How Would it Port? Game Night Edition

By Chris / July 24, 2017

This is the first in what we plan to make a continuing series where we take a deeper look at how certain physical games would port to the digital app world. We will consider if the game would even be fun in digital form and what could be added to expand on the experience provided by the physical game.

In this edition, we will recap the games played at a recent game night. We played Splendor which already has a terrific port so we won’t dig into that one, but the other games we got to the table don’t have apps, so let’s see how they would stack up.

CODENAMES

This one is a little odd because the port is in the works. Nevertheless, why not consider how it will work out?

On the surface Codenames, the 2+ player word-based party game doesn’t seem like a great fit for an app. Usually with word games designed for a room full of people, pretty much all of the fun of the game comes from the interaction with the people in the room. The games behind these are usually incredibly lightweight to the point that playing them without the personal interactions doesn’t seem like that much fun.

What might the App consist of?

We imagine if there is AI play then the clue choices will have to be predetermined, which is sort of a bummer. We’d love to be surprised by an AI that can accept any word, but that seems like a stretch. For online play, hopefully the words could be typed in rather than from a list. Any sort of limiting of the potential clues would really put a damper on the game.

What could an app add to the game?

That is a tough one. Even adding AI would be an odd choice, as we’ve seen with Mysterium, getting an AI to guess clues, presumably from a pre-determined list of words, can be an underwhelming experience. So maybe Codenames is an online-only game? That seems like the most promising route to us. Add in the standard stat keeping and some sort of ranking system to determine who truly is the best clue giver out there, and it could be a fun online experience.

The Verdict

We’re skeptical on this one as you can probably tell. There is potential to be a quick, fun online game if a community builds up to support that. We are not very hopeful that an AI game would be much fun, but we’d love to be surprised on that matter. We were blown away with how good the Galaxy Trucker app from CGE Digital was, so we will hold out hope for this one, but they have a slew of other games we’d rather see get digitized than Codenames. (And yes, Through the Ages, which is getting a port, is on that list).


Istanbul


Istanbul is the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jarhes winner, the prestigious award given annually to the best connoisseur or gamer game of the year. The award rarely goes super heavy, if Terraforming Mars wins this year (it is a nominee), it will be the heaviest game to win in quite a while. Istanbul falls on the just short of heavy side of things. There is a lot going on, so it can be a bit overwhelming to start, but nothing the game is terribly complicated so it is usually understood well before the end of the first game. Istanbul puts 2-5 players on a variable setup board in a race to optimize their errands in order to gain five or six rubies before anybody else.

There is important player interaction in Istanbul, but it’s not active interaction. That is to say, there is no point during your turn in which you can do something that would require an opponent to make a choice before your turn can finish. 

This is an important note because it really opens up the chance of making an incredible asynchronous online game.  More fuel for that fire is that you can instantly look at the state of any other player’s board and be caught up on where they stand. I.e. you won’t lose any vital information if you don’t play the game for a few hours, a quick peek at the board will get you caught up.

Another note is that this game seems ripe for varying AI levels. It is essentially a route optimization game. That is something that can be programmed into AI. You could go up against truly difficult AIs which select near ideal routes given the board setup, we could see that being a fascinating challenge.  So here we have a really fun worker placement/race/optimization game which is extremely well suited for asynchronous online play and AI?  Sign us up, please.

What might the App consist of?

We sort of spoiled this one already, but clearly we see a wide range of online play options and a fun AI as well. Let players setup a custom board layout if they want, for offline play at least. Online could supply a range of options for setups, and some ranking system is always welcome. As there isn’t much hidden information in this game, a pass-and-play mode would likely work well.

There are also a few expansions for the game which would be great additions to an app.

What could an app add to the game?

The game could benefit from a campaign-like mode. Jaipur did this well with a series of challenges which present slightly different oddball rules within the game. Maybe Istanbul follows suite, or maybe they just use various pre-defined setups to challenge players. Either way, there are fascinating options for switching up the basic gameplay that would play well in a campaign of some sort.

The Verdict

Yes, please. This game lands in the medium weight area and is a true board game. The number of apps which cover this ground and provide an asynchronous play mode are surprisingly slim. Lighter games like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and Small World get this treatment, and we’re also seeing heavier games like Terra Mystica and Twilight Struggle get asynchronous app play. But the middle ground is somewhat bare, unless you want a card game. We would love to see Istanbul in app form.


Kingsburg

Kingsburg is a medium weight dice placement game for 2-5 players. The game takes place over five rounds consisting of four turns each. Players use their dice rolls to select available actions to procure resources to build their city to make it easier to build and buy and defend, and so on. It’s a classic worker placement game, but your workers are the dice. Some will dislike leaving things up to the luck of the roll, but in my experience that takes a substantial amount of thinking out of the game, drastically reducing (although not fully eliminating) the risk of A.P. Sometimes it’s okay to have some luck in your game, and this one has been a hit in the medium weight category for my group for quite a while.

There isn’t a ton of player interaction on this one, you mostly only care what your opponent is doing because you, generally, can’t use the same action they did on any given turn. The downside is that the die placement is a super quick action, it can take a couple of seconds in the physical game if players are prepared. This might make for an unnecessarily prolonged asynchronous game, but synchronous should work well.


It should be noted that Kingsport Festival has an app and is essentially a Kingsburg re-theme. The app is tablet only and apparently full of holes/bugs and hasn’t been updated in over two years. I personally haven’t played it yet, so I can’t vouch for it one way or another.

What might the App consist of?

Pretty basic stuff here. Give us an online multiplayer mode. We’re generally big fans of asynchronous play, but with the quick pace of the die placement, we can see how this might be better off only as a real-time online game. Add in some competent AI and you’re set. There is nothing terribly unique about the game that would make for anything drastically different in the port.

What could an app add to the game?

It’s tough to see something like a campaign or story mode for this one. Of course a good developer could find a way to fit it in, but the game itself has enough variety that a solid variety of AI opponent options would likely work well. If the AIs were rated in specific areas which provided their play tendencies, as we’ve seen in some apps, that could make for a large amount of AI options and replayability.

The Verdict

Of course we’d try it, but it wouldn’t be at the top of our list. The ill fit as an asynchronous game is the deciding factor here. We’d love to try it as asynchronous, but it could drag a single game out over a few weeks given the number of times each player will have to open the app to play their turn, the physical game is about 90 minutes to two hours depending on player count and AP proneness. This works fine in games like Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride, but they are significantly shorter games. Maybe we’re off base here, we’d certainly love to be proven wrong.


Space Hulk: Death angel

This is a brutally tough, small box card game from Fantasy Flight Games, taking place in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It is cooperative and plays 1-6 players attempting to fend off nonstop hoards of space aliens in an action planning, dice rolling, hand management game.  This game is mostly known for its difficulty, win rates are notoriously low on this one. This is because the game keeps throwing alien after alien at you, crushing you into submission. You can try to mitigate the attacks somewhat, but often your fate lies on the face of a die, so things can go downhill incredibly quickly.

We always like to see a good cooperative game get a port because the difficulty of the game is already built into the game itself. If a co-op game is too easy, it will never last in the board game world, the game, almost always through card draw or dice roll (or both, in this case) must be difficult to have staying power.

The other thing we like about this game’s potential as an app is that there are six groups of marines you choose from, each with unique powers. This variability adds a lot to the game and would keep things fresh in app form.

What might the app consist of?

Offline games with 1-6 players vs the built in AI is the starting point. This gets you a ton of replayability right out of the box. Online play could work as well, but honestly we’re somewhat torn on online co-op games. Of the few co-op games we’ve reviewed, Sentinels of the Multiverse  is the only one with online play (Mysterium could count, but it’s not a traditional co-op). It works fine in Sentinels, but I honestly don’t find myself going back to online play much in that game.

What could an app add to the game?

SH:DA is ripe for a campaign or story mode. Pit us against a series of increasingly difficult challenges in an already brutal game, image the replay value!

The Verdict

Yes, definitely yes. This game is currently out of print so prices for the physical game are rising quickly (it was $40 on Amazon as of the time of this writing, debatably worth it, but over 2x the normal price when quantities aren’t limited). There are some licensing issues that I don’t fully understand, but I’ve heard the game won’t be coming back in print soon. It’s likely that those same issues would affect the chances of getting an app, but we’d love to see it happen nonetheless.

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