It has been a while since I posted an app review, but since I’m not seeing these covered anywhere I thought I’d post my impressions on two recent app purchases for my shiny new Ipad 2.
First of all, general impressions: there’s much more stuff coming out for the Ipad than the Ipod/Iphone or Android platform right now, but I can see why– the distribution is locked and centrally controlled, and the IOS app market still seems to lead in market share.. That’s changing. I’m certainly seeing some interesting stuff coming out in support of board and card games on the Android lately, and I intend to do a review on a few of them in the not so distant future. For one thing, I’m seeing fan versions of games like Androminion and Thunderstone, and generic (non-GW) miniature army builders on Android but not Ipad. Why is that? Anyway, to business:
RED ROVER: THE WAR TO END ALL WARS
Mantid Interactive, programmed by Barry Geipel
3.99 as of this date, Ipad only
I’m predisposed to like stuff from Mantid after buying their excellent Tall Ships: Age of Sail for the Ipod Touch, which I really like. Red Rover, however, is proving to be a challenge. The Specifics:
Play type: Option 1 (above) Head to Head real time (using the same device– Red Rover is designed to be played this way), or via Option 2 (above) on the Internet real time. In the interests of full disclosure I have tried to play an Internet game but not had any luck finding players, so I will not comment on Internet play. There is no AI player included, which is really too bad– I could see this becoming a fun time-waster game solitaire.
Visuals: Red Rover is historically themed; the graphics and interface represent a battlefield of World War One from the top down. One player is a German player, one an English player.
Roles: Players play … well, not Generals per se, but maybe Colonels— committing troops, support weapons, tanks and other assets into an ongoing battle on the Western Front.
Setup screen, not many controls
Design and Interface: the software interface is designed for two players sitting down at a single Ipad, each commanding his or her side of the Ipad. There’s really only four screens to this game– the initial flash screen, the setup, the battle and the victory.
Setup is somewhat meaningless as the battle is customizable in real time– that means pulling units from categories such as Infantry, Artillery, Air Support, Armor, and obstructions for armor and infantry. You CAN change the lethality of the game somewhat by increasing the randomness level of attacking in Setup; this is recommended for reasons I will expand on.
Battle in Progress, showing supply depots (circled) and airplanes (pointed)
Units are tied very closely to SUPPLY DEPOTS (circled, in the graphic above). These are little clusters of boxes and such that are on the edge of the map. Supply depots provide supply points to replace units with as they get annihilated on the battlefield (which happens quite a bit). Supply depots have to be defended at all costs, because once they are gone, the game is essentially over and just a matter of who lost a supply center last. Units on the ground have a high degree of interactivity, meaning that each one has strengths and weaknesses that dovetail with other units’ strengths and weaknesses. As the game’s help screens say, the real strategy of the game, such as it is, is in choosing units. For instance, you can put down wire which impedes the infantry quite a bit. You can put down artillery which can shoot over things and hit units far away (like supply centers). You can put down armor which is slow but is impeded by tank traps. Mantid gets high marks for that approach, but it does expose a weakness in the design of the game– airplanes.
Airplanes can fly over everything in the game and attack supply centers (or really, anything else) on the far end of the field. That’s fun eye candy but is a serious flaw in the balance of the game– planes are tough enough to fly to the edge of the field without getting massacred– since everything in this game only fires straight ahead a plane only has to worry about what the enemy places in front of it. Through the simple expedient of ignore history and just sending swarms of fighter aircraft on strafing runs over supply depots, you can quickly overwhelm the defender’s resources if he commits to a broad defense. My 13 year old son discovered this and after we played about ten games, pronounced RED ROVER as being “broke”. I don’t think it’s quite that bad but it is easy to figure out and the only variable I can find to throw in to stop the trend is to increase the damage variability, and that is a slender reed.
End Game and Victory
In summary, after about 13 games or so, I found Red Rover to be a bit disappointing as a military game– it certainly isn’t a wargame by my measurement, but it is a decent military themed arcade game. I think if units were allowed to fire sideways (at least the artillery and infantry) that might helped increase the tactical feel of Red Rover. Also, giving SOME unit a better check against airplane attacks would be highly recommended. I’d give it a strong C or C+ for the graphics, interaction between units and what I perceived to be a lack of balance and lack of AI player. Not a bad effort, but not up to the standard set by Mantid’s Tall Ships game.
|In the interest of fairness, Barry Geipel (Mr. Mantid) points out that supply centers can be rebuilt– a crucial point to surviving. I have found myself overwhelmed by the aircraft swarm using a tactic that was costly to a wargamer, but maybe not to a 13 year old boy (my son, in fact). Rebuilding supply centers does alleviate this, as well as building trenches to attack aircraft.
Red Rover is available on Itunes
by Centaur Studios
3.99 at Itunes as of this date
En Garde is an old Knizia game that I have been eager to see ported to the Ipad or Ipod touch. For those of you who have no experience with it, En Garde is a very loose simulation of fencing using 23 squares to represent a fencing piste, and a set of cards to move up and down the piste in movements that simulate attack and defense, advance and retreat, just like in a fencing match. The rules for the board game are located here. Players start at each end of the “piste” and are dealt a series of cards with numbers ranging from 1 to 5. There are a limited number of these cards in the deck (five total, I believe) and the numbers indicate the number of spaces your marker (fencer) will move. When you land on a square inhabited by an opponent, that is an attack, which can be defended or retreated from. Again, I’m predisposed to like this app; En Garde is in my top three Knizia games of all time and is a great candidate for an app game.
En Garde is a game I have played many times, most recently as a ported game into the Virtual World of Second Life, an experience that is somewhat different in terms of game play than the source board game, but retains the critical elements of your hand, the piste space and the fencing theme.
The big difference between virtual EN GARDE and the boardgame (and boardgame app) is a relatively minor quibble, the levels of play. In Knizia’s original Abacus Spiele game, the board was introduced in a series of programmed levels, Basic, Standard and Advanced.. Basic was the simplest version of En Garde ever.. if you had exactly the number card needed to land on the enemy space, the attack goes home. Standard level adds defense, and advance level adds the capability of combined move&attack. In the version I have played several times in Second Life, “Advanced” is basically “just En Garde” so that is what I am used to. The App En Garde follows the published rules to the letter, and has a Basic, Standard and Advance level, all of which must be endured to UNLOCK more advanced features (See picture above). Maybe it’s just me, but I loathe that element of some game designs. Why should I unlock features in a game I have ALREADY PAID FOR? A player should have a way to bypass this.
Fencing Portion of the Game, much like the board game
As you can see, the fencing portion of the game plays in a fashion faithful to the boardgame, after a fashion. I was confused to why I could not manage a combined attack until I went to the developer’s website and read a little about their design philosophy. That is a site worth a visit. I consider myself a fairly experienced EG player, yet I have consistently been beaten by the AI opponent, who is either lucky or just plain good.
Games are Single versus AI or multiplayer on a site called YOURTURNMYTURN, which I have never used before and cannot comment upon. I am encouraged to read (again, on the website, not the in game help) that the Master level is supported via internet multiplayer level play on Yourturnmyturn– in other words, you can turn off the rather stupid “locking” restrictions for single players. In all other respects the App is faithful to the board game.
In summary, I’m not as thrilled with this app as I thought I’d might be, but I am relatively pleased with it– I think the locked levels idea is a bad design element that detracts from play. Otherwise, I like En Garde and am glad I purchased it. A solid B to B+ for interface design and porting the essence of the ORIGINAL (fencing themed) game to app form, marked down somewhat for silly restrictions that make no sense.
En Garde is available at the App Store