Ticket to Ride on iPhone/Touch

Up till now, the mobile version of Days of Wonder’s hit train game Ticket to Ride has only be available for iPad, but today DOW is rolling out a tiny version for handheld iOS devices as well.

The new app delivers the original game with the US map, four AI opponents, and various achievements and leaderboards. There is no online mode, but pass-and-play and local multiplayer via Bluetooth or WiFi is included, and functions among all iOS devices.

Sez the Official Press Release: “The distinctive feature set we developed for this Pocket version makes it the definitive way to enjoy Ticket to Ride as a ‘spur-of-the-moment’ mobile gaming experience,” said Eric Hautemont, CEO of Days of Wonder. “The new local network play also makes Ticket to Ride Pocket the perfect companion for Ticket to Ride for iPad customers eager to play with family and friends in the comfort of their home or while traveling.”

T2R gets a heavy workout here, and remains the bridge game we use to introduce noobs to the world beyond Monopoly. Now Ticket to Ride is in my pocket, and I am glad to see it. I hope to get it soon and post a full review.

App O’ The Mornin’: Candy Train

Rating: A
Price: Free

Sometimes, the quality of a game is measured by the degree of frustration it can create while still drawing you back to play. During my first half hour with Candy Train (PopCap, free), I could punched my finger straight through my Touch at least once per minute. It has that maddening frustration that can only come with cute and colorful games, as though their childlike qualities mock your inability to play them successfully.

Candy Train is a remake of an old Java title that was still floating around on the internet until recently. (I can’t find a current version, so it’s probably been removed to keep attention on the mobile port.) It is insanely addictive, perhaps because you always seem so close to getting it juuuust right, moments before you fail completely. This is really just a train pathing game with a tile-switching mechanic, but it’s one of the most appealing free puzzlers to appear on the iOS format this year.

The game is played on an 8×8 grid comprised of tiles representing different track configurations. There are curves, double curves, straightaways, and crossings. Tiles are turned by tapping, thus reorienting the track configuration. In this way, you create a path for the train to follow as it collects points and gathers new cars filled with candy and other treats. If your tracks don’t connect, the train crashes and the game ends.

After all the cars on a map are collected, you attach a caboose and steer the train to the switching point for the next level, where you begin again with more cars. Aside from changing the train speed from slow to fast, there are no other controls.

The normal mode is tough enough, but the expert mode is maddening (in a good way). This is a tricky game to get into, but great fun once you start to master it.

App O’ The Mornin’: Bejeweled 2 Review

In honor of the 10th anniversary of Bejeweled, the game is selling for $1 until October 20th, which is a 66% discount. Chuzzle, Bookworm, and Peggle are also on sale.

A review of Bejeweled hardly seems necessary. After all, if you’re reading this, you’ve already played it. Everyone has played it. Tribesmen in the remote jungles of Papua-New Guinea have played it. It’s been converted into every conceivable platform known to man, and probably some that are unknown. I suspect that PopCap is, at this very moment, trying to figure out how to get it on the next Mars Rover, so bored aliens can play it and stand in awe of our mighty ability to line up three jewels in a row.

The point is, the game has become so ubiquitous that it doesn’t need any explanation. So I’ll give you one anyway.

In fact, there is a reason to visit Bejeweled this week, other than it being Poptober here at State of Play. Bejeweled actually turned 10 years old on the rather unlikely date of 10/10/10. That means that 10 years ago, the casual gaming revolution was born. It’s not that Bejeweled was the first “casual game” (I’d give that honor to Tetris), but it became so popular and migrated through so many versions and platforms that its success rippled through the entire gaming industry.

The gameplay has been endlessly copied, but never bettered. Just swap two jewels to make rows of 3, 4, 5, or more similar gems in a row. They disappear. More drop down. It continues, forever and ever.

The Bejeweled 2 with Blitz app offers a few variants of this core game, but largely sticks to the plan. There’s Classic (as described), Action (which requires you to swap jewels quickly before a timer bar runs out), and Endless (which is a more “relaxing” version that allows you to just keep making moves forever).

Bejeweled Blitz adds a social networking element to the gameplay. The goal is to make high score in a minute, comparing your score against other friends playing via Facebook. This version adds “boosts” to provide different powers, such as scrambling the gems, increasing time, detonating all special gems, and adding point multipliers.

Bejeweled is just one of those games you need to have on every device. It’s the most successful and influential casual games of all time. And after 10 years, it can still be incredibly addictive.

Exit Trivia Question: What was the original title of Bejeweled? (No Googling, please.)

App O’ The Mornin’: BookWorm Review

PopCap smashed together Boggle and Bejeweled to create this obscenely addictive games about 7 years ago. Since then, it has been reinvented as BookWorm Adventures, and remains a popular fixture on mobile device, computers, and even the Nintendo DS.

The version PopCap brought to the App Store is the original BookWorm, rather than BookWorm Adventures. That’s a little disappointing, since Adventures added some great twists to the gameplay, and I hope it find its way to Apple devices soon.

That said, BookWorm for iPhone isn’t one you’re likely to pass up for a buck. This is one of the best casual word games of the past 10 years. Letter tiles are laid out on a grid, with each letter touching at least touching at least 3, and as many as 6, other letters. The board is cleared by linking letters to form words. When a letter is used, it disappears and all the tiles drop down to fill the space.

Naturally, longer words earn more points, while words that are too short generate burning tiles. These tiles must be eliminated before they reaching the bottom of the frame, or the game is over.

There are other scoring opportunities, such as special tiles and bonus words. Various “books” include particular word lists, such as colors or insects, and bonus points are awarding for spelling these words and completing entire books.

Gameplay breaks down into the classic game, which progresses through levels, and a timed games, which requires some speed spelling.

BookWorm is one of the classic casual games, and the App versions does a fine job of making it portable.

App O’ The Mornin’: Tafl Review

Yesterday I continued the Colonial Gaming series with a look at Fox & Geese. There’s no version of Fox & Geese in the app store, but I did find a compilation of Tafl games, which are closely related.

Simply called Tafl, this app is the work of Machine Codex, which has done a good job at translating these games to mobile formats. The features are different for iPhone/Touch and iPad. The version I tested on my Touch includes Brandubh, Fidchell, Ard Ri and Tablut, while the iPad version adds Tawlbwrdd, Hnefatafl and Alea Evangelii as well.

The visuals are appealing, and the touch inputs are as simple as you can get. You just touch a checker and move it. It works perfectly well.

The four games are all variations on the classic Tafl gameplay, in which each side has a different number of pieces and different victory conditions. The first three are played on a 7×7 checker board, which creates an odd rank and file at the center of the board. This is where the “king” player usually begins. Tablut is played on a 9×9 board. The white side is the defender, while the black is the attacker.

Brandubh is a an Irish form of the game, and the name means “raven black.” This may be a reference to the color of one side, to a bit of lore suggesting that the game is about ravens attacking a king, or to something else entirely. No one really has any idea, since references are limited to a couple ancient poems and even the reconstruction of the game is hypothetical.

In Brandubh, the white player has four regular pieces and a special king piece called the “branan” (or “chief”). The black player has eight regular pieces. Both sides may move along the rank and file any number of spaces, like a rook in chess. Any piece surrounded on either side is captured and removed. The goal of the white player is to get the king from his starting place at the center of the board (the “Throne”) to one of the four corners, or “Keeps.” The goal of the black player is to prevent this.

Fidchell is a similar game with sketchy origins, and any modern version is pure guesswork. The version in the Tafl app simply doubles the number of checkers in play: eight white plus a white kind, and 16 black, although it’s still played on a 7×7 board.

Ard Ri is Fidchell played with a different configuration. In place of the cruciform layout of Brandubh and Fidchell, it groups the nine white checkers in a block at the center.

Tablut is the best known version, and for a very cool reason. Biologist Carl Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, discovered people still playing the game in 1732 during an expedition to a remote area of the Laplands. They used boards made of reindeer hides, featuring 9×9 grids. Since he didn’t speak the language, Linnaeus sussed out the rules by observation, referring to the white pieces as Sweeds and the dark as Muscovites. The version in the app is played on a 9×9 board with 9 white versus 16 black.

At $3, the app might seem a little high for an abstract strategy game, but it’s a hybrid iPhone/iPad version with a good AI, and is the only worthwhile electronic version of these games that I’ve ever played.

App O’ The Mornin’: Aftermath Review

As I’m writing this, Aftermath is still in the app store for free. I’m not sure how long it will stay that way, so scoop it up while you can.

I’ve been done with zombies for a long time now, but they’re in vogue again and just won’t seem to go away. Well, I guess that’s zombies for you: always just outside the door, scratching to get in while you pretend not to be home. They’re so popular someone even removed George A. Romero from deep freeze and gave him actual money to make some truly horrible new zombie movies, thus reminding us all that Dawn of the Dead was a really long time ago.

Zombies crowd the App Store like it’s the Monroeville Mall and there’s a sale on ironic post-modern commentary about American consumerism. They’ve already gotten the kiss of death for any movie monster: they’ve become overly familiar. Yet they can still rise to the occasion and deliver a few shocks given the right trappings.

Aftermath gets zombies right by doing a few simple things. The developers made the zombies fast, dumb, and plentiful; they keep the lights down low, the music moody, and the gore copious; and they ditch any pretense of narrative fuss and get right down to the shoot-’em-in-the-brain part.

This is a spin-shooter with a bit more finesse than most. In fact, it’s not so much a spin-shooter as a running game. You actually don’t fire your weapons at all: you just point your light in the direction of the shambling dead and back away while Mr. Automatic Weapon does all the heavy lifting. The twin stick control works just fine, and the entire game boils down to keeping your distance from the zombies while controlling the direction of the fire.

The game is full of weapons, but you really only wind up using a few of your favorites. It also looks quite good, making the most of its simple 3D structures through moody lighting. The only problem is its brevity. It can be knocked out in no time at all.

I’m guessing that a sequel is in the offing, so TwoHeads Games is making the original free in order to drive up the brand recognition. It’s a smart move for them, and it gives you a chance to play a bloody good spin shooter.

App O’ The Mornin’: Mancala Review

I’m surprised I haven’t covered this one yet, since it’s been on my iTouch from the very beginning. It’s just a good game to have on your device for those odd moments when you want a quick abstract strategy game. You can blast through a round in a couple of minutes (tops), yet the game has enough depth to reward sound strategy.

Flipside’s Mancala FS5 features the most popular version of Mancala, called Wari. (Mancala is a family of games, not a single game.) Although the oldest extant examples of Mancala-style games only date to the 7th century, I have no doubt at all that it’s far older. Based on its continued ubiquity, in various forms, among contemporary primitive tribes, it seems likely that Mancala and similar “capture” games are one of the earliest stages in the development of the boardgame. Since these games were usually carved in the dirt and played with pebbles, ancient examples are simply less likely to have survived.

The game itself remains quite entertaining. There are 6 small depressions on each side (called “houses”) and one large depression at either end (called “stores”). There are a fixed number of pips in two colors: enough to fill 6 houses per side with 3, 4, 5, or 6 pips each. (Four is the standard, but Mancala FS5 allows variable setups ranging from 3 – 6.) Players alternate “seeding” by taking all the pips in one cup and counting them out to the right, one pip per cup, including the stores. Pips that land in the stores are considered captured. If the last pip of your turn is seeded in an empty house, you capture all of the pips opposite that house. The goal is to capture the most pips. The game has some subtle strategies for seeding and capture, and repeated play reveals more depth than may be apparent at first.

Flipside’s version of the game is my favorite, but it’s not with problems. I like the board, mechanics, and feature set. There are variable setups, and strong 2-player support via pass-and-play, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, online automatic matchmaking, and AIM. I don’t do much of the multiplayer, and I certainly don’t pay any attention to the rating system, but I understand that rated play has problems with scoring. These problems are mostly attributed to a scoring system which fails to account for twits who bail out of games they are about to lose. These incomplete games leave the remaining player forced to forfeit, which negatively impacts their rating.

The free version is also well-nigh crippled by an in-game advertising system which causes 5-10 second delays between games. Even the $2 version includes some ads, albeit not as aggressively. (No paid app should ever include ads. Period.)

These failings are unfortunate, since the design of the game is very good, and Mancala is an abstract strategy game that is worthy of rediscovery by western gamers.

App O’ The Mornin’: Mills and More

As part of my ongoing series on Colonial Gaming, I covered Nine Men’s Morris over here. It’s one of the classic abstract strategy games, with ancient roots and some intriguing elements of strategy.

There are several versions of Morris (aka Mills and Merrills) in the App Store, but I’m perfectly happy with Mills and More, from Antitalent Game Studio. It has simple touch controls for placing and moving markers, and clean, appealing graphics, with markers that look like Go pieces.

The Lite version includes the basic Nine Men’s Morris in 1 and 2-player modes, with three levels of articifical intelligence and Bluetooth support.

The registered version adds Three Men’s Morris and Six Men’s Morris, and the developer is promising Twelve Man’s Morris in a future update. The “flying” run can be toggled on or off.

Give the Lite version a try. If you like abstract strategy games, you might find this an appealing alternative.

App O’ The Mornin’: Theseus

Robert Abbott is one of the masters of logic mazes, which add layers of complexity to the standard linear point-to-point maze. (You can find his home on the web here.) He does a lot of work for us at Games Magazine, including some fine cover puzzles. We even made an interactive version of one of his cover puzzles, called Starry Night, which you can try online.

One of his most enduring designs is Theseus and the Minotaur, which has evolved over several iterations, including pen-and-pencil, computer, Java, and the game Mummy Maze (PopCap), which belatedly acknowledged its dept to Abbott’s original concept.

It now finds a welcome home in the App store with a very simple, clean visual style and control system. Developed by Jason Fieldman, the app offers 17 levels in the free Lite version and almost 90 in the full $4 version. The goal is to maneuver “Theseus” (a blue ball) to the exit by first trapping the “Minotaur” (a red ball with horns) in one of the niches on the map. Since the Minotaur is always closing on Theseus with two moves to Theseus’s one, the trick is to find ways to trap him with his own rules of movement, which favor horizontal motion over vertical.

Although the rules are easy to understand, the puzzles get larger and increasingly complex, and some a real mind-benders. There are many maze games in the App stores, including rolling ball games that use the device’s motion control to emulate tilting mazes, but Theseus is the most clever. It’s a classic design done with a solid implementation.

App O’ The Mornin’: Ingenious

I could write about only Reiner Knizia Apps for two weeks and still not cover them all.  The man isn’t just a prolific designer, but his games and uniquely well-suited to the App format.

Among Knizia’s dominoes variants, Ingenious is probably the most famous. Tiles are comprised of two conjoined hexagons, with each bearing one of 6 colored symbols. Players earn points by laying tiles on an Agon board to create lines of matching colors. The unusual scoring mechanism means that “highest lowest score” wins. Thus, the person with the highest score for their weakest color is the victor.

For instance, if your lowest scoring color is green with 5 points, and someone else has a lowest scoring color of red for 6 points, then they win. This creates unusual strategies for tile placement and even blocking.

The iPhone/Touch version is a straightforward and effective port of the original game, with an AI that should give even seasoned players a fine challenge. A solitaire variant is also included, as you compete against yourself for highest score.