it is the repetitive nature of the game – each level is just more of the same with slightly more powerful enemies. Hoplite changes things up by adding an overarching goal and additional powers.
Hoplite casts you in the role of one of the eponymous ancient Greecian warriors on a quest for the Golden Fleece, which can be found some 17 levels beneath you. You are armed with your trusty spear and shield. If you are holding your spear, you can stab adjacent enemies with various attack moves. You can also throw it at distant foes, but doing so renders you defenseless until you retrieve it. Finally, your shield can force foes away, and you can leap over them – or over otherwise impassible crevices.
Right away you’ll notice some differences beyond just the visual themeing. Unlike Assault Vector, the foes in Hoplite are visually distinct, and use that visual uniqueness to differentiate their attack patterns; once you are familiar with the characteristics of each, there is no need to keep checking where it can attack. Each level also holds a temple, where you can pray for divine guidance on your quest. This allows you either to upgrade your existing abilities or acquire entirely new ones, and unlocking the game’s various achievements will in turn unlock even more upgrades and abilities you can obtain via the temples. If you manage to obtain the Fleece, you can even opt to either return victorious or venture even deeper into the underworld, where further challenges and unlockable upgrades await.
Hoplite is the best sort of spiritual successor – rather than simply reskinning its forebear, it remains true to the spirit of it while embracing and extending the possibilities. While Assault Vector is by no means a bad game, Hoplite adds interest and complexity to keep it fresh once you’ve grasped the basics.
Where Hoplite is a clear evolution from Assault Vector, Lamp and Vamp represents more of a divergent evolutionary branch than a clear next step. Or, to put it another way – you got some Metal Gear Solid in my Rogue HaC.
Lamp and Vamp casts you as a vampire who must walk across…erm…20 stages to find a castle that’s for sale at a really favorable interest rate. (No, really.) It’s such a long walk that you’ll need to stop frequently to ensure you aren’t exposed to daylight, but luckily there are a network of coffins scattered about the countryside.
Your attempt to reach these safe havens is hampered by slayers, priests, and other various foes. Unlike the previous entries, where enemies simply pursue you relentlessly, here the defenders of the night each have distinct movement patterns and areas of visibility. Stay in the shadows and you can destroy and feast upon them; if you are exposed in their light, you are vulnerable to attack. You have a few extra abilities, but in a unique twist, you are limited here by each ability costing blood – which, in turn, can only be replenished by making it safely home or killing your foes.
None of these titles, of course, qualifies as a traditional board game. Instead, they take elements of what makes board games compelling and combines them with elements of video games to create a new experience. It will be interesting to see if this genre develops further – but even if it doesn’t, it’s already given us three unique challenges that are each in their own way worthy of a board gamer’s attention.