10 more board game apps we love!
We have our Top 10 Android Games and Top 10 iOS Games posts. They are among our most visited pages and we keep them updated twice a year or so and we feel they do a good job of portraying the absolute best of the best in the board game app world. However, we also have a lot more than ten games that we REALLY love. We could extend our lists, but we think that might dilute the effect, who wants to read a top twenty list? So, we decided to create this post in which we discuss games that didn’t make the cut for those lists, but we still really love. There are dozens and dozens of board game apps, why not spend some time discussing a few more?
We won’t rank these games, rather we’ll simply present them alphabetically and offer a brief overview on what makes the game so great. Note that these aren’t necessarily our 11-20 favorite apps, because going through our exhaustive voting/vetting process is, well, exhausting. These are simply ten more games we highly recommend and wanted to highlight.
Any game appearing on either our Android or iOS list is disqualified from appearing on this list. Click the image to head to Amazon for the physical versions (if they exist), and check out the links to full reviews and the app store of your choice.
Age of Rivals is a great example of the opportunities out there for direct-to-digital board games. The core of this game is firmly rooted in the board game world, with a card drafting process which borrows from, but isn’t a direct copy of, 7 Wonders. A mix of avenues to scoring/winning, a bit of an engine building aspect, and so on. A big reason this game succeeds is that it crams so much into a fairly short game. Often, trying to do too many things in one game is a recipe for disaster, but Age of Rivals is a great example of it done right. Each turn is broken into the card acquisition phase and the scoring phase. Once your tableau for the turn is full, you enter scoring which is a series of a few different phases which allow you to attack your enemies (and defend their attack) and collect your hard earned points. Trying to imagine this in a physical game is difficult because there are so many different aspects to keep track of, including building damage which carries over between turns. It would be akin to trying to make a game which required the bookkeeping of Through the Ages, but have it play in 15 minutes. It is hard to see it working out, but thankfully an app can keep track of all of that for you.
The net result of all of this is a really fun head to head game. I am always a fan of games which provide different routes to victory, and Age of Rivals shines there. There are games I think I have won but my opponent absolutely demolishes me during the attack phase on the final turn, blocking my from doing any sort of scoring. A painful way to lose, to be sure. You can try to be balanced, go heavy in attack, go heavy in point generation, etc… Each game will play out a bit differently which ensures you get to try out a variety of strategies. In the end, the variety is what keeps me coming back to this game.
Our alphabetical ordering might make it seem like this list will consist only of non-ports, that’s not true, but we do love Antihero as well as Age of Rivals. Antihero is a streamlining of a 4x game, wrapped up in a great looking package. The game challenges players in a head to head duel to explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate a small city to be the first to hit the VP goal for the scenario. Players take the roll of the leader of a small gang starting out in a mostly unexplored city. There is another gang trying to take over this part of town, however, and you must score points via assassination, bribing, blackmail, and other nefarious means.
The game uses a small tech tree which forces players to prioritize and plot their plans ahead of time. Trying to advance all branches of the tree is always appealing, but it is likely that the game will be lost by the time you get close to unlocking the advance tech across the board. Rather, you will likely need to choose your path early and play the game utilizing those advanced abilities you unlock. Antihero really shines in the depth it provides in such a tight package. 4x games are notoriously lengthy given all of the options they provide, so a game that scratches the same itch that can breeze by in about twenty minutes? Sign us up!
Eight-Minute Empire is a great example of how a well made app can shine a new light on a game people may not have heard much about. EME is a very quick playing (clocking in at UNDER eight minutes in digital form) area control/set collection game. The game shines due to its simplicity. Players start with a number of coins and they spend them throughout the game, without replenishing (at least without any expansions). Coins are used to purchase cards which allow you to take actions to aide in your area control conquest and also provide a good which can add up to extra points. So, on each turn you have to choose which action/good card to buy, execute those actions, and your turn is over. On their own, the set collection or area control aspects would be bland, but combining them makes each decision important which makes the game.
The Eight-Minute Empire app has turned out to be a very good implementation. The game looks good and the app does everything you’d want. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles, but offline and online play are present and both work well. Looking across the games we’ve covered, there isn’t much that plays this quickly and provides such a quality game experience.
Friday is the classic solo card game which tasks players with the role of Friday, Robinson Crusoe’s trusted ally, doing everything he can to get Crusoe off the island so he can return to peace and quiet. The app is deserving of its three star review as it is admittedly a bit rough, the glaring lack of a decent tutorial is the most noticeable issue, but the entire thing lacks polish. However, the app does allow the fantastic game to shine through once the gameplay is understood. And boy, is that gameplay worth the hurdles. Friday is a genius take on deckbuilding. The crux of the mechanics is that trashing cards, usually a bonus in deck builders, is an absolute necessity in Friday. So much so that you will willingly trade life points for the ability to trash cards. That’s like the key mechanic, hurt yourself so you can ditch bad cards. The game is also downright brutal. The app allows you to play on various levels which slightly change starting conditions, but they are all really tough.
Friday is a classic case of a fantastic game shining through despite some issues with the app. You aren’t getting really any extra features in this app, although the online tournament is decent fun, but you are getting the chance to play a great game a whole bunch of times without wearing out your hands shuffling after each loss.
Something about alphabetical ordering...first we get two non-ports, now two consecutive solo card games. Hostage Negotiator is an incredibly tense solo game in which you attempt to resolve a hostage situation in as peaceful of a manor as possible. There will almost certainly be deaths, but you hope to save more than not before the clock runs out. The game has some interesting mechanics which make it stand out. Everything you do in the game comes down to a dice roll, for starters. You can mitigate the risk here somewhat through cards or keeping threat levels down, but at the end of the day, if the dice don’t fall your way, you will lose. The luck element might be a turnoff for some, but I find it to be a nice dose of randomness fitting of the theme of dealing with a lunatic hostage taker.
The other big mechanic is that you purchase cards, but only get to use them once before they return to the buy pool. This is a very unique take on deck building. There are a handful of base cards you don’t have to purchase (well, they technically cost 0, but you do have to opt-in purchasing them), but the higher power cards which will move your goals in the right direction will cost a few points, and you will only get one shot at using them before they return to the card pool and you have to buy them again. With this mechanic, the game doesn’t have the typical deckbuilder feel of building up a power deck over the course of the game. Instead, the game is as tense at the end as it is at the beginning. The best thing about Hostage Negotiator, in my opinion, is how well every aspect ties into the theme. This isn’t a battle game where you build better ships and use those to build better ships so you have an unstoppable fleet by the end, it is a hostage negotiation. You may have leveraged the release of some hostages throughout the ordeal, but these moves don’t snowball into a heap of expert negotiation tactics, you are left with the same options at the end as you are at the beginning. The dice/luck factor play well with the randomness of the enemy’s threat card draws, meaning the game can change quickly if things don’t go your way.
Jaipur is a classic two player set collection game. It is widely cited as a great gateway to modern boardgaming, and with good reason. The game is super simple to explain and play, and offers enough depth to stay fun for a little while. The game is light, fun, and quick. The news of an app version was certainly well received, but it did not seem like it would be the deepest or best app in the world. It isn’t easy to take such a simple game and turn it into something that can be played dozens or hundreds of times. Thankfully, the app blew those expectations away with two fantastic twists: campaign and rule variations. The campaign is fairly lightweight, but it does provide incentive to play against the AI so that you can unlock the rule variations. These are the real star of the show, as simple alterations from the base rules go a long way towards drastically changing strategy and keeping the game fresh for a long time. To go along with these, the AI here is downright brutal on the most difficult AI.
The app also features synchronous online play, which is good for a quick head to head battle. All told, Jaipur is certainly among the most fully features and well implemented on this list. The drawbacks are that the depth is still somewhat thin despite the great efforts made, as mentioned earlier. If you want a casual game which will provide a truly difficult challenge, Jaipur is a great option.
This, more than perhaps any other app we cover here, is definitely a love/hate game. We hate it because the implementation is SO close to being great, but falls just short. No system notifications on Android is a huge deal. Lesser, but still annoying, details include: slow load times, online server disconnects if your phone sleeps, landscape mode makes some game information impossible to see (extra coins/perks attached to certain buildings, if playing with expansions). With that list, why do we love this game? Because it’s a classic gateway/medium weight worker placement for a reason. The game offers fun decisions at every turn, without being incredibly complicated. The depth really shines with the additions of the expansions which add some key gameplay elements which will feel completely necessary after you start playing with them.
Lords of Waterdeep is one of the most heavily played games in our libraries. Part of this is due to its age, part is due to it fitting a specific niche. As a cross-platform, asynchronous, medium weight, board-based experience goes, there isn’t a lot out there. You could go heavier with Through the Ages, synchronous with 7 Wonders, card-based with Race for the Galaxy, or many other options, but there really isn’t much that meets all of the specific criteria. Galaxy Trucker is the most obvious, but that does sit in both our Android and iOS Top 10 lists. As it stands, we will continue to play Lords of Waterdeep despite its shortcomings, and continue to hold out hope that we’ll see an update show up in the the app store to address our issues.
Paperback is a deckbuilding word game that you never know you needed in your life. It flips traditional word games like Scrabble on their heads by adding distinct strategic elements outside of simply playing the best word you can to score the most points. As discussed in our guide to deck builders, Paperback takes a remarkably straightforward approach to its deck building mechanics, so much so that it will feel instantly familiar to anyone with experience in the genre. That you also combine these basic mechanics with the need to string together high point words makes the game great. It isn’t simply playing the longest or highest point letters, it is about combing powerful card abilities to multiply your point total. As in Dominion, you must explicitly purchase VPs throughout the game, which makes timing and strategy a more important factor than a traditional word game. Paperback offers online play as well as local play against AI or pass-and-play. The app is fairly bare bones, but does the job in letting the great game shine, it is highly recommended for those looking for a change of pace from a traditional word game.
This might be my personal favorite that didn’t make our top 10 cut. In fact, revisiting it a few months ago for a review might lead to it showing up on our next top 10 list, stay tuned! On the surface, the game is a route optimization game; simply deliver as many goods as possible for the most points and walk away the winner. The depth starts to show immediately, however, as you begin taking loans, urbanizing towns, paying tolls, and many, many other small interactions that are necessary to navigate a game of Steam. The game, admittedly, isn’t the easiest one to jump into, but players who are able to sink their teeth in will find one of the most rewarding strategic experiences on mobile devices. The app itself is well done, with only minor complaints coming in some UI issues and a desire for more online game options.
I’ve run out of things to say here, so I will talk about a big problem I had getting into this game: my gateway game to modern board games was Ticket to Ride. I played TTR exhaustively, so why would I bother with another train game when there were so many other options? It took many years, but with the app I finally made it over that dumb hurdle and played Steam. It is a fantastic game and shares very little in common with TTR outside of the train theme. If you are in the position I was in years ago, do yourself a favor and try Steam Rails to Riches.
Terra Mystica is loved by Pixelated Cardboard for its grandeur, intricacy and characters. This port of the wildly popular board game allows the gamer to spend a lot time immersed in this cool fantasy world. The barrier to entry for first time Terra Mystica players can be daunting, but well worth the effort. The game is to develop the landscape more effectively than your opponents using the powers and abilities of your selected faction. Seasoned players know that advancing up the Cult track and improving your Towns is a great way to score some Victory points and win some games.
Terra Mystica made this list because it's huge in replayability, superb in design, and we particularly like the sweet background music and in-game sounds. Since you made it to the end of the article, you must be a serious gamer, and we applaud you for this. If you own this game already, then stop what you're doing and go play it again. Otherwise, download it and begin a Mystical adventure terra-forming & inhabiting a far away land.