Looking for the best board game on the iPad? We've collected the 21 finest iPad board games, suitable for all the family to enjoy this Christmas 2014.
Christmas 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 food 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 this Christmas. 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 the £30 or so that is about average in the physical board game world. 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?
* This may just have been the Price household. It's an odd game, but offers good clean piratical fun:
Best iPad board game that combines a simple concept with rich strategy: Carcassonne
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.
Best iPad board game for a completely new and different experience: Galaxy Trucker
Interesting contrast, here, between the frantic, against-the-clock-and-each-other tile grab that is Galaxy Trucker in real life (and in the main version of the single-player game on iPad) and the sedate, turn-based version you get when doing multiplayer pass-and-play. But each has its own distinct appeal.
You're each building spaceships, using various component tiles: crew pods, laser guns, engines and so on. But the components have a complicated array of connectors that you need to match up carefully, and your rivals are guaranteed to grab the tiles you need to make your spaceship work. In the speed game you always end up with a colossal bodge job, all bare wires and mistakes; standards are generally higher in the turn-based version, but you still need to make compromises depending on what tiles your opponents leave you.
And then, once you've all built your ships, you sail off into space to see how they fare. A series of randomly occuring adventures are resolved - you're attacked by smugglers! Did you include enough lasers? You're racing to reach the finish! Did you, er, remember to include any means of propulsion whatseover? Oh dear - and then a winner is determined.
It's a funny and challenging game that works better in this transformed, largely de-stressed version than we expected, and offers something completely different to the usual fare.
Best iPad board game with an educational side: Puerto Rico
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 deep strategy and (mostly) minimal conflict: Agricola
Agricola is great. It's about setting up a farm: ploughing fields, planting crops, building fences and breeding livestock. (And breeding people, too, if you spend a turn on the euphemistically named 'Family growth' square.) Each turn you get one action per family member, and these actions can be used to collect various resources, build or renovate stables and the like, put up fences or sow the fields. But each action square is only available to a single worker: if a rival jumps on to the square you need then you'll have to wait a turn, or come up with an alternative strategy.
The aim is to have the most developed and well-balanced farm, house and family at the end of 14 turns, while navigating the potential dangers of the periodic harvests: at these points your crops come in, your animals breed, and you have to produce enough food for your family. (But don't be too worried: you get a 'begging card' if you miss the target, rather than losing any people.)
Conflict is minimal, as we say, although it's not without its potential for arguments: only yesterday my wife took the fishing space at a key moment and left me struggling to feed my family. Luckily my vegetable strategy was strong enough to cope.
It all sounds a bit dull, of course, but the game is well designed and incredibly rewarding. We strongly recommend Agricola.
Best iPad board game for complex resource management: Le Havre
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
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 for fantasy fans: Lords of Waterdeep
A warning: Lords of Waterdeep is drier - closer to an abstract game - than its fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons theme might lead you to expect. If you want to march around a map waving a battleaxe at a load of goblins, you should probably be playing more of a videogame-type videogame (or the wonderful pen-and-paper roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons itself). This is a board game, and proud of it.
Lords of Waterdeep is a very highly regarded worker placement game. As in Agricola and similar games, you have a certain number of workers (in this case, 'agents'), and you and your competitors will be placing them in what you believe to be the key action spaces on the board. The difference in this case is that instead of collecting wood and bricks and boring things like that, you're collecting wizards and warriors.
You're doing fantasy quests, you see - but not in person. You're the manager, sort of. It's up to you to collect the participants and resources required to complete each quest (the quest below, for example, requires two clerics, represented by white cubes, one wizard, which is purple, and four gold coins), then cash it in for the points (six, in the example below, plus a bonus of six orange warrior cubes).
It requires a little effort of imagination, then, to immerse yourself in the theme properly; many will find themselves talking about coloured cubes and treating it like a non-themed abstract. But whether you go deep or not, it's still a very fine game.
Best iPad board game where you're all on the same side: Pandemic
Pandemic is 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. The iOS edition captures its nerve-wracking tension perfectly.
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
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: Magic: The Gathering, Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, and Hearthstone
There are lots of card games on the App Store, but three stand out: Magic, Ascension and Hearthstone.
Magic: The Gathering is the classic collectible card game and has been popular among analogue gamers for a couple of decades. With good reason, too: the vast array of cards have been exhaustively honed and playtested to produce a balanced, gripping game.
You assembled a deck before the match begins, trying to ensure the correct blend of land cards (that give you a supply of mana) and spells (which summon creatures or cause magical effects, and spend mana). The tactical subtleties are phenomenal.
Free (but with in-app purchases) | Download Magic 2015
We've been playing Ascension 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 another deck-building game that's a little like Magic. 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.
Free (but with in-app purchases) | Download Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer from the App Store
Finally, Hearthstone is a deck-building card game that's based around the characters and concepts of World of Warcraft.
As with all trading card games, Hearthstone hinges to some degree on microtransactions for new card packs, but the quest rewards for fulfilling various criteria (such as number of monsters summoned or points healed) minimise the necessity of paying for anything.
Free (but with in-app purchases) | Download Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Best iPad board game if you're ready for something with real complexity and a touch of humour: Small World 2
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: The 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
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're looking for an old-fashioned 'roll and move' game: Talisman
A roll-and-move game is precisely what it sounds like: you roll a die, then you move your token that many spaces. They're very much out of favour these days, and tend to be quite limited.
Talisman, though: Talisman is about the best take on the roll-and-move that we've played. You and your rivals bimble around the three concentric squares of the board, gradually making your character - a warrior, wizard, troll or whatever - stronger, craftier and better equipped. Typically of a roll-and-move it's all a bit random - the potential is always there that you'll get done in by a bad dice roll or miss a turn through no fault of your own - but it's surprisingly compelling and (thanks to the ability to pounce on other characters, attack them with spells and steal their best stuff) utterly cutthroat.
Best iPad board game if you want a digital version of a classic: Monopoly, Scrabble, Risk or Game of Life
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
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.
Best iPad board game if you want to test your trivia skills: Trivial Pursuit Master Edition
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.
For more iPad (and iPhone) games worth buying, check out Macworld's reviews section.
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