Looking for the best board game on the iPad? We've collected the 15 finest iPad board games, suitable for all the family to enjoy this Easter 2014.
The long Easter Bank Holiday weekend is almost here, and you're probably thinking about ways to entertain the kids, the family and anyone who has come to visit. Along with chocolate and long car journeys in atrocious traffic, good clean family fun, in the shape of a fusty old board game, is an essential part of the Christmas experience: squeezing on to the sofa after a heavy lunch and enjoying some mildly competitive quality time with your siblings, nephews, grandparents and family hangers-on.
It's possible to blend tradition with modernity, too, and there are many advantages to trying out some board games on your iPad across the long Easter weekend. There's variety, for one thing: there are literally thousands of options on the App Store, as compared with the copies of Risk, Monopoly and Ghostly Galleon* in your cupboard, each of which has been played to a state of ragged decrepitude.
iPad board games are also a lot cheaper than their cardboard and plastic equivalent. They tend to cost a shade more than the average iOS game, with price tags of five or six quid about standard, but you can take a punt on something interesting at that price: you'd be more cautious about spending £25 or more. And there are plenty of cheaper or free alternatives. What's more, you don't have to go down the shops or wait for an Amazon delivery to buy an iPad game.
So without further ado, here are some of our favourite iPad board games. What better way could there be to spend the afternoon than getting the whole family involved in a game of something charming and harmless?
Best iPad board game that combines a simple concept with rich strategy: Carcassonne (£6.99)
A lovely tile-placement game based around the simplest of concepts and some lovely artwork, Carcassonne is all about building a medieval landscape. You put down tiles with roads and cities on (carefully ensuring that the road and city bits on your tile dovetail properly with those that have already been laid) and then occupy parts of the board with little people, or 'meeple'. Occupying large areas earns more points.
It's not for everyone, but for sheer breadth of appeal this has to go down as one of the modern classics. Full review of Carcassonne for the iPad.
Best iPad board game for tactical depth with an educational side: Puerto Rico HD (£2.99)
A beautifully designed and strangely evocative board game, this.
Up to five human or AI players take the role of various important figures in the history of Puerto Rico (stop yawning) and compete to set up thriving colonies on the island. You grow plants, from sugar cane to coffee, and build warehouses, docks and factories to help you process goods for sale or shipping back to Spain. There's no fighting; you just sit next to each other on strips of land and do your thing. But it's no less compelling for all that.
With its non-violence, slyly educational tone and politically correct roster of characters, Puerto Rico HD is tremendously middle-class; you could imagine it making an appearance in the Private Eye comic strip 'It's Grim Up North London'. But don't let that put you off. This is a calmly brilliant board game.
Best iPad board game for complex resource management: Le Havre (£2.99)
Not unlike Puerto Rico, Le Havre (whose full name, for the benefit of non-Francophiles, adds the translation "The Harbour") is all about managing resources, and doesn't allow you to bust anyone up if you don't like their strategy (not on the board, at any rate). You build various facilities, factories and construction sites, and in turn use these to build more stuff, create resources or convert one type of resource into another. Yet you can also use somebody else's buildings provided you're willing to pay them a fee. The winner is the richest at the end of the game.
This is to our mind far more demanding mentally than Puerto Rico, with masses going on and great complexity to account for in your decision-making. Board game afficionados swear by Le Havre, however, and there's a good tutorial to help you start off.
Best iPad board game for gently ruthless warmongering: Catan HD (£2.99)
The more discerning gamesters among you may already have a copy of Settlers of Catan. It is an absolute stone-cold killer classic, the greatest board game this writer for one has ever played. With forensic skill, designer Klaus Teuber created a simple but fiercely tactical tile-based conquest game where no one gets knocked out and everyone has stuff they can work towards even if they're miles behind the leaders.
It can get aggressive but a few house rules - no robber until everyone's had two turns, say, or just being nice and not picking on people who are struggling - should keep it friendly.
If you've not got the full set, though (and it'll set you back £25 for the basic game and almost as much for the near-essential Seafarers expansion), the iPad edition is pretty sweet.
Read our full review of Catan HD for iPad for more information, but here's the gist: it's a decent adaption of a superb board game, much faster-moving because the iPad works out all the victory points for you, and a bargain at £2.99, and £2.99 per expansion. (Seafarers is wonderful, Cities & Knights not quite as essential but still an excellent introduction to that expansion's more complicated rules.)
The computer players are much more vicious than real-life players, but that shouldn't affect a family game with human players only.
Best iPad board game where you're all on the same side: Pandemic: The Board Game (£4.99)
An admission: we've not tried the iOS version of Pandemic, although by all accounts it's a solid adaptation. What we can absolutely recommend, however, is Pandemic itself, a wonderful and deservedly popular co-operative board game in which the players work together to cure four diseases that are spreading across the face of the Earth.
At the start of the game you're allocated one of seven roles (medic, scientist and so on), each of which offers special powers you can use to help defeat the spreading pestilence before things get critical. It's incredibly tense but also nicely quick. And if one of you loses, you all lose - so you don't need to worry about listening to somebody gloat.
Best iPad board game if you want something gentle for a kid-heavy gathering: Ticket to Ride (£4.99)
Hardcore fans may disagree, but our experience suggests there isn't enormous tactical depth to Ticket To Ride, yet it's fun and gentle enough for both the relatively young and the extremely hungover to join in. Essentially you pick up cards that let you build various kinds of railway rolling stock, and use these to build a rail network that connects enough points on the map to fulfil the various missions you're given.
Best iPad board game that's really a card game: Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer (free)
We've been playing this off and on ever since downloading it; it's a cracker. It's also free, although we do recommend expanding your game (after you've tried it out) with some of the additional promo cards that are available as in-app purchases.
It's a deck-building game that's a little like Magic: The Gathering. The main difference is that instead of assembling your deck in your own time, you build it during the game itself; you both start with a standardised deck of 10 (eight apprentices and two militias) and buy cards from the central set, and use these in turn to buy more cards, or kill baddies, or otherwise gain points.
It's beautifully accessible, nice to look at and quite deep. Perfect if your family gathering is quite geek-heavy.
Best iPad board game if you're ready for something with real complexity and a touch of humour: Small World (£4.99)
Our games editor tried to get this classic included the first time we assembled our '50 best iOS games' feature, but got outvoted by the rest of the team. We've all been playing it heavily since, however, and it's long since been added to the expanded list. (Read that list here: 76 best iPad & iPhone games)
Small World is set in a Tolkien-esque fantasy universe with a facetious flavour. Your aim is to amass victory points by conquering and holding tiles on the map, but there are numerous special rules that affect this, depending on the race of characters you select at various points in the game, and the special ability which has been randomly assigned to them for that game only.
The combinations of races and abilities are huge so no two games turn out alike. And the brevity of each game (not to mention the back-and-forth flow of almost every skirmish) means there's none of that gradual sinking feeling you get for the last two hours of a game of Risk where you know the end is coming. It's only two-player, sadly (the board game allows up to 5). We hope this is addressed in future.
UPDATE: Superbly, with version two (which is a free update to the app) this has now been fixed, and you can play with up to five human and AI players, making this a must-buy.
Best iPad board game if you love grinding down the enemy: New World Colony (£1.99)
The flip side to Pandemic, New World Colony is a nice choice for families that don't feel the need to get on with each other.
You control a colony occupying a small area of a hexagonal-tile map, and aim to expand this to swallow up the lot. There's no pretence of friendliness: unlike in Catan, where settlements once constructed are (pretty much) sacrosanct, you can take over anyone's territory if you've got enough resources.
The middle game is terrific, but it tends to degenerate into a mopping-up exercise towards the end. This is fun if a computer player is on the losing end (they tend to be reasonably good at not resigning until things are utterly terminal) but expect human opponents to give up/flip out/destroy the iPad long before then.
Best iPad board game if you want a digital version of a classic: Monopoly (£4.99), Scrabble (£6.99), Risk (£4.99) or Game of Life (£2.99)
So Regent Street is torn, most of the Chance cards are gone and someone pinched the iron. Or you've lost all the vowels, half the letter stands and the board. This is the natural and inevitable end of a much-loved family board game, particularly if it regularly goes on journeys to Grandma's or the local.
If you raid the games cupboard and discover that an old favourite has finally reached the point of no return - or realise that your kindly hosts don't have a copy of something you were depending on - then one option is to download the digital version to your iPad. The official Monopoly and Scrabble apps will serve you well, but bear in mind that there is likely to be a cheaper, similar game on the App Store if you can do without the correct branding.
Best iPad board game if you're in a silly mood: Fingle (£1.49)
This is for two players only, but you can always take it in turns. It's a lot of fun, although somewhat unsettling and deeply odd.
Fingle is essentially miniature Twister, using only your fingers. Small shapes appear on the screen, and the two of you have to place your fingers in the right place, and keep them on the shapes as they move around. You'll find your fingers more entwined than a couple of freemasons playing thumb wars.
Full review of Fingle for the iPad here.
Best iPad board game if you want to test your trivia skills: Trivial Pursuit Master Edition (69p)
A bargain option, this, and a lot of fun. The main down side is that the questions are multiple choice, which makes things a lot easier (quite often you'll be able to rule one out right away, leaving it as a 50/50 shot), but really nothing beats hassling your in-laws with trivia questions, and this has loads.
*This may just have been the Price household. It's an odd game, but quite fun.
For more iPad (and iPhone) games worth buying, check out Macworld's reviews section.
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