23 May 2013

Swinging in the Backyard

I've spent a lot of time recently downloading a raft of iPhone games. With Hay Day done and over with, I've been looking for the next fun thing. Basically I need three games in rotation at all times: an one-on-one game, a farming game, and something multiplayer strategy. Oh and sometimes a building game like We Rule or Clash of Clans.

For one-on-one games, Letterpress has fallen by the wayside, and I can't get into Candy Crush or Dots. Anything but Candy Crush! My next best bet is the OK Go supported Say the Same Thing, but if that doesn't work out, it's back to Chess with Friends. (Lately I've been using the Caro-Kann Defence and suffocating the hell out of white. Caro-Kaaaan!)

The farming hole is huge right now, as Hay Day has lost all its charm for me. The problem is, nothing is better than it right now. Supercell is just too damn good at making their farming games. For a second I thought Mouse Town would be awesome, but it's got no multiplayer element. The novelty of defending your cheese wears off pretty fast. And Megapolis certainly didn't fill a void either, as much as I wanted a city simulation. If you got something better than Hay Day or Clash of Clans to farm, recommend away. As mayor and Magellan of our games group, my constituents demand cute graphics and high social interactivity. And of course it has to be free.

The real stuff I'm having difficulty finding is replacement for Uniwar. Most of the problem is that Uniwar is just too good. We've been playing this thing for four years and it still stands the test of time. However, we need a change and since there's a boom in iOS strategy games currently underway, I dug in for some heavy research. The dream, of course, is to play Magic 2013. But nobody plays Magic except me, plus I don't have an iPad. (More on that later.) Before searching, I broke down what qualities I was looking for in a battle game.

Asynchronous multiplayer. That erases most of the RPGs and first person shooting games. Staying connected for a twenty minute game session is not happening. Neither is pass-and-play. I can't get anyone to come hang out with me, much less sit around passing an iPad back and forth. Potential single player gems like Hunters 2 get eliminated from contention too. We need at least four players.

Strategy based. Ideally hex based, since we are now familiar with these type of games. I personally want as much complexity as possible, but I know that's not for everyone. But the main reason Uniwar has worn out is that new units aren't being introduced and the tactics are getting stale. I want massive replay value.

Nice graphics and clean UI. They don't need to be incredible, but something more than serviceable. More important is how annoying the user interface is. Small text is the worst. Empire Four Kingdoms kind of lost me there. On the other end of the spectrum, I almost went with Autumn Dynasty just because the watercolor art style looked so beautiful. Air Tycoon Online seems quite interesting, but the graphics are nowhere near as appealing as Pocket Planes, so that's out.

Cheap. This is a tough one, as most of the good games now require money upfront. Many of my friends still refuse to drop a penny on iOS games, but I think that will have to change. Uniwar cost $2.99 when we got it, and there are often sales. Anything worth playing now costs at least three bucks. While I used to hate paying for apps, a few dollars is less than what I lose at the laundromat in faulty machines.
With those factors in mind, I think I found the game of me/us. Neuroshima Hex! It's got a lite version I tried out, and I just ponied up for the full version. You can read the reviews to get a sense of the game, but already I can tell it's got a great mix of strategy, depth, and replayability.

The only downside is that while the full app is a mere $4.99, getting all additional expansion armies costs $7.99. That could price it right out of my friends' willing-to-pay range. Still, I'm gonna do all I can to push them to play Neuroshima Hex, because it seems like it's absolutely fantastic. Now I just have to figure out which factions I like...

While researching and testing all these games, I found the perfect blog to follow to stay up on the games I liked: Pocket Tactics. It's a "journal for core gamers" and I blitzed through a ton of their reviews. Check out their Best of 2012 and Most Anticipated iOS Games of 2013. Also, I want to recommend Shut Up & Sit Down and Polyhedron Collider as interesting traditional board game blogs. SU&SD have a podcast too.

Games that seriously pique my interest are the soon to be here Warhammer Quest, Frozen Synapse ("a smaller scale and more action oriented take on Diplomacy"), and Settlers of Cataan finally having online multiplayer. Also, I took a look at Stone Age and Caylus but will wait for Agricola. A lot of these are board game ports, and I'm excited for the idea of not having to find friends to play games with. Because, you know, finding serious board game friends is harder than finding the perfect iOS game. At least for me. Someone come play with me! Wah wah.

The downside of all this awesome stuff coming out is that I don't own an iPad. Some of these games require the bigger screen, and since I have no intention of buying an iPad, I'll just have to borrow my sister's mini to play this stuff. I hope she doesn't mind. Oh and I downloaded Street Fighter IV because it was on sale and I mean, it's Street Fighter for your iPhone. The port is pretty great, and I'm happily throwing fireballs and hadoukens sporadically and with little to no precision.

Last thing. Who would I be if I didn't immediately tell you to download Robot Unicorn Attack 2? Your worst friend, that's who. RUA2 is just as lovely as the first one, and now available with a black stallion too. If only they would let you insert your own soundtrack. I would queue up Nina Simone's "Sinner Man." Heyo Rainbow Dash, away!