Take It Easy [App o the Mornin’]

Take it Easy (iOS: $2) is a rather nondescript title for what was, when it was released as a board game 20 years ago, a remarkably innovative twist on bingo. The game is played on a hexagonal board comprised of 19 hexagonal spaces. Players blind-draw hexagonal chips, each marked with lines going in three directions (1 vertical and two diagonal). There are nine different colors of line ranging in point value from 1 (gray) up to 9 (yellow).

These tiles are laid on the board so that, wherever possible, the lines of a single color connect without interruption from edge to edge. If you manage to make an unbroken line, you get the point values for all the tiles in that line. So, a 5-tile gray line is worth 5 points, while a 5-tile yellow line is worth 45.

As the board fills, it gets harder to place tiles without interrupting a line of color, leading to a remarkably subtle but complex set of strategies for maximizing point values. The highest possible score is 307.

The mobile version implements the design with colorful visuals and a nice drag-and-drop interface. They’ve also expanded the idea with new game modes: Progressive and Puzzle. Progressive is a timed mode with bonus stages. You’re trying to fill the board before the clock runs out, earning a certain a minimum score which increases each round. Leftover time rolls over to the next level. The goal is to go as long as high as you can before the time runs out or you fail to score enough.

Puzzle mode isn’t hugely challenging, but it’s a fun diversion. You need to make certain patterns, scores, designs, or kinds of placement to clear a level, sometimes withe restrictions like locked spaces.

The app includes internet and local play for up to four people, with various modes and round options. As with the original game, the app can be played solo or multiplayer for up to four people. It was never a particularly interactive games: people draw until their boards are filled, total up the score, and highest score wins. It is, however, as great a puzzler as it ever was, and the mobile version is a fine way to rediscover it.

Content: No issues. All ages.

Agricola [App o the Mornin’]

Uwe Rosenberg’s board game Agricola has been perennial favorite since its release in 2007. Winner of the 2008 Spiel des Jahres award for “Best Complex Game,” it’s one of the finest examples of the “worker placement” genre, with rules for both family and advanced play making its complex mechanics more accessible. The iPad version of Agricola (Playdek: $7) is one of the best conversions of a tabletop game to date. 

Set in 17th century Europe, the game focuses on surviving in hard times. The plague is over, and poor rural families are rebuilding their farms piece by piece. You and your spouse begin with a small hovel, a few meager resources, and only the sweat of your brow to help you survive.

Agricola is played over six stages of 14 rounds each. Each round, players place tokens representing family members on locations throughout the town. This allows them to collect resources or perform actions in order to build up their small plot of land. They can gather building materials, food, or animals; improve their spread by plowing fields, upgrading their home, and adding features like barns and fences; and add various improvements and more advanced occupations such as beer making (to provide extra food) or thatching (to use less reed when building).

Every few turns, there’s a harvest, when crops are reaped, animals reproduce, and you need to have enough food to feed your family. After all stages are completed, victory points are totaled based on how far you’ve developed your farm, how many animals and family members you have, and other improvements.

It’s actually a fairly complex game, and even in the “family” version, there’s a bit of a learning curve. This is helped along in the app thanks to a detailed tutorial and a complete manual, but it still takes a little time to get a grip on so many decisions.

The app has superb production values and is a faithful adaptation of the original. The graphics are attractive and fun, and the layout is sprawling without being overwhelming. You have to scroll along the entire length of a game board to see all the possible actions, but this is preferable to trying to cram too much data onto a single screen. The farmstead, represented by a card overlaid with squares in the conventional game, is found on a separate screen in the app.

All of it blends together quite well, and after about 30 minutes worth of tutorials are done, you’ll have a sure sense of the mechanics even if you’ve never played the original. There’s good solo support as well as online play with matchmaking.

Content: No issues of note.

 

Bumpy Road [App o the Mornin’]

Bumpy Road (iOS/Mac/PC: $3) is the sophomore effort from the creators of Kosmo Spin, and it has a delightful aesthetic, with a muted but eye-catching color palette and charming art. It’s a look that works perfectly for game about an older couple out for a Sunday drive on a corduroy road past windmills and impossibly narrow houses.

The gameplay is just as interesting as the visual element. Bumpy Road uses a novel mechanic to create a twist on the 2D platforming, move-to-the-right genre that has thrived on mobile touch devices. In this case, you don’t control the car, which moves at a steady pace, but the road itself, which is comprised of a series of little bumps. Touching the road raises it a little bit. Touch behind the car to create a hill that makes the car go faster. Touch in front of it to create a hill that slows the car down. Touch beneath it to make the car hop.

It’s as simple as that. The levels consist of multiple platforms and occasional water hazards, with minor variations for the two gameplay modes. In Evergreen Ride, you need to go as far as possible without falling into one of the water hazards. The trip is endless, with little powerups found along the way to close traps and allow you to focus on gathering items to improve your final time. There are no traps in Sunday Trip mode, so the goal is to get to a finish line as fast as possible by grabbing the accelerator powerups and avoiding the brake powerups. The result is a great little app, with a novel mechanic and engaging gameplay.

Tetrobot [App o the Mornin’]

Tetrobot and Co. (<PC/Mac: $12, Android/iOS: forthcoming) is a sequel to Blocks That Matter, a puzzler featuring a high-tech drilling robot called Tetrobot. (You can download a free computer demo of Blocks That Matter at swingswingsubmarine.com, or buy the whole game for $5.)

The sequel (confusingly) focuses not on Tetrobot but Psychobot, a helpful little flying robot tasked with repairing Tetrobot.

The Psychobot functions a bit differently, absorbing blocks and spitting them out to solve puzzles. Its job is to float through the inside of a machine removing obstacles and getting things running again. Psychobot is not too clever, however, and needs help finding his way in order to trigger an electric fence, flick a switch to open a gate, or throw a block to remove a hazard. 

The game shows a 2D cross section of the environment, featuring boxes, switches, levers, tunnels, electrical fields, and other odds and ends. The levels are more sizable than your typical 2D puzzler, requiring the gamer to trigger multiple events on various screens. This adds greatly to the complexity level for perfect, 3-star completion of each level. It’s possible to “complete” a level quite quickly, but doing so with a perfect score can be a real mind-scrambler.

The real challenge comes from manipulating blocks with different properties. Some are sticky, some float, some grasp, some fall, and so on. By stacking and throwing blocks, you trigger events that lock/unlock/alter the environment. As the game goes on, you’ll find yourself shot through water, transported across the map, flying through goop, and dealing with other events and distractions.

It’s all buoyed by a charming animation for the little robot and endlessly clever level design. As puzzlers go, it’s more complex than most, but allows simple ways through for people satisfied with only collecting one or two stars. You, of course, will not be so satisfied, so expect a solid challenge.

Content: No concerns. Rated: E

iPieta [App o the Mornin’]

iPieta (iOS/Android: $3) is  huge app, both in scope and size. At 181 MB, it demands a hefty chunk of real-estate. (By comparison, Cut the Rope only takes up 22 MB.) But it earns its space by placing a staggering library of documents and prayers at your fingertips.

The documents are divided into four sections: Bible, Calendar, Prayers, and Veritas.

The Bible tab includes the full text of both the Douay-Rheims and the Latin Vulgate. You can access these separately or as an interlinear page, alternating English and Latin line-by-line. Each chapter displays in a single scrolling page, and it’s fairly easy to scroll through the entire bible, individual books, and verse-by-verse.

The Calendar section offers both Ordinary and Extraordinary calenders, with the ability to switch between the two by shaking the device. Date, feast, readings, and liturgical color are all indicated, with each day linked to the text of the readings.

The selections included under Payers is vast, with separate sections for Divine Mercy, Sacred Heart of Jesus, Passion, Mass, Eucharist, Stations of the Cross, Devotions to Jesus, Holy Spirit, and vast selections of Marian prayers, novenas, saints prayers, common prayers, and more. These can be bookmarked for quick retrieval, or accessed through keyword searches. In addition, many of these prayers come with optional audio files which can be downloaded from ipieta.com and added to your device. This adds another 664 MB to the install, however.

Finally, there is the Veritas tab, which is just … well, look at what’s included:

  • Works of St. Augustine and St. John Crysostom
  • The complete Ante-Nicene and Nicene Fathers
  • Council documents from Nicea to Vatican II
  • The last 200 years of Papal Encyclicals, up to Caritas in Veritate
  • The Summa Theologica, Catena Aurea, and The Catechetical Instructions by St. Thomas Aquinas
  • Haydock’s Biblical Commentary
  • Baltimore Catechisms #1, #2, and #3
  • Catechism of Christian Doctrine (Promulgated by Pope St. Pius X)
  • Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis De Sales
  • The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas Kempis
  • True Devotion to Mary, Love of Eternal Wisdom, Friends of the Cross, and The Secret of Mary, by St. Louis Marie de Montfort
  • The Dialogue, by St. Catherine of Siena
  • The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, The Way of Perfection, and the Interior Castle, by St. Teresa of Jesus
  • Treatise on Purgatory, by St. Catherine of Genoa
  • Instructions on the Catechism, Selected Explanations and Exhortations, Excerpts of Sermons, by St. Jean-Marie Vianney
  • Ascent of Mount Carmel, Dark Night of the Soul, Spiritual Canticle, and Living Flame of Love, by St. John of the Cross
  • The Roman Catechism (also knows as The Catechism of The Council of Trent or The Catechism of Pope St. Pius V)
  • The Dolorous Passion, by Ven. Catherine Emmerich
  • Fathers of the Church (Eerdman’s version)
  • Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola
  • The Sinner’s Guide by Ven. Louis of Granada
  • The Rule of St. Benedict
  • Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
  • Confession of St. Patrick
  • Abandonment to Divine Providence
  • The Cloud of Unknowing

So, yeah. Do I really need to say much more than that?

All of it is searchable. And all of it costs … $3. I mean, seriously people: THREE BUCKS!

Axe in Face [App o the Mornin’]

This is older game–from way back in 2011–but still a lot of fun.

If you want to get me to buy your game, just go ahead and name it Axe in Face (iOS: $1). Works every time.

If you want to be doubly sure I’ll buy it, make sure your main character looks like a tiny Viking Yosemite Sam, and have him in a perpetual state of axe-slinging rage as he tries to protect his well-tended bed of flowers.

Yes, that’s what Axe in the Face is all about: a red-bearded, highly irritated little cartoon Viking determined to kill as many marauders as it takes to protect his daffodils. All he has is his axe, some fire, a couple of powers bestowed by the gods, and a heart filled with rage as he faces wave upon wave of foes. If any enemy gets past him and begins to trample the flower bed, the level is lost.

The control is based upon an effective line-drawing system to determine the throwing path of the axe. Just trace a line (however convoluted) and then remove your finger to unleash the axe. It follows its path and then returns. The blade cuts through enemies like butter, hewing head from torso. If the path passes through a fire, then you have a flaming axe, which is just the ticket for taking out enemies hiding behind trees.

Enemies move at different speeds, and some have different defenses, which makes timing each strike a tricky business. It also makes setting up and executing elaborate strikes quite satisfying when they mow down multiple enemies at once. The two god powers are lightning, which fries 3 foes at once, and ice, which slows the enemies.

Blue Carrot games has put out a first rate little app, with a good sense of humor and colorful art. There are 32 levels total, and they get challenging rather quickly. This is a fun game, but it’s also a hard one.

Pocket Trains [App o the Mornin’]

Pocket Trains (Android/iOS: freemium) is insidious. It’s insanely addictive, just like NimbleBits’ previous games, Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes. Pocket Trains follows the formula of Pocket Planes, but does it even better. You begin the game with a simple map of Europe and a couple of major cities. These are connected by train tracks, with one train running on one set of tracks. As you earn more money, you can connect more cities, build more trains, establish new lines, and continually expand.

Money is earned by hauling freight from city to city. Freight that goes further, or has a higher value cargo, generates more gold. You can also pick up crates and bucks. Crates have train parts in them: get enough parts and you can build a new train. There are quite a few train models, and you’ll want to upgrade as you go to increase your distance, fuel load, and hauling capacity. Bucks are used to uncrate the train parts and expand stations to hold more freight.

As you begin to sprawl across first the map of Europe, and then the entire world, you find yourself relaying freight from one train to another. A high-value cargo may have to go from Moscow to San Francisco through a series of cities and train lines, switching three or four times before you can earn the money for completing delivery. Managing these lines and maximizing profits it a key part of the game.

You can expand to North and South America, Asia, and Africa, but each new region costs 50,000 gold, and the price for each new train line increases each time you build one. By the time you gave 12 trains running, you can be paying almost 40,000 gold for each new line.

Pocket Trains is a classic casual maintenance game, and that’s the key to its fun-factor. You can check in a few times a day or once a week, spend 5 or 10 minutes directing your trains, or half and hour messing with loads, and then forget about it. The trains rack up their miles, earn their gold, and refuel without any fuss, so you can focus on just managing and expanding the lines.

The game is free, but you can purchase bucks starting at $1 for 100 bucks and going up from there, as well as crates. This allows you move the game along faster, but I’ve expanded to a dozen lines on four continents and never spent a dime, so it’s possible to have a completely free experience if you’re patient.

As with all NimbleBits product, the visuals use a colorful, blocky 16-bit style, with little people on the train platforms and in the passenger cars. It’s quite a charming package, and a good casual game for people who just like to check in and fiddle with things for a few minutes throughout the day.

Dictionary.com [App o the Mornin’]

In the best of all worlds, I’d have complete access to the OED on my computer and mobile devices with all updates for a nominal price. This not being the best of all worlds, such a thing doesn’t exist, and the price for the OED web service is far from nominal. (Last I checked it was several hundred dollars a year.)

Lacking the OED, I’ve made due with Dictionary.com (free with premium upgrades, iOS/Android), and you know what? It’s pretty darn good.

Dictionary.com does what I need: not just standard definitions, but good definitions with synonyms, sample sentences, audible pronunciation, and word origins for many words. Their sources are various, and include the old Random House Dictionary, American Heritage, Harper Collins, and others. The word origins and historical samples for some entries seem deeper than those sources, which makes wonder if they’re deriving some content from the OED.

In any case, the apps are strong in the kind of features wordies like. It’s not all that often I need to look up a dictionary definition, so I use Dictionary.com more for noodling around and browsing, and it excels in this. They provide a word of the day, blog posts on unusual word topics, lists of trending words and recent searches, and various other ways to browse through content. A thesaurus is included, with synonyms available for each word, and voice search is built in.

The appeal of the system comes from the fact that the base package is free, but a fair amount of muscle can be laid on the bone if you buy some premiums. Ad-free, expansive sample sentences, idioms & phrases, grammar & tips, and various dictionary add-ons (large slang, science, medical, and rhyming dictionaries, including some art) are all available. If you use the in-app purchase bundles, you can probably unlock the entire thing for about $14, but the $5 premium version has most of what you’ll need.

My kids use it as their go-to dictionary for school assignments, and I like being amble to meander through this great language, hearing pronunciations of obscure words and learning useless facts about etymology. It’s already taught  me that parageusia means “an abnormal or hallucinatory sense of taste,” derived from the Greek “geus,” meaning “taste.” [Cue Johnny Carson voice] “I did not know that.

The Rivals For Catan [App o’ the Mornin’]

Klaus Teuber’s two-player version of Settlers of Catan went through a much needed streamlining and revision a couple years ago, creating a more balanced, user-friendly game.

The Rivals for Catan (USM, iOS: $4) uses the themes and setting of Catan, such as quasi-medieval village life; gathering rock, wood, wool, gold, brick, and stone; and spending it on upgrades. Instead of a map, however, each player has a town center made of cards in front of him, and begins with two settlements and a stretch of road. By drawing cards and spending resources, the player expands the road, adds and upgrades settlements, and constructs specialty items, such as buildings or heroes, that add resource bonuses or point advantages. The goal is to build enough to reach a set number of victory points.

In the basic game, 7 victory points is the win limit, but The Rivals For Catan app includes all of the special card sets, adding new kinds of buildings that match various Eras: Gold, Progress, and Turmoil. These add subtle strategic changes and have a way of making the game, which is a really a face for points at its basic level, into a more interactive and cut-throat affair.

If you’ve played the original tabletop game, know this much: the app is 100% faithful recreation for the iPad, making good use of the game space. Your town center and cards are visible at all times, and you can toggle to see your opponent’s lay out with one tap. It takes a few minutes to get the hand of the gameflow and the way the interface handles resources by turning cards (thus mimicking the original), but after a tutorial and a few turns, the controls become quite natural.

Rivals includes hotseat and internet play (including GameCenter player matching), which is a welcome treat for those who don’t care for AI opponents. It’s a straightforward and clean adaptation of a fun little addition to the Catan family.

Newsify [App o’ the Mornin’]

RSS feeds are essential to my work. It’s the only way to track hundreds (sometimes thousands) of headlines as I try to keep abreast of several major subject areas: games, technology, religion, archaeology, and science. Dozens of RSS readers, both PC and mobile, have passed through my life in the last decade or so. Sometimes we’d see each other for a while. There were good times, laughter, the thrill of new love. But they always ended in tears and heartbreak, and a “It’s not me, it’s you” speech.

After using MobileRSS, Feedler, Pulse, and Flipboard, I settled on Newsify (free: iOS). It handles the newspaper-style layout far better than the over-hyped Flipboard, but still manages to integrate a sidebar that allows rapid switching between groups and feeds. This is it, folks: a find as important as plutonium and s’mores … combined! The last mobile news reader you’ll ever need. At least until the developer breaks it with a new “upgrade.”

Newsify works because it’s both simple and powerful. You can syn with either Feedly or via cloud, and the instantly populates the reader with folders and feeds. The app works well on a Touch or iPhone, but it really shines on an iPad. Navigation among folders and feeds is a snap with the slide-away sidebar. It’s easy to choose all folders, individual folders, individual feeds, starred items, or unread content.

Newsify loads all the items faster than any similar app I’ve used. The headlines and summaries are laid out in either an unending scroll, or newspaper style format. Full text loads super-fast in a window. It’s easy to push stories off to Facebook, Twitter, Pocket, or any number of other services. I find it works perfectly to glances over headlines, identify the stories of interest, and then send them off to Pocket for later reading.

It’s very attractive and readable, with the ability to modify fonts and colors, but without the fussy graphical flourishes that tend to slow down apps. Items can be marked as read as you scroll by them, or in batches, or not at all. It works exactly the way I want it to work: fast, simple, powerful.