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Apper's Delight, part 1

You can't always be with your friends to play games. There's not always a board game convention to attend. Sometimes you just can't make it out. Sometimes it's 3am and you just need a gaming fix. Boardgames adapted into apps fill a definite need. Today we're going to start a look at some of the many tabletop game related apps out there, see what works with them, what doesn't work, how they compare to the live game experience, and assess their playability and addictiveness.

All games played on smartphones (Samsung Note 2, Samsung Galaxy S6, Huawei P10 plus)

In no particular order.


Games played: 400+

Expansions: 2 - On The Brink: Virulent Strain Challenge, On The Brink: Roles and Events

Achievements Completed: 23/24

Time per game: 10-20 minutes

What Works?: The Pandemic app faithfully recreates the infruriating intensity of the boardgame. The fact that Pandemic's clean design has players playing against the game rather than other players means there's no real AI involved. As such, just as in the board game, you're playing against the game mechanics. A lot of it is down to your careful strategy and a few lucky breaks in the card draws.

What Doesn't Work?: Quite frankly, the app is flawless. It's literally the only board game app I've carried across multiple smartphones.

Compared To Live It... is basically the same game. You save time on setup, shuffling, and there's some guidance in terms of your character powers and movement. In fact the app prevents those little mistakes that you can sometimes make when playing the live game ("oh, I forgot to advance the Infection Rate"). The main difference between the app and the live setting is the app feels like much more a solo experience, where a live game would be more communal.

(Note: I've never played a live game with the On The Brink expansion)

Addictiveness: 10/10 - I can get pretty addicted to this. I'll cycle between playing as only 2 characters to playing as 5 characters (using the On The Brink: Roles and Events expansion), I'll play random roles or experiment with different combinations. I'll play varying the difficulty level, and whether I use one or both expansions or not. I'll play with goals in mind (my objective is always to eradicate all four diseases, but you get a sense early on whether that's going to happen or not). Losing a game (or many games -- same old Pandemic) spurs on another round. Winning a game feels very triumphant. The achievements are mostly fairly reasonable, and I did actively pursue them (my only outstanding achievement is the tutorial, lol).

Conclusion: There are few tabletop games better suited for being an app. Pandemic's challenging gameplay triggers the same kind of synaptic response as, say, gambling, where losing only makes you want to try again. After a few years of playing with the app, off and on, it's a staple in my app collection and one I return to more than any other. I would love to see adaptations of the other Pandemic games.


Games Played: 171 (total won: 90)

Expansions: 3 - The Glyphs, Crossroads and Dead Ends, The Door to the Oniverse (plus 2 different gameplay - classic or "Score Attack")

Achievements: Points = 0/615 (these were added since I last played)

Time per game: ~5 minutes

What Works?: Onirim is a solo playing game where you draw cards from a deck into your hand and play them in a specific fashion. The cards have colors and glyphs which interact with each other and have different results. The purpose is to find the eight Oneiric doors avoiding the Nightmare cards. A deck-based challenge game like this depends on the user knowing the content of the deck, the meaning of the symbols and their usefulness. Once you have that it's fairly simple to play, but challenging to beat.

The app design is really, really clean, compartmentalizing things in a nice way, and utilizing the etherial watercolour visual aesthetic of the game nicely. Gameplay is really smooth if not immediately intuitive, but learning to use the app is a pretty quick process.

The app saves you time on shuffling and helps you through the play without making errors. Plus it manages the expansions in a much cleaner way (you don't need to sort anything out depending on which version you want to play). The player guide is readily accessible and the tutorial is very helpful for starting players.

Also, the fact that the app has added things like achievements and new expansions makes it more attractive and keeps it relevant.

What Doesn't Work?: As mentioned there's an learning curve in understanding the iconography of the app but it's fairly quick if you use the tutorial then play a game or two. Learning the iconography of cards in the game, as well as the mechanics of how they interact with each other is the same as the tabletop game so it's not a detraction, but the icons takes time to be comfortable with. The game on the app, like it's live version, is basically deck management, and really involves counting cards and understanding the components of your deck in order to win. These are game-specific critiques though and not app specific.

Compared to live it.... plays pretty much the same, but is so much easier for setup and cleanup.

Addictiveness: 6/10 - I don't often play this game, as I have to be in a mood to play it. That said, when I get into playing it, I run quite a few rounds in a short amount of time, which the app definitely makes easy to do. There's always a bit of re-learning whenever reapproaching the app which sometimes keeps me from launching it. The expansions add slight (and sometimes deep) twists to the gameplay to change up the challenge if you find you're getting too good.

"Score Attack" allows you to play the same game but in a points-based manner. Playing against your own score is a good challenge but when you're averaging around 6000 points and the score leaders are in the 20000 range (which seems inconceivable) it's pretty demoralizing.

Conclusion: Since the game is a solo-playing game the app can effectively replace your physical copy. The fact that you need to learn the components of your deck and keep track of what has been used and discarded (though you can refer to those areas at any time) challenges the logistics centers of the brain. This can be good when your brain is looking for such a challenge but frustrating or tedious when you're just looking for a brain escape. Seeing the additions to the app since I last played (achievements!), I will likely launch into a new round of concentrated addictive playing soon. Additional content matters for keeping an app relevant!

Lords of Waterdeep

Games Played: 250+

Expansions: 2 - Undermountain, Skullport (plus online and offline play modes)

Achievements: appx 75. Achievements have points attached which I believe impact who you pair in online play (I have not played an online game)

Time per game: 20-25 minutes

What Works?: Lords of Waterdeep is one of my all-time favourite worker-placement games and one of my all-time favourite tabletop games, period. This is a very solid recreation of the game into app form. One of the fantastic things about Waterdeep app is how contained the game is so even on a small screen like a phone, it's still easy to zoom in and scroll around and to highlight your quests and whatnot. The app structures these things in a logical and intuitive way so navigating through the various materials is relatively simple. The game also give a few pointers, highlighting the quests or Intrigue cards you can play, and spaces your factions can be played, as you're making your decisions. It simplifies things a little and helps avoid mistakes.

The expansions are both great, individually and together and there are both Long Game and Short Game variants to play with them.

Waterdeep's randomized elements - buildings, quests, and intrigue cards, keep the game from getting stale, even when it's very familiar.

What Doesn't Work?: after a while, the AIs become too predictable. They're obviously following pre-set process flows for how to interact with the board, and generally they do a good job, but they don't have versatility and they rarely do anything surprising.

Beyond that, I haven't figured out yet how to play a live game. I don't tend to play against live opponents in apps since I basically don't want to sit around waiting for people to join a game or wait around for people to take their turn (or potentially disappear from a game in progress). I will have to try it some day, I suppose.

I've sporadically had problems with the app freezing up on an AI's turn, but very infrequently. And in those cases where it did happen I was able to exit the game and launch back into the same game and resume.

Compared to live it... is a fantastic alternative, but still doesn't beat a live multiplayer experience. If anything, being overly familiar with the habits and patterns of the AI does you a disservice when playing Waterdeep against live players, since they don't follow said patterns. It can throw your game off pretty dramatically.

The achievements are ok to spur on App playing, but there are a bunch of mystery achievements which is annoying (although you can find them revealed on Board Game Geek message boards) and many of the achievements are related to online play so I haven't accomplished those. It is interesting to play the game with specific achievements in mind, rather than straight winning.

Addictiveness: 8/10 - There's really no compulsion to play and play and play, except it's such a good game. I love the variety of the game, especially with the expansions, and wish there were more expansions/alternative expansions to play, I would play a lot more. As is, I tend to play by varying which expansions I use, which AI opponents I play, how many AI opponents I face, and I try to see how badly I can beat them.

Conclusion: Even though I rarely lose against the AI anymore, I still love playing this game.

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