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Holiday Guest Blog 3: Michael Barnes “Strategy Games on Tap”

December 22nd, 2011 by Troy Goodfellow · 1 Comment · Guest Blog

Michael Barnes is one of the quintet at No High Scores, a gaming blog run by my friends and former colleagues at Gameshark. Barnes is the site’s board game authority and his Cracked LCD column is something I regularly read if Bill Abner can’t answer my question immediately over Google Talk. But Barnes is also an iPhone game aficionado, and that’s what he wanted to write about for Flash of Steel.

When I reviewed the tabletop card game, Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer for my column at Gameshark.com, I thought it was a pretty good but not particularly noteworthy entry into the deckbuilding genre. For those not tuned into what’s been going on in the board and card gaming scene, deckbuilders basically task the player with drafting cards from a mutual supply to create custom decks to generate resources, victory points, or accomplish other in-game goals. A couple of months later, Ascension turned up on the App Store and it turned out to be a perfect platform for the game, with quick play and a simple interface backed up with great multiplayer options and challenging AI. There’s been a lot of IOS implementations of strategy board and card games over the past couple of years, but it was in 2011 that I began to realize that these digital editions of print games could actually be better than their physical counterparts.

Ascension is one of my favorite IOS strategy titles of the year, and it was really the first time where I felt a digital version was actually preferable to a physical copy of a game. But this was also a year that saw the release of handheld versions of Reiner Knizia’s Tigris & Euphrates, the excellent co-op game Ghost Stories, Fantasy Flight’s Elder Sign dice game, and an iPad-only edition of Mac Gerdts’ economic wargame Imperial. Throughout 2011, the viability of touchscreen mobile devices as a platform for strategy board games was all but cemented.

But those are just effectively “ports”. Mobile devices also sallied forth with original games like the out-of-nowhere Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion, a turn-based wargame that takes cues not just from video game strategy titles like Fire Emblem, but also tabletop miniatures games. And then there’s The Great Little Wargame, an ersatz Advance Wars. Kairosoft’s popular management games such as Game Dev Story and the brilliant tower defense in reverse design Anomaly: Warzone Earth ensured that armchair tacticians and managers alike had plenty of fun in their pockets all year. You can even play a classic 4x title like Ascendancy or an otherwise long-lost RTS such as Z on the bus now.

Strategy gaming certainly didn’t just suddenly happen to iOS and Android in 2011 and any strategy gamer that’s had one of these devices has certainly enjoyed everything from Uniwar to the pocket-sized version of Civilization: Revolution. But increasingly, I’m finding that mobile is actually my preferred platform for strategy video gaming, and in 2011 I did more gaming in this genre that I did in previous years specifically because I’ve got these games with me at all times, and most with great interfaces and smart implementations. Turn-based games in particular suit the platform well, with their metered pace and the fact that you can play them rather passively, checking in and logging a few turns before getting on with work or whatever.

2011 was also the first year that I really started heralding this kind of strategy gaming as the future, particular in terms of tabletop games. As much as I love board gaming and cherish the sorts of face-to-face interaction that you can only get with dice, cards, and cardboard chits, digital board games simply offer a level of convenience that can’t be beat. I’ve been able to play Tigris & Euphrates more in the past two months than I have in the past ten years. I’ve logged well over a hundred games of Ascension, which would represent who knows how many man-hours of getting people together to play around a table.

What I’d like to see in 2012 is for more ambition from the folks designing iOS and Android strategy games. It’s such an ideal platform for the genre with relatively low risk, especially for classic ports. Bring on the ports of classic PC strategy titles like Panzer General, Alpha Centauri, Master of Magic, and Syndicate. Who wouldn’t thrill to have X-Com with them at their beck and call for a quick encounter during a lunch break? The touchscreen interface, if used wisely, can make these games more accessible and could even introduce new audiences to strategy gaming.

As for board games, there are already a host of great titles queued up at the App Store gates. There’s Summoner Wars, a terrific card-based tactical wargame. Alderac Entertainment Group is bringing both of its flagship deckbuilders, Nightfall and Thunderstone, to iOS almost certainly with plenty of IAP expansions available. Fantasy Flight has tested the waters with Elder Sign, and it’s likely we’ll see more from them in the near future. Wargame publishing houses like GMT, Multiman Press, and Victory Point Games have hired iOS and Android programmers. And there’s that long-awaited Dominion app in the works.

In sum then, 2011 was a year of momentum for mobile strategy gaming. With most hardcore strategy games still residing mostly on the PC platform, mobile devices represent an opportunity for strategy games to both reach more players while also providing long-term veterans with new ways to play favorite games or games inspired by their favorite games. For busy gamers who don’t have the time for those all-night wildcat Civilization sessions anymore or who might have trouble rounding up a crew for the latest board game, the possibility of playing a rich, deep, and complex game at leisure is imminently appealing.


One Comment so far ↓

  • Darius K.

    This is a great roundup of iOS strategy/board games, thanks for that. Anybody have any suggestions as to Android strategy games? I play a lot of Battle for Mars (a few-years-old Advance Wars clone), but that’s about it. I’ve also tried Xenowar (an X-Com clone) but it doesn’t control super well.