updated 04:00 am EST, Fri December 27, 2013
Are board game conversions on tablets or physical copies better?
(This is the fourth in an ongoing series of articles showcasing apps that our staff like and recommend. Previous entries have looked at media management, photo editing and music options for mobile devices.)
There's no debating it -- now that the various mobile operating systems have matured, gaming is quite a draw on the current batch of smartphones and tablets. A niche category of these games are "board game" translations. Board games on iOS and Android go so much farther than classic offerings such as Monopoly and Scrabble -- a number of what have been dubbed "Eurogames" have made an appearance on the mobile ecosystems, and with them come savings from purchasing them digitally rather than as a boxed physical copy of the game. This edition of "My Five Apps" will cover five of my favorite board game translations and, uniquely, how much the user saves with the digital version over a physical copy.
Ticket to Ride is a railway-themed board game designed by Alan R. Moon and published for the tabletop in 2004 by Days of Wonder. It was developed for iOS, and was among the first of the Eurogame translations when it was released in 2011 for the iPad. The game has a relatively simple non-collectible resource deck mechanism, with players attempting to complete railways connecting one city to the next, also selected randomly from a separate deck.
At current prices, the iPad version of Ticket to Ride retails for $7. It has four in-app purchases as expansions: USA 1910, Europe, Switzerland, and Legendary Asia. All told (when not on sale) the entire Ticket to Ride package for iPad sells for $21. Amazon has the equivalent physical titles: $38 for Ticket to Ride, $41 for Ticket to Ride: Europe, the 1910 expansion for $18, and an equivalent map package to Ticket to Ride: Legendary Asia for $30. Thus, the total for the Amazon physical copies are currently priced at $127 -- a $106 difference compared to the complete iOS version.
Scotland Yard is a board game in which a team of players, as police, cooperate to track down a player controlling a criminal around a board representing the streets of London. It is eponymously named after Scotland Yard, the headquarters of London's Metropolitan Police Service. Scotland Yard is an asymmetric board game, and unusual in that the detective players work cooperatively rather than competitively, solving a variant of the classic pursuit-evasion logical and logistical problem under a time constraint.
The game costs just $5 on the App Store, and there are no in-app purchases or expansions for it. The physical copy of the game is $60, a $55 dollar difference.
Neuroshima Hex by Polish publisher Wydawnictwo Portal is played on a hexagonal board. Each player periodically draws from a deck of hexagonal tiles, symbolizing different types of military units. Annotations on the tiles denote the combat strength of each unit. Each player has one special headquarters tile, with players take turns placing their generally immobile tiles on the board with the goal of destroying the opposition's HQ tile.
The iOS version of Neuroshima Hex is by Big Daddy Creations, and sells for $5 when not on sale. In-app purchases for eight different factions retail for $1 each, bringing the total possible cost of the game to $13. With the physical version, the 2.0 version of the game retails for $37. With all the factions purchased for the physical game, the complete set comes to $117 -- a $104 difference over the iOS version.
Space Hulk is set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and draws a certain degree of inspiration from the Alien movies. In the turn-based game, a "Space Hulk" is a mass of ancient, derelict starships, asteroids, and other assorted space debris, which a group of Space Marine Terminators is sent to investigate. One player takes the role of these Terminators, while the other player controls the Genestealers, an aggressive alien species who have made their home aboard the Hulk.
This was a tough one to include. The original game developer, Games Workshop, has a checkered past with its fans over the better part of the last three decades; the iOS and PC versions of the game shipped with some enormously show-stopping bugs. Recent patches on both mobile and computer have cleaned up most of the major issues, with the exception of the massive 4GB footprint the game occupies on the device after download. Space Hulk is a two-player board game by Games Workshop, first released in 1989.
The game on the iOS retails for $10, and is unlikely to see a sale price any time soon. In-app purchases for three campaigns and two unit skins are available for an additional $17, bringing the total package up to $27. The highly limited re-release of the physical board game is currently available on Amazon for a mind-numbing $375, with an original retail price of $200 -- but the physical version doesn't have the bugs.
The second edition of the game from the '80s is available on eBay, routinely selling for $50 and up. Even assuming the lowest retail for the second edition ruleset from 20 years ago, this is still a $23 dollar difference between the digital and physical versions, and possibly much, much more. For the sake of argument, we'll use the normal $250 price for the 2009 re-release, and call it $198 differential between the board game and the iOS release.
A note of warning about Space Hulk for the iPad: we really don't recommend playing it on the first-generation iPad Mini or the iPad 2. It really demands a beefier processor for adequate play. Our test platform for it was a third-gen iPad, and we ran into no crash problems, as some users report on the App Store.
Settlers of Catan
Known simply as Catan on the App Store, The Settlers of Catan is a multiplayer board game designed by Klaus Teuber and first published in 1995 in Germany by Franckh-Kosmos Verlag as Die Siedler von Catan. Players assume the roles of settlers, each attempting to build and develop holdings while trading and acquiring resources. Players are rewarded points as their settlements grow; the first to reach a set number of points is the winner. The Settlers of Catan was one of the first German-style board games to achieve popularity outside of Europe.
When not on sale, Catan sells for $5. Two expansions are available for it as in-app purchases for $5 each, for a total of $15 for the entire package. While the physical version benefits from many more possible expansions to buy, the three combined on Amazon cost $38 each for the base game, Cities and Knights, and for Seafarers. The total of the three physical titles is $114, a difference of $99 between physical and iOS versions.
Virtual or Actual?
There are benefits to both iOS and physical versions of games. It's hard to cluster four players around a single iPad to play a game, but cleanup is faster with the iOS versions. "House rules" are nearly impossible on iOS games, unless already selectable in a preference somewhere in the game. One might think that the barrier to entry on the iOS is the cost of the iPad, but if you add up all the savings for all five titles here, you get $387 on the low end and $562 on the high end, depending on how you count Space Hulk. Either amount is well on the way to, or exceeds, the price of an 16GB current model iPad, be it Mini or Air.