Board & card games

Don't risk the dog getting excited and knocking plastic pieces on the floor - play these amazing board and card games inside your iOS device instead.

Cards! - MonkeyBox 2

Cards! begins with you receiving a plea for help - only, you're in a locked cell. The titular cards depict your surroundings and actions as you make decisions regarding what to do next. One swift escape later (by way of a deft few swipes) and an arrow misses your foot by inches. It's instantly clear choices you subsequently make will be the difference between life and death.

What's less clear is everything else. If Cards! was marketed in an old-school manner, it'd rock up as a disc inside a plain box. The game isn't in a hurry to explain anything. Instead, there's a lot of trial and error. Slowly, you figure out the order in which to play cards, to avoid an untimely demise. Logic is sometimes - but not always - a useful ally.

From the days of Rick Dangerous on ancient home computers, we've never been keen on games that kill you without warning. Cards! does this frequently. But while the game is confounding and occasionally frustrating, it's also forgiving. Lose your lives (you get the classic three) and the game loops back to the start of the current chapter rather than the very beginning.

If you expect card-based adventuring to work like clockwork, the oddball nature of Cards! might not appeal. But if you like the sound of a mobile-friendly card game full of charm, puzzles and experimentation, look no further.

£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Cards! - MonkeyBox 2

Best iPad & iPhone games: Cards! - MonkeyBox 2

Card Thief

This game is what happens when solitaire collides with stealth. Nine cards are dealt as a three-by-three grid, and your aim is to draw a path through them that maximises the loot you snag, but minimises stealth point losses. Said losses can quickly rack up, if you attempt to tackle too many guards or monsters, or blunder about extinguishing torches.

As you get further into the game, new subtleties are unearthed. There are chests to ransack, and barrels to hide in that replenish your stealth points. Some enemies steal your gold, and others move around, as if the cards they're housed in are alive. Collect enough swag and you can spend it on power-ups, giving you a fighting chance of higher scores during subsequent games.

With plenty of depth and superb visuals, even its slightly repetitive nature can't take the edge off Card Thief. Start playing and it's guaranteed to steal plenty of your time.

£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Card Thief

Best iPhone & iPad games: Card Thief

Catan Classic

Graphically, this is a faithful rendition of Klaus Teuber's superb and deservedly idolised tile-based island conquest game. Having the iPad handle those tiresome banking duties and victory point calculations makes things far more fast-paced than the board game, and you can view statistical tables at the end of the bout.

The computer players can be absolute swines - they'll merrily gang up on you in a way that most human players would consider beyond the pale - but hardcore gamers may even consider this a plus. And the original game is such a work of genius that this couldn't help being great fun, even if it's not the perfect iOS port.

£4.99 per app | For iPhone and iPad (separate apps) | Download Catan Classic for iPhone or Catan Classic HD for iPad

Best iPhone games | Best iPad games: Catan HD iPad board game review

Exploding Kittens

Originally a real-life card game that was the most-backed ever (in terms of backer numbers) on Kickstarter, Exploding Kittens subsequently blasted its way on to mobile. The game is more or less Russian Roulette with cats. You play with two to four other people, drawing cards. If someone gets an exploding kitten, they're out of the game - unless they can defuse it. Other cards enable a modicum of tactics: you can skip turns, peek at the top of the deck, shuffle and steal cards, and slap opponents so they take a turn.

The iOS version offers online play against random opponents or friends in private matches, secured with codes. Everything's been cleverly tweaked for screen, such as with the addition of a 'chance of kitten' meter that starts going nuts when an exploding kitten is likely, and madcap audio and energetic animation that aligns nicely with co-creator Matthew Inman's surreal oddball imagery.

£1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Exploding Kittens

Best iPhone games | Best iPad games: Exploding Kittens


Basically Magic: The Gathering with Warcraft characters, Hearthstone is a card battle game. Build decks and strategies, summon minions and cast spells. The different classes and their specific cards and abilities add a nice level of variety, and a single-player mode means you don't have to take your game online unless you want to.

As with all trading card games, Hearthstone hinges to some degree on IAP 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.

The turn-based set-up makes it a perfect game to play during odd moments, and seeing a long-term strategy pay off is very satisfying.

FREE + IAPs | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Hearthstone

Best iPad & iPhone games: Hearthstone

Meteorfall: Krumit's Tale

One of the most intriguing, successful sub-genres on mobile has been a mash-up of dungeon crawling and card-based deck-building, squashed into tiny grids. Krumit's Tale takes this foundation and runs with it in every sense.

It's simple to grasp but hard to master, with tons of depth and a wide range of game modes. And although it's suitable for serious play - fashioning tactics; building a deck; learning to win - the game doesn't take itself too seriously, instead being infused with colourful, characterful art with lashings of personality.

The basic gameplay involves you attempting to take out every enemy within a three-by-three grid. At any point, you can choose to grab power-ups, but doing so needs coin. Cash is earned by selecting and removing potentially useful cards from the grid. All these choices must be weighed up against what you need to go into battle.

Said battles are turn-based affairs where you can equip yourself with weapons for getting all stabby with, and armour that can simultaneously parry and stun an enemy, in effect giving you a free attack. Early on, you'll die - often. You'll come to realise Krumit's Tale demands you think several moves ahead, considering the current dungeon holistically, rather than merely equipping yourself to duff up the nearest meanie. But in being a premium game (there's no throwing cash at it to instantly level up), this latest Meteorfall is rewarding in the long term and arguably best-in-kind on mobile.

£6.99/$6.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Meteorfall: Krumit's Tale

Best iPhone & iPad games: Meteorfall: Krumit's Tale

Pandemic: The Board Game

Pandemic is a vastly popular co-operative board game in which up to four friends work together to defeat four diseases sweeping the globe. Each turn you'll travel from city to city, treat the sick and research cures, hoping that the random new infections don't strike in that worst possible place and snowball into multiple outbreaks (spoiler: they always do). It's unbelievably tense, and winning feels amazing. And everyone is involved, since you're each allocated a role with special powers that will prove crucial in particular situations.

The iOS version works far better as a solo experience, but it still induces a massive (but pleasurable) panic at its key moments. And the euphoria of victory is also sweet. That said, take heed - even on the easy difficulty level, this virtual take seems tougher than the cardboard version.

£3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Pandemic: The Board Game

Best iPhone games | Best iPad games: Pandemic iPad board game review

Really Bad Chess

Chess is amazing but can intimidate newcomers and be analysed to death by veterans. You can get around this by randomising the starting position of non-pawn pieces, but Really Bad Chess goes much further, in randomising pretty much everything, bar the king. Pawns might start on the back row, or you might luck out and get seven queens while your opponent looks on in horror, armed with a single rook.

It's curious and immediate, but also more mentally demanding than traditional chess. You lose the security blanket of E2 to E4, D2 to D4, knight to F3, wake me up when something interesting happens. Everything is new - and potentially dangerous - from the very start.

That said, there is an attempt at balance - albeit a strange one. Initially, you have a distinct advantage, but win often and the set-ups favour you less and less. The AI never gets smarter - it just gets a better starting point. It's a clever idea, and makes for a chess game that's a lot of fun.

FREE | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Really Bad Chess

Best iPhone games | Best iPad games: Really Bad Chess

Sage Solitaire

Mobile solitaire ends up using tiny cards to fit them all on the screen. Sage Solitaire's solution: a three-by-three grid, quite a bit of poker, and a virtual trip to Vegas.

In the basic mode, you score by removing poker hands; the better the hand, the more points you get. Strategy comes from a limitation that forces you to use cards from multiple rows for each hand. With the stacks at the top of the screen being taller than those at the bottom, the latter's cards are best used sparingly. In addition, a randomly allocated suit acts as a multiplier, bestowing double points when used in a hand, and two 'trashes' exist to remove individual cards.

The Vegas mode, unlocked on clearing the entire board three times, gives you a virtual bank account, awards cash prizes only when using the multiplier hand, and ups your overall payout multiplier on clearing piles from the top two rows. Subtly different strategies are required for success, hence the initial lockdown - it's very easy to otherwise burn through your limited funds.

Crack Vegas and hit $800, and you can try your hand at True Grit. There, once your in-game money's gone, it's gone for good - there's no IAP to refill your virtual coffers. In fact, the game's sole £2.99 IAP exists purely to unlock two further modes (Double Deck and Fifteens), remove the ads, and give you achievements to aim for.

FREE | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Sage Solitaire

Best iPad games | Best iPhone games: Sage Solitaire

Ticket To Ride

One for the trainspotters, you might think, although experience suggests that this simple but engrossing game will appeal to everyone.

You collect coloured cards, which you then use to build railway infrastructure across the map, attempting to connect up the cities named in your (randomly allocated) objectives. Tactically we believe it's relatively straightforward, but the competition for critical stretches can get fierce. And in the end there's not much in life more satisfying than building a railway.

The default map covers the US, and there are European - and other - expansions available as IAP.

£8.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Ticket to Ride

Best iPhone games | Best iPad games: Ticket To Ride iPad board game review