Some IPad Reviews: Can’t Stop, Slapshot, Alien Frontiers and Spectromancer


I’ve been meaning to write a few reviews for dog’s years now, but haven’t had a lot of free time until lately.  There’s been some very interesting releases in the last few months, and since BGG doesn’t send me anything to review any more I’d thought I’d start catching up on this blog again.

Itunes LINK
Developer: Playdek
Play: hotseat and versus AI, no network play
Cost: .99 as of this writing
Space: 23 MB

Unless you’re a geek savant, you’re probably not having the name Sid Sackson ring any bells for you.   On this, you can trust me.  Sid Sackson probably forgot more about game design during the course of his life than many active designers today will ever learn.   He designed ACQUIRE, EXECUTIVE DECISION, BAZAAR and a bunch of other games.  He wrote about game design and his books are considered essential reading.  He was also a great guy who is sadly missed (Sid passed away in 2002).   So, yes, you might say I was happy to see one of Sid’s most famous games show up in App form recently.  CAN’T STOP is one of the games that made Sid famous (in certain circles).  It’s a simple dice game with a simple premise.   The app’s interface follows the original boardgame (by Parker Brothers, released in the 60s) faithfully:  Four dice, a board in the shape of a stop sign, a set of eleven markers for each player, and three neutral-colored markers to show your current dice roll columns. The board consists of eleven columns of spaces, one column for each of the numbers 2 through 12. The columns (respectively) have 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 11, 9, 7, 5 and 3 spaces each. The number of spaces in each column roughly corresponds to the likelihood of rolling them on two dice.  6,7,8 being the most common (and the most squares to go up) and 12 and 2 being the least common rolls and with only a few spaces.  The goal of the game is to “claim” (get to the top of) three of the columns before any of the other players can. But the more that the player risks rolling the dice during a turn, the greater the risk of losing the advances made during that turn by “crapping out” or not rolling the combination you already have selected.  So it’s a big bluff game.

How did Can’t Stop roll?

In general, the game interface captures much of the board game Can’t Stop’s look and feel perfectly.  This is sort of a given from a group like Playdek, who have a great track record behind them with Ascension, Nightfall, Summoner Wars and Food Fight. Playdek is one of the best boardgame conversion app companies in existence. So did they knock this one out of the park, or not?


The basic game play, two player.

The animation is very much over the top. I was besieged by a plethora of “You WIN!” “Hot STREAK!” and “ROCK AND ROLLER!” animations, which are cute once or twice but kind of get old after a little while.

This is just the tip of the animation iceburg

Perhaps Playdek has no faith in the excitement level of a basic dice game, and felt that it needed some artificial excitement. Hard to say. I’d like to be able to turn this stuff off, but I don’t see how. This doesn’t ruin the game for me. The mechanics, however, are very spotty.  After several games, I noticed a few glitches. The game (on the screen) isn’t following the rules of Can’t Stop, with several bugs noticeable– the game won’t allow you to claim combinations that you rolled, puts extra colored tokens on the board, etc. This has been discussed at length on Boardgamegeek.

Hey, look! I have five active columns at once! or is that six?

I don’t want to beat them up over each and every bug that I discovered during play. Suffice to say, there’s more than one bug and this app needs some work to be 100% perfect. At .99 retail, I hope Playdek takes this game seriously enough to fix them, it’s a classic.

The Verdict:

I’m going to be generous and give it a 3 out of 5 for the nostalgia factor, the excellent attempt at interface envoking the board game, and the general 70s schmaltziness of the game experience. It felt like a coin operated slots game in Atlantic City. However, I’m probably not going to play it much until they address some of the grevious bugs in the program. The lack of asynchronous online play also was very disappointing. Not Playdek’s best effort, and possibly one of the worst.

Can't Stop (board game)
Can’t Stop (board game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can’t Stop Pictures:

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Itunes LINK
Developer: Barnard Enterprises
Play: Solitaire and versus AI, no network play
Cost: 1.99 as of this writing
Space: 25.8 MB

Slapshot– it’s one of those games where I guess I’m missing something.   I’ve seen the original card game played at the World Boardgame Championships by grown men without shirts on with hockey names painted on their stomachs, and believe me, that’s not a crowd that should go topless. So I always supposed Slapshot has an enthusiastic following. Slapshot is a hockey themed card game published by Columbia Games. Players assume the role of a hockey team manager. The object is to manage your team into the playoffs and then win the championship. During the regular season, your team can be improved with trades and drafts. Injuries and luck will add a random element. The physical components are a gameboard, 54 Player cards and playing pieces, all of which are reproduced in the game app interface.

Same silly imagery

The original art, which is a series of card illustrations and horrid punning hockey player names, is retained faithfully in the app. The art is nothing to write home about but at least it matches the source material.

Dealing cards out at start of game

Game play is pretty straightforward (read that as: limited to about four key choices).

The player is dealt his or her hand, which can be Goalies (red) Defensemen (green) or Forwards (blue). The game goes to rounds with other players. Each round, a player can DRAFT which swaps a single card for a random replacement from a central pool, or TRADE a single card against an AI player’s hand randomly, which the AI player (and yourself when it’s your turn) can’t refuse. He can also PLAY which starts a match. A match is simple matching card numbers against each other, right to left in order, and seeing which number is higher. The greater number of wins wins the match.

An ongoing match

The track at the bottom of the page keeps track of who will get to the playoffs. Winning in the playoffs wins the game.

Victory is simply a matter of putting your cards in an order that they numerically beat your opponent most of the time for 9 times. Everything else, drafting and trading, supports this.


I’ll give it a big 3 out of 5. I suppose if I were a fan of the original game at all, this would be 4 out of 5. However, I’m not, and the game play itself felt fairly limited. I could make decisions that would alter the outcome by drafting, trading or rearranging the order of a hand before a match.. but still, game play is just numerical comparison and to me, that was a yawner. Still, a 3 out of 5 for the faithful rendition in app form, the pacing and the great sound effects. If you like the source card game, you’ll love this app.

Slap Shot Pictures:

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Itunes LINK
Developer: Clever Mojo Games
Play: Solitaire and versus AI, no network play
Cost: 4.99 as of this writing
Space: 41.9 MB

The game app for ALIEN FRONTIERS is a conversion of a famous dice placement game that was a huge hit about three years ago. Alien Frontiers (the board game) was the first boardgame success story to be crowd-source funded via Kickstarter, and arguably it’s the best success story yet for boardgames. The game is played by colonizing an alien planet’s surface and scoring points by having successful colonies. The player will roll dice combinations and place them on the board in areas that will yield temporary and permanent benefits to the player in the quest to add colonies– such as technology cards, or new ships, or energy and metal resources. Game play is pretty tricky and has multiple paths to victory. Alien Frontiers game (as a boardgame) can be a lot of fun indeed.

Was the app for Alien Frontiers (pardon the pun) Out of this World?

Splash Page

Well, immediately I noticed the decision to retain the wonderfully nostalgic Mark Maxwell boardgame art in the interface was a good one. It really made the connection between the board game and the Ipad app happen for me. My only complaint was that even using the maximum amount of screen space possible, there is a lot of stuff happening in the Alien Frontiers screen, and its a little busy and hard to read as a result. Not impossible, just a little crowded. That’s a compromise I’m willing to make.

WOW, lotta things going on here!!

Game play could have been a lot better. I’m not a second Clausewitz by any stretch, yet I consistently beat this game. That really shouldn’t happen. I think the AI’s decision tree is pretty complex and needs some tweaking, at least in the version I’m currently playing.

It may not look like it now, but watch my come from behind victory! Any second now.

The Verdict:

It may not have the brains but it sure has the looks. Enough of the original game experience has ported over into the app that I still play this one constantly (stupid AI or not). At worst it’s practice for a real boardgame version of the game, at best, it’s a very amusing dice placement game that needs an AI Fix, which Clever Mojo is working on as I write this. I give it a quixotic 4 out of 5 for sheer personal amusement factor, and the fact that this is one of those games I personally backed on Kickstarter, so it can’t be bad, plain and simple. 😀

The surface almost claimed. I am the red player.

Itunes LINK
Developer: Three Donkeys LLC
Play: hotseat, multiplayer on server, single challenge online, and versus AI
Cost: 1.99 as of this writing
Space: 18.7 MB

SPECTROMANCER was a great recent discovery. Spectromancer is a fantasy card game of magical dueling with a strong MTG vibe. Players participate in a magical duel against other mages by strategically summoning creatures and casting spells. Each mage uses five magical elements during a duel – Fire, Water, Air and Earth, plus a fifth related to the specific mage type. Players are able to duel against the computer or against live players online via a server maintained by the Three Donkeys LLC, or play hotseat.

So did Spectromancer cast a spell on me?

Game play couldn’t be simpler but that doesn’t mean that it’s too easy. Each player is “seated” across the table from each other and they summon a long line of creatures that are summoned with various flavors of magic. These creatures attack the opposite player unless they are blocked by creatures or impacted by magic.

Two battle lines drawn up.. who shall succeed?

For a game with such little fanfare and PR hullabaloo, Spectromancer is surprisingly full of nuance and depth. There’s tons of options for play (some of which is unlocked through in app purchases). Each in app purchase adds a flavor of magic to the game.

The Verdict:

I found myself playing this one quite a bit and I definitely think it’s worth the pittance being asked for it. A lot of brainwork and talent went into making this game happen and the results are fun, fast and furious. I give it a 4 out of 5 for chutzpah and good design.

Spectromancer Pictures:

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So that’s a big chunk of the queue for Ipad app reviews in the hopper. I may make these a little shorter than I have been but I’m going to continue coverage of new (and older) Ipad apps as they hit the street.

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