Posts Tagged ‘ online board game ’

Reviewing Games on Yucata – Previously Reviewed Ones

YucataAs promised, here are reviews of Yucata board games that I’d previously reviewed on this site. Since I’ve already discussed the games in depth, this article focuses mostly on how well Yucata implemented them for playing online. All three covered here are worker placement games whose mechanics naturally fit in a turn-based system, so there’s no point in dwelling on that in the reviews. My grade for the Yucata implementation accounts for how fun they are, though, so the game’s quality does matter. Just read the original reviews for more information about that.

Also, as I warned in last week’s article about Boîte à Jeux games, the ones here don’t reflect the quality of the site overall. For some reason, Boite’s games that I’d already reviewed tend to be the best that that site has to offer, while Yucata’s show the site at its worst. I still definitely recommend Yucata in general, though, and I’ll eventually review other games that demonstrate the full breadth of the site.

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Reviewing Games on Boîte à Jeux – Previously Reviewed Ones

Boite a Jeux logoI’ve been playing a lot of board games recently on the web. I discussed these in general a couple months back, but I should start talking about the specific games as well. It actually seems a little tricky to review: How do I tell if my opinion is based on the game itself, or the way it plays on the site? So I’m going to start by looking at games that I had already played in person and reviewed before I played them online. Today, I’ll look at four on Boîte à Jeux, and next week I’ll talk about ones on Yucata.

My reviews for these games are focused mainly on why they work, or don’t, online. I’ve already covered the mechanics in earlier articles. My grades here do account for whether or not I enjoy the games in general, but also how they work in a turn-based system and how well they were implemented.

It turns out that the games I already knew are some of the best ones on Boîte, so the reviews here are very positive in three of the four cases. Strangely, the Yucata games I have reviewed already are some of the more disappointing ones there. Don’t think the extremes in these reviews represent the whole sites, though. As you’ll see when I get around to reviewing other ones in a month or two, both sites have their good and bad games.

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Web-Based Gaming: What Kinds of Games Work Best?

As a follow-up to the past week’s looks at web-based gaming, here are some notes on what can make a game work or not. The turn-based systems I have been enjoying are great for certain games, but not right for others. (There are sites for playing games live, but I haven’t tried those yet. A big part of what I like about online play is being able to fit it into my unpredictable schedule.) Here are the main considerations:

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Web-Based Board Games: Yucata

YucataYucata is much like Boîte à Jeux, which I reviewed earlier this week. Both offer free online play of board games, which are legitimately licensed and feel very faithful to their tabletop equivalents. The two sites have very different approaches, though.

Yucata is older, has heavier traffic, and over eighty available games. (Three new ones were released in just the past couple months.) There are a lot of good games up there (like Targi, Glen More, and Jaipur), but it also reads like a list of generic Euros from years past (Hacienda, The Hanging Gardens, and Oregon, for example). Also, the most popular games tend to be quick fillers like Can’t Stop and To Court the King. In general, the variety means that I can always find something I want to play, but it’s different than Boîte, which has a few games I want to keep playing over and over.

R-Eco is Yucata's latest game (added yesterday!)

R-Eco is Yucata’s latest game (added yesterday!)

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Web-Based Board Games: Boîte à Jeux

Boite a Jeux logoThe first board gaming site I tried was Boîte à Jeux. It’s a bare-bones site by many standards. The different games have inconsistent looks and feels, the control buttons on each page – though useful – require some trial and error, and the translations to English are not always good. (The EULA looks like it was run back and forth between French and English a few times on Google Translate.) But the important thing is the game quality. And there, fortunately, Boîte à Jeux shines. All the games I’d played before in real life felt immediately familiar, and it was easy to start playing. The site offers about forty games, and adds a new one every few months. This includes some of my recent favorites (Trajan and The Castles of Burgundy), some old classics (Agricola), and even the Gipf series – a set of two-player abstract games that I’d always wanted to play more, but never had much opportunity before now.

The site's newest game, Ginkgopolis.

The site’s newest game, Ginkgopolis.

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Web-Based Board Games: Introduction

I’ve been playing board games for years, but I always insisted on playing them in person, “as they were designed”. I saw online implementations a couple times, and they were always so messy and hard to follow that I had no interest in trying them out. Besides, I had a lot of opportunities to play games in person, so I wasn’t trying too hard to solve this problem.

But this year, I’ve changed my mind. Shortly after becoming a father and missing most of my in-person games, some friends recommended web-based game sites Boîte à Jeux and Yucata. They turned out to be nothing like my preconceptions. Above all, they’re faithful adaptations of the games, with all the art licensed and even the pickiest rules implemented correctly. If you already know the game, sitting down in front of the web page feels just like seeing the game set up on the table in front of you. They have ranking systems that help you find fair matches and also create a sort of meta-game that keeps every match interesting. Even once you know you’re going to lose, it’s still better for your ranking to come in third place than fourth! And most surprisingly of all, the sites are free and keep their ads very minimal. (Both do request donations.)

A game of Trajan on Boîte à Jeux. (Or at least what fits in the browser window at once.) Notice that the area on the upper right has tabs to let the user look at one person's play area at a time.

A game of Trajan on Boîte à Jeux. (Or at least what fits in the browser window at once.) Notice that the area on the upper right has tabs to let the user look at one person’s play area at a time.

These sites are turn-based, meaning that you could be playing many  games at once, and when you log in you might see that it’s only your turn in two or three of them. Not all games work well when they are spread out over days or weeks, but it’s great with others. Personally, I find it pretty easy to play about ten games at once, as long as they are all different types of games. That seems to put me at odds with a lot of players, who sometimes start up dozens of complex games at the same time. They don’t care if one or two of their games can go days without a move, but for me that means my only match of that type is stalling. Even so, I can usually find good people to play with.

The most surprising thing is how fun these are to play on my iPhone, even though I’ve largely lost interest in playing board games on iPhone apps. Many of the web implementations are too big to fit on my large computer monitors, but I still find it more natural on the iPhone to zoom in and out of the detailed screen than I do to follow some apps that attempt to make the playing area manageable. iPhone apps do typically offer decent tutorials, while these websites just have a rulebook to read, so many new players will probably want to stick with the apps. Much of it comes down to personal choice.

Playing a game of Targi (on Yucata) with my iPhone.

Playing a game of Targi (on Yucata) with my iPhone.

One thing really sets these web games apart from iPhone apps, though:  Both Boîte à Jeux and Yucata offer great systems to find matches with other players. Game Center on the iPhone is absolutely awful. It works ok for two-player games, or for explicitly inviting friends, but it’s almost impossible to find a multiplayer game with people you don’t know. Everyone has to choose exactly the same options as you, and by the time Apple has matched you together, one person has usually lost interest and never comes back. On these websites, you can browse the list of invitations, or make your own and leave it up until other people accept. No more hoping that enough other people happen to put in the same options you did in the few minutes before Game Center times out.

Online games don’t always replace in-person ones with friends, but this has been a great addition to my life over the past several months. In my next couple articles, I’ll look at each of these two sites more closely.

Board Games on iPhone: Le Havre and Ticket to Ride

For years, I’ve insisted that board games were designed to be played in person, and therefore were generally best that way. But since becoming a father, it’s been a lot harder to find time for in-person gaming. I’ve finally started playing more online, and found that a lot of turn-based games are fun that way. The results are mixed – if there are going to be long delays between turns, it’s generally best to play weightier games where each turn is significant instead of ones where people make frequent simple moves.

Today I’m looking at two iPhone board game apps. I’ve found myself with very mixed opinions about iPhone gaming. It is very convenient to have the apps everywhere I go, and to find out it’s my turn through push notifications. On the other hand, Apple’s Game Center is still pretty frustrating. It’s fine for starting games with friends, as long as you know enough people who have iPhones and want to play the game, but it almost always fails if I try to start a game against random opponents. It seems to be at least partly because Game Center looks for people trying to start exactly the same game as you. I may be happy to play a three, four, or five-player game, but I still have to choose one before Apple will match me. It would be nice to know that, for example, there was a four-player game just waiting on one more person to join before it could start up. It’s even worse when the games have multiple set-up options, because whatever you choose has to be matched exactly by someone else or they won’t join your game. For anything with more than two players, it seems that usually by the time the game starts up, at least one player has wandered off and never thinks to check back. At this point, I’m willing to say that Game Center games are good only for friends or playing against a single random opponent.

The two games I’m reviewing today are ones that I already know and like in tabletop form. I’m not focusing too much on gameplay here, but rather in how well they provide the same experience in mobile form.


Le HavreLe Havre

Le Havre is a long, complex game that requires a large table and involves a lot of cards with detailed text and symbols. I was curious to see how someone could fit all that into a playable iPhone game, and the answer turns out to be that they couldn’t. They make a valiant effort, with different areas of the board that you can tap to expand. In the normal collapsed view, the cards are “stacked” so that the titles are readable as long as there aren’t too many yet. It even shows everyone’s play areas, with the current player’s given a little more space. All the information is there as long as you tap the right spots to get into it. However, it’s very hard to follow. I’m an ok Le Havre player, but I act like a complete novice in the iPhone app because I don’t notice everything that’s going on. Yes, all the information and actions are there (including a slow-to-page-through log of past turns), but I just can’t take it in on the phone.

Part of me feels like cutting the creators some slack, because this was a valiant attempt to fit so much complexity onto a small screen. They definitely did a better job than I would have. But the ads in the app destroyed my good will. It’s a $5 game, a premium price by App Store standards, but it still has frequent ads. Admittedly, they’re for other games by the same company rather than third-party ads. But still, they appear frequently and have “close” buttons that are almost impossible to hit on the first try. I’ve never had so much trouble just trying to hit a simple “X” button, and every time I fail, it takes me out of the app and into Safari. (Also, sometimes you may tap an option on the normal menu, and the app decides that you clicked a not-yet-seen ad.) I don’t know whether or not they intentionally tried to increase their hit rates by making it so easy to follow the advertised links by accident, but they couldn’t have done a better job if they had tried. (Oh, and did I mention that the screechy in-game music is so bad that I need to keep my phone on silent whenever I play?)

I’m told that Le Havre is playable on the iPad, and I can believe that. But it’s sold for the iPhone, and that’s what I’m reviewing. In that format, it’s a confusing, unplayable mess. I give them some credit for the complexity of the implementation, but that’s the best praise I have.

Grade: D


Ticket to RideTicket to Ride

The physical version of Ticket to Ride is one of the classic “gateway” Euro games, and from what I hear, the app has been just as successful. I think it deserves that. It’s a near-perfect implementation of the board game, with all information fitting neatly on the screen. Your hand goes across the bottom, the cards you can draw from across the side, and your specific “tickets” (missions) down in a corner. You do have to cycle through the tickets one at a time, but that’s rarely necessary because the app automatically highlights every city you need to connect. The view of all required cities is usually all you need to know, unless you’re trying to decide which missions to give up on. Keeping track of those locations on the map yourself can be the most frustrating part of the game, so the app has a big advantage over the tabletop version. Though there’s no log of all past turns, it also does a nice job of displaying everyone’s most recent move in a status bar across the top. That bar also summarizes the number of cards and train tokens players are holding, so everything you could normally need to know is covered at a glance. I can think of several more obscure things I’d like to know: How many wild cards did an opponent use when they built that last track, or at which specific point since I last checked in did the available cards refresh? However, I would rarely use this information.

The app’s main flaws are outside of the game. The Game Center hassle goes without saying, and it’s debatable whether Ticket to Ride should be blamed for that. But it’s also difficult to enter and leave your existing games. When looking at a gameboard, the only way to back out to the main screen is a (hard-to-find) button labeled “Quit”, which I was scared to press at first. Then from the home screen, to get back to a game in progress, I have to go through all the steps of setting up a new game, even going as far as the Game Center dialog that looks like I’m going to invite new people! The news items (all ads for Days of Wonder products) can also be annoying, since they add to the count on the app’s icon, making it look like you have games waiting for your move. And you need to scroll all the way to the bottom of the news post to clear it from your count.

Still, all these hassles are peripheral to the main experience. Once you actually get a game going, this feels exactly like playing classic Ticket to Ride.

Grade: B