We are right in the middle of the deadest part of the news cycle for Apple, as everyone starts to hold their games ahead of the next version of iOS, and the hardware refresh in the fall. Thankfully, I was still able to dig up some cool games for this week. First up is the iOS version of a great card game. I’m also taking a look at Wizards of the Coast’s response to Hearthstone. We close out the week with the iPad version of a gothic survival game.


Splendor – iOS(Universal)

Splendor

I really love that the board game Renaissance has been accompanied by those same games getting traction on iOS. Splendor is a card game that is fairly easy to pick up, and might be a nice entry point for your non-gaming friends into geekier board/card games. Each player is a gem dealer, trading and building supplies and getting ever more expensive gems.

The game board is laid out on three rows of cards. Level 1, 2, and 3 cards. These are progressively more expensive as you go up, but also progressively more valuable. You pay for these using tokens that represent different gem types: rubies, gems, etc. The cards you buy give you a permanent value of these gems. You pay for these with tokens that represent the same kids of gems, you’ll need these to start building your own cache of gems. The higher level cards have victory points on them, but if you really want to pull ahead you’ll want to get noble cards. These sit off to the side and are triggered by collecting a certain amount of gem types.

The regular game is really well done, but if you’re not content reacting the physical games– there’s also a challenge mode that walks you through scenarios. These change the rules of the game, but allow you to think of how you step through the cards when you make purchases. These are all framed by a historical event. They’re just narrated text, but it goes a long way to making the mode have more depth.

I also have to say that the game looks really great, even though it is just cards. The colors are all really vivid, and the card art is rendered really well. A lot of these board game ports end up being a little bit rough around the edges, but Splendor is nicely polished.

What’s Good: Fun game, plenty of modes, good graphics.

What Sucks: Can’t mix pass and play and AI modes.

Buy it?: If you’re a fan of interesting card games, check out Splendor. Download it on the App Store for $6.99.


Arrow Hero – Web

ArrowHero

The App Store may have swallowed most of the casual game market, but there are web games that still pop up that have the same addictive qualities as Candy Crush, without the free-to-play gimmicks. Arrow Hero is just such a game. It’s kind of a rhythm game without music. Arrows flow across the screen and you need to tap the arrow key on the keyboard to match the direction.

You can play the same game on your iPhone or iPad, but with on screen buttons. This game is really addictive, and should steal a couple hours of your time. I did have some troubles with the arrow input occasionally scrolling the screen, or a touch scrolling on the iPhone. This isn’t really the app’s fault, just an issue with the browser it is running in.

What’s Good: Quick and fun puzzle game.

What Sucks: Occasionally browser controls get in the way of the game.

Buy it?: If you like quick little arcade games, check out Arrow Hero.


Magic Duels – iPad

MagicDuels

I have to assume that somewhere in Wizards of the Coast’s corporate HQ, there is a guy whose entire job is softly cursing Blizzard for Hearthstone. It isn’t that the WoW giant beat them to replicating Magic as a digital game, they just managed to do it so much better than Wizards ever could. Magic Duels to recraft their yearly release with a focus on online multiplayer and a more free to play approach.

What’s ironic is that the best part of the game is the story mode, which is well crafted and a lot better than they jokey take that you get from Blizzard’s games. They have a lot of source material that borders on high fantasy, but their Planeswalker mythos allows each chapter to have distinctive feel. One that also lets you play through all the various elemental card types.

The game is also much more forgiving for novice players. Each time a new element of the game is added, the game stops and gives you skill quest to walk you through how to use the tactic to your advantage. Having this pop up during the normal course of the game allows for you to digest them as you encounter the changes, keeping you from being overwhelmed by a lengthy tutorial.

The battle system allows you to build custom decks for battles against AI or online players. There are a lot of things they do right, the deck building assistant gives you reasons for the cards they suggest. They also give you enough choice that the deck still feels entirely customized. Each deck gets an avatar and background choice that lets your online presence feel more custom as well. I had lots of problems with games dropping and players being replaced by AI, though I was still able to finish the game and get credit for the win.

What’s Good: Good story mode, nice tutorial system.

What Sucks: Online battles not very engaging.

Buy it?: If you’re a die hard Magic fan, this is the answer to Hearthstone you’ve been waiting for. If you’re looking for a little more story with your card game, check out Magic Duels. Download it for free on the App Store.


Trivia Quest World – iOS(Universal)

TriviaQuestWorld

If you’re a real trivia junkie, then Trivia Quest World will be right up your alley. There is literally nothing else to this game but answering trivia questions. You don’t even get an idea of how many questions there are left to answer, instead you get a pop occasionally telling you that there’ s’more questions available.

Each question is multiple choice. If you you get a wrong answer you lose a single energy. You only get five at a time, so if you run out you need to buy more energy to keep guessing. You buy energy with in game currency. You can earn this pretty easily if you’re good at trivia, and the energy refills pretty fast. There are a lot of ads though. A banner sits at the bottom of the screen, and there are full screen ads presented every few questions.

I’m not allergic to ads, but I was annoyed when some of them had audio that would play over my podcasts or music. My real complaint with the app is that the questions just aren’t that hard. They all seem to be pretty random, and don’t seem to be on a curved difficulty.

What’s Good: Just straight trivia, just keep answering questions.

What Sucks: Ads have audio that plays over your music. Too many easy questions.

Buy it?: If you like trivia, but don’t mind the easy questions, check out Trivia Quest World. It’s free on the App Store.


Don’t Starve – iPad

Don'tStarve

What if Edward Gorey had designed Minecraft? I think it would have ended up looking a lot like Don’t Starve. The game was just released on iOS as “Pocket Edition.” You play the gentleman scientist, Wilson, who is tricked into building a machine that strands you on a alternate world where a demon, Maxwell, taunts you to survive. You do so by collecting materials and crafting items. These range from simple things like campfires and axes, to more complex machines that unlock things to build more permanent means of survival.

I think that if you’re into survival games this is going to be a lot of fun. The tone of the game is really cool, as is managing sanity and morality next to simply eating and surviving. If you play Minecraft for building really complex designs from raw materials, you might not like Don’t Starve as much, but if you like the survival aspects, check it out. There’s also an adventure mode once you’ve got more experience in the game, though I never had the guts to take a run at it. I love these kind of games, but am just terrible at them. I’m trained by RPGs to just wander around and explore, rather than focusing on crafting for survival as quickly as possible.

The iPad version already has the expansion for the game, it’s enabled by default when you start the game. It expands on the game, but adds additional elements that increase the difficulty. There’s a lot of material included as well, including additional characters that change the game slightly based on their stats. It’s a clever way to extend the life of the game as you keep playing.

What’s Good: A fun survival game with a distintive look and feel.

What Sucks: Like most games in this genre, not all that accessible to novice players.

Buy it?: If you’re a fan of survival games, and are looking for something different, check out Don’t Starve. Download it on the App Store for $9.99.