APP OF THE YEAR: Carcassonne

This was the first year we added mobile games to the Games Magazine Games 100 awards We chose to focus on Apps, rather than on other mobile devices, because only Apps can make a legitimate claim to being a new gaming format, with unique mechanics and design elements. Certain games are Wii games and can only ever effectively be Wii games. And certain games are Apps, and can only ever effectively be Apps.

To become a new format, a device must offer a unique language, a core vocabulary that it shares with every other item in that genre. There are distinct qualities to PC, Wii, DS, and Xbox/PS games, primarily based upon control, ergonomics, and aesthetics. Apple mobile software can make a similar claim, due to its unique blend of portability, size, multi-touch controls, and a 3-axis accelerometer (enhanced by a gyroscopic sensor for the iPhone 4).

Apps are of particular interest to Games readers because they are a natural format for all manner of puzzle, board, and card games. There are a huge variety of classic games, Eurogames, card games, and abstract strategy titles for the format, often with multiple versions of each. Many of these have multiplayer elements built-in, and also include teaching tools, variant versions, other features to give them added appeal. And all if this rarely costs more than a few dollars. It’s creating a mini-renaissance of classic gaming and puzzle play.

Our normal criteria for inclusion in the Games 100 is a title released within the current year (roughly October to September). For the inaugural edition of the App section of the Games 100, we choose the 25 best Apps in the App Store. The focus was heavily tilted towards the kinds of games our readers would prefer: heavy on board games and puzzles, light on action games and fart apps. If we’d done the list now, after having several more months of serious app gaming under my belt, there may have been some add/drops, but I’m pretty comfortable with the way the list turned out.

Had the awards come three months later, however, I might have considered Cut the Rope for the top spot of App of the Year, but it’s hard to say. The winner, Carcassonne, is a time-tested favorite among Eurogamers in general and our readers in particular. The feature-set for the conversion of Carcassonne reads like a wish-list of everything you’d want in this kind of App. There are 8 different AI players, a new solitaire mode, local network play over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, Internet multiplayer via live-gaming sessions or email, a matchmaking service, an Elo ratings system, and in-game chat.

The implementation of the game itself is also quite strong. Carcassonne was always going to be a tough fit for the small screen of a mobile device. Its tendency to spread across the table makes it though to fit in a small space. The App version does a fair job of managing this by zooming in and out, and clearly marking any block where tile placement is legal.

The result is a pitch-perfect implementation of a complex boardgame design. This no small achievement, and clearly marks out Carcassonne as the App of the Year. Runner’s up were Helsing’s Fire and Catan.

App O’ The Mornin’: Finger Physics: Thumb Wars Review

Grade: C
Price: $1

Finger Physics never really knocked me out with its brilliant puzzle gameplay. It’s okay, I guess, but the objects, their arrangement, and their behavior always just seemed to fall on the wrong side of the dividing line between “interesting” and “meh.”

The first sequel, Thumb Wars, brings the “meh” in spades. This is a new mix of stacking and dropping puzzles that feels like an extended add-on for Finger Physics. As with its predecessor, the puzzles seem kind of random, with object behavior that requires plenty of guesswork. Even if a trial-and-error approach is fine with you, you may well find many of these just a bit stale. I’m not fan of stacking puzzles, but even if I was I’d like something a little more interesting that you’ll find on display here.

I puzzled a bit over the title, assuming there were battling thumbs somewhere in the game, which would have made the experience 27.3% more interesting. No, apparently PressOK thinks that people play these games with their thumbs. Am I alone in thinking that’s not really the case? I use my index finger for almost all puzzles, and I’ve never actually witnessed anyone doing puzzles with their thumbs. I understand that “Index-Finger Wars” isn’t exactly a snappy title, but something called Thumb Wars should have, y’know, more thumbs in it.

The “Wars” title comes from the competition element that’s been slathered across the surface of Finger Physics, much like old Hollywood cameramen used to spread Vaseline on their lenses to make aging stars look less wrinkly. It doesn’t work as well here. The competition amounts to international leaderboards, so you can compare your “team’s” scores to those of other countries around the world. I surely could care less how many stars were earned by Team Edward in Canada for solving puzzle #3.

By the way, there are some are thumbs in the game.  They’re anthropomorphic little guys who occasionally introduce levels. Let me tell you something about a cartoon thumb with a helmet and a face: it bears an unfortunate resemblance to a certain part of the male anatomy. And once you get that image in your head, the game either becomes unplayable … or absolutely hilarious.