Mobile games are fantastic. Over the years the mobile gaming industry has grown to the point where it has both the technology and the base market to provide a wonderful mix of titles. Whether you like light, time filler experiences or fully fledged, engrossing titles, there’s bound to be something for you!
In this series I aim to provide you with a list detailing some of my favourite mobile games. Whether they are short experiences that stand out or longer ones that provide ongoing replay value, I’ll be including a range of titles I enjoy here. As my “short list” includes over 30 titles I will be spliting this article into four segments. They won’t be ranked based on preference, as I believe that would be unfair;you can’t compare a light puzzle game with something like a simulation racer. For the third article, I will be sharing my favourite games from the virtual tabletop and simulation genres.
What constitutes a “good” or “bad” game anyway? I’ve been playing mobile games a long time on all three major platforms (Android, iOS, and Windows). When determining whether a game is “good” there are a few things I take into consideration. Click “Show spoiler” below for details.
Now that is out of the way, let’s get started!
by Days of Wonder
iOS : $7.99 | ANDROID : $6.06 | WINDOWS : $6.09
I love the idea of Galaxy Trucker but felt that the board game never quite “hit the mark”. One of the biggest problems was that the ship building portion of the game took too long, making the space travel section– where you actually use the ship you built – comparatively too short. Fortunately, the video game version of Galaxy Trucker does a great job of addressing these concerns. In fact, it does such a good job of it that it’s up there as one of my favourite tabletop to video game adaptations.
Gameplay consists of two phases. In the first phase you must drag ship components from a communal “junk pile” onto your ship template (a grid). There are specific rules for how these must connect and each part serves a specific purpose which becomes important in the second phase. This works especially well in the app version as you aren’t allowed to make bad matches – something that can prove punishing in the tabletop version. The second phase is the space travel phase in which you draw cards to determine how your ship fares during the run. Do you have enough crew to salvage that wreck? When pirates attack do you have enough firepower to fend them off? The trick with Galaxy Trucker is that, despite being part of a convoy, you compete with the other players to earn the most money. When constructing your ship you do so in real time against other players, meaning they can quite easily grab components you want for your ship. You have the ability to preview the cards that may appear in the second phase so there’s a very strong focus strategy… just with a competitive time restraint.
Galaxy Trucker offers both single player and multiplayer experiences. In single player mode you can choose to play in the format of the original board game (1-3 flights and whoever has the most money at the end of the game is the winner), or a new campaign mode. The campaign mode is really well designed and has you flying between planets trying to earn money to get the next class of ship. It is chockfull of light-hearted dialogue and even has a few exclusive missions you won’t have seen in the board game or other modes. Multiplayer is well designed, offering both online and “pass & play” modes. It’s really nice to see a game that accommodates many different play styles and situations – especially considering this is a mobile game where you may be offline in between turns.
For the money Galaxy Trucker offers a lot of content. Better yet there are NO micro transactions or advertisements. Considering it grew from a board game I didn’t really like I’m truly amazed at just how perfect a video game it has become!
Ticket to Ride
by Days of Wonder
iOS : $10.99 | ANDROID : $9.78
Ticket to Ride is definitely the “must have” family game of this generation! It’s quick to learn, easy to play, and suitable for many age groups – I’ve played with kids as young as 5 and adults as old as 90. What’s even better, is that Days of Wonder have done an exceptional job in the creation of the digital version of their game. While it would have been easy just to make a digital version of the game Days of Wonder utlised best practice game design to make an experience that is a joy to play. Animations, contextual highlights, and well-suited sound effects replicate the feel of the physical game perfectly while video game elements are used to make the experience clear and concise.
Ticket to Ride is a cross-platform purchase meaning that, once purchased, you can download the app on both your phone and your tablet. Better yet, if you purchased the physical game, just go to the Days of Wonder website and redeem your code to get the digital version for free. The initial purchase includes the traditional American map however, if you want to experience the other versions of Ticket to Ride you can purchase them via the in-game store. These extra boards are usually a couple of dollars each, but you can buy all of the expansions for $7.50 AUD. Ticket to Ride offers many different game modes. You can play locally against up to four AI, with a friend over a local network, on a single device with pass and play, or online via the Days of Wonder servers. Take one of the best board games around, make it into an app, throw in a bunch of ways to play, give it a decent dose of polish and it’s easy to see why Ticket to Ride is one of my favourite mobile phone games. My only issue with it is that my wife stopped playing the board game with me for a while as she became hopelessly addicted to the tablet version!
Adventure Time Card Wars
by Cartoon Network
iOS : $5.99 | ANDROID : $5.48
Card Wars is a fictional trading card game from the TV series Adventure Time. I’m almost hesitant to put it in the tabletop section as it’s not strictly a video game version of a tabletop game. There is a tabletop trading card game of the same name but the rules are quite different – as you’d expect from a game independently developed using the same episode as its basis.
Adventure Time Card Wars is an enjoyable deck builder similar in style to games like Magic: The Gathering or Hearthstone yet different enough that it provides a unique experience. What makes Card Wars stand out is its full length single player campaign, which provides goals beyond just “levelling-up”. Laid out like a series of quests, you’re rewarded with staggered prizes, including player upgrades, new cards, new characters, and so on. Each quest also has a few extra challenges, such as “win with only Blue Plains cards” or “Win without losing a card”, which become unlocked after beating the primary goal. These make for a fun challenge and provide a little variety to the usual one-vs-one matches. As you play, characters earn experience points and level up, which directly affects their health, as well as deck size. As this is a deck builder it should come as no surprise that there are micro transactions which allow you to expedite your progress. Purchases can be made to upgrade deck size, purchase random cards, and unlock certain features. All of these are also available as part of natural game progression (random drops, quest rewards, or multiplayer prizes), but as the game is balanced in line with the single player campaign, it can feel a little “pay to win”. That said the purchases are not essential and, to the contrary, I’d actually feel like I was cheating a bit if I were to purchase them.
Outside of the campaign mode Card Wars has a lot to offer. There’s card crafting (learn recipes and combine cards to make new, stronger cards), daily challenge dungeons, multiplayer, and more. Your decks and characters cross over between the different modes meaning you can build an awesome deck in multiplayer then go and decimate all the lower level characters in single player. Multiplayer feels a little exploitable as you’re playing an AI using a random player’s deck rather than directly with a person. This does make the game flow a little faster however the AI is fairly easy to learn so, once you learn the pattern and how to compensate; it’s quite easy to take advantage of.
Card Wars now also has a Fiona & Cake DLC pack which comes with a whole new set of heroes, enemies, magic spells, and quests. It costs around $3.99 AUD but has a full comic strip storyline to accompany the single player campaign. Unfortunately, it’s very segregated meaning decks and heroes from the DLC can’t be used anywhere in the core game.
Adventure Time Card Wars’ biggest flaw is that its AI is unpredictable and cards feel unbalanced. This makes for a somewhat exploitable experience that feels great when it works in your favour and annoying when it works against you. All that said it’s a really, really fun game and chockfull of Adventure Time style and humour! Definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of Adventure Time or trading card games.
by Days of Wonder
iOS : $10.99 | ANDROID : $7.10
Splendor is one of my favourite resource gathering card games – heck, alongside Dominion I’d probably put it up there as one of my all time favourite card games! With simple rules yet potential for complicated strategy it mixes clever tactics with player interaction to create an experience truly unique. Players share a common goal and all moves are transparent meaning you must plan for what you’re trying to achieve whilst, at the same time, taking into account actions the other players take. Due to this social element I wasn’t sure how well Splendor would translate to mobile but, as seems to be the “norm” for anything Days of Wonder touches, it has been achieved magnificently.
The high initial purchase price is offset by a noticeable absence of advertising or micro transactions. With only two game modes offered there’s not a lot of variety in the content, but the core rules make for a unique and enjoyable game thatis worth the outlay. The standard game mode consists of a digital version of the tabletop game. Offering a 1-4 player experience opponents can be set to human (pass-and-play) or AI. The AI is varied with players able to select from existing presets (opportunistic, balanced, etc.) or randomised. Challenge mode uses the same basic rules for play but with distinct variants for game setup and objectives. For example, one challenge requires that you collect one of gem of each colour within a minute of play. Draw piles are reduced and card sets are pre-determined, making for a more structured experience – without the frustration that a time limit coupled with randomised cards would inflict. Another example is duel mode in which you play a one-vs-one match with custom rules and some pre-set cards. These challenges help add longevity to the game and provide something unique to the app.
by Blizzard Entertainment Inc.
iOS : FREE | ANDROID : FREE
Hearthstone is a collectible card game that incredibly fun… and incredibly dangerous. The reason I say ‘dangerous’ is because, like many collectible or trading card games, there comes a time when you pretty much must spend money in order to remain competitive. This might seem like it goes against my “micro-transaction” criteria, however there are two things that make Hearthstone a worthy exception to this rule. First, is that it is as much about skill as it is about cards. Unlike games such as Adventure Time Card Wars scoring some great cards from a booster pack doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to win. The second, is that Hearthstone is a game of great depth with an established community that doesn’t look like it will dissipate any time soon. These are both irrelevant if you’re not interested in playing and investing in a trading card game however.
A big plus with Hearthstone is that it’s free and offers a tutorial to allow players the chance to ascertain whether it’s a game they’ll enjoy before making an investment. After completing the tutorial, which gives you all the starter decks, players can jump straight into multiplayer without making a purchase; but if they do, they should prepare for some unfair-feeling losses. While skill plays a large part, Hearthstone remains a TCG meaning your goal is to build a strong deck with which you can play well. The starter decks have passable cards but they’re never going to compare to a well-built deck in the hands of a seasoned player.
The reason it knocks other popular TCGs off the list is because it combines card and video game elements to make something unique and incredibly fun. From card effects that would be too hard to track in a physical game to visual effects like freezing or exploding cards – the game looks and feels fantastic. Much like Adventure Time Card Wars, Hearthstone uses an increasing mana pool to determine which cards players may use. This allows for interesting strategy and ensures games don’t degrade into a prolonged and boring experience. Hearthstone is a fantastic digital TCG that is easy to learn. Its interface can be a little confusing at times and the 2GB base install requirement is a hefty ask for most phones – but it is well worth it. Just remember it IS a TCG and you WILL want to spend money to improve your decks.
Pandemic: The Board Game
by F2Z Entertainment Inc.
iOS : $10.99 | ANDROID : $10.03
Pandemic is a board game I really want to love. It’s cooperative, has clever design, and is easy to learn – but it just feels so damn unfair! It is one of those games where you either lose in one quick, unanticipated moment or can see it coming and just have to ride it out. While the video game version doesn’t change any of that (I’ve yet to win a game) it does make the setup and gameplay sections go by a lot faster which, in my mind, make for a fantastic experience.
First and foremost Pandemic looks amazing. The interface is easy to use and utilises beutiful visual effects to create a slick, and easy-to-use experience. You can toggle in-game instructions meaning it’s equally great for someone new to the game as it is for an experienced player. There are no microtransactions (which is to be expected in an $11 game) but there’s also not a lot of variety on offer. You get the video game version of the four player board game and that’s it. No alternate rule sets, no alternate versions or add-ons, no online, and no games with fewer than four players. So with all these negatives, why is Pandemic on my list? Purely because it’s a truly unique game – well presented, enjoyable to play and, despite the high base difficulty level, strangely addictive.
by Exozet (Reviewed) or TheCodingMonkeys (iOS)
iOS : $10.99 | ANDROID : $4.99 | WINDOWS : $6.09
NOTE: There are two version of Carcassonne available – one was developed by TheCodingMonkeys for iOS and the other by Exozet for Android and Windows Mobile. My experience is based on the latter – I’ve not played the iOS version.
I know this is tabletop blasphemy but I’ve never been a huge fan of Carcassonne. With its complicated scoring and potential for meeple placement mistakes I always felt the overhead got in the way of the base enjoyment. Luckily there’s a video game version which, as you would expect, eliminates all those aspects!
Unlike the other games I’ve listed in this category Carcassonne isn’t a particularly “pretty” game. The interface feels like a 1990s website with clunky feeling navigation and ugly icons. That said, the content is good and the core mechanics work well. Games can be played with up to six players offline or one-vs-one online. Offline games allow for a mixture of human and AI opponents as well as custom rules and optional expansions. The game comes with the river expansion for free and other Carcassonne expansions can be purchased at an in-game store. The expansions offer additional rules in parallel with their physical counterparts and are fairly cheap ($5.99 AUD for all five).
Gameplay feels natural and is easy to learn. If you’re unfamiliar with the rules of Carcassonne the game offers decent (although non-interactive) tutorials. These, coupled with in game contextual visual aids, make for an easy-to-learn and enjoyable experience. Online games function similarly to offline games except that they are “live”. You can only play one game at a time and there’s no state saving if you close the game. There’s a very active community so you won’t have trouble finding an opponent or, if you prefer, the game allows you to manage your own friends list. My only real “gripes” with the online mode are that you don’t see your piece until it’s your turn (no planning while the other person plays) and that it’s only one-vs-one.
While the interface doesn’t look wonderful the game itself looks great and plays well. Carcassonne is an extremely enjoyable and unique tabletop game which lends itself perfectly to video game adaptation. While the interface of the video game version could use a little polish the game itself is still fantastic. I believe the iOS version offers better multiplayer however, at $11, I’m not sure I’m keen to buy another copy of this game when this one works so well. If anyone has the iOS version I’d love to hear about it, so please comment below.
HONOURABLE MENTION – VIRTUAL TABLETOP
Small World 2
by Days of Wonder
iOS : $10.99
Days of Wonder is easily one of my favourite board games and, in true “Days of Wonder style” the video game adaptation is nothing short of perfect. Unfortunately there is no mobile phone version of this game so it doesn’t make my list but, if you like playing games on your tablet, I strongly recommend checking it out!
Game Dev Story
iOS : $7.99 | ANDROID : $2.66
Free Demo Available
Kairosoft are the undisputed champions of mobile simulation video games right now. While others do it well there’s something special about a Kairosoft game that keeps me absorbed for hours. Despite having over 30 great titles in their virtual stable I didn’t hesitate when picking Game Dev Story as a favourite. You manage a small development studio and must spend your startup capital wisely to hire staff, purchase a development license, and create your first game. Game Dev Story has a simple enough concept but its cleverness lies in its design. You start the game with limited options but, as you develop games, train staff and meet with success (or failure) additional options open up. Before you know it, you have more cash and game options than you know what to do with, allowing you to hire better staff, train them well, and regularly spit out hall-of-fame-worthy AAA titles. It’s an extremely satisfactory process that never fails to leave me feeling good.
Game Dev Story is well designed to suit the mobile platform. Games can be played using touch screen controls or a virtual control pad but, no matter which you choose, it feels natural and responsive. One of the things I love about Game Dev Story is the pacing. A problem I often face with simulation games is that they reach a point where they become repetitive or systematic. This usually results in me stopping playing a game because of boredom rather than reaching whatever goals the game might have. Game Dev Story counters this perfectly by having a set time limit and providing enough variance to ensure you’re always engaged with something new. The time limit gives players a goal but it isn’t restrictive – if you want to continue playing after the game ends, you can. However, your post time limit actions won’t be reflected in the high score table.
With great structure, interesting variance, loads of content, and addictive design you’d be remiss if you didn’t give Game Dev Story a shot. Well suited to casual gamers and simulation fanatics alike, it has no microtransactions so you’ll get the full experience for the buy price.
iOS : $7.99 | ANDROID : $4.99
Free Demo Available
I probably shouldn’t have two Kairosoft games side by side but I couldn’t help myself. While the interface may appear similar, Dungeon Village is much more than Game Dev Story with a different skin.
At its core Dungeon Village is all about building and managing a small village. You must build shops, hold events, and raise appeal to the point that adventurers will want to visit. Once you have attracted adventurers they spend their time shopping in your village and adventuring. Adventurers are mostly automated however you do have a level of control over how well they can perform tasks. You can gift them weapons, armour, or accessories, change their jobs (fighter, mage, archer, etc.), send them on quests or just let them roam free, killing monsters and earning you commission. Borrowing from core RPG staples, adventurers in Dungeon Village have a standard set of stats. These stats (health, attack, defence, magic) coupled with their current equipment determine how well they will perform when completing quests or fighting. Alongside building an appealing village with all the services an adventurer needs, you’ll also want to ensure they have the right equipment, items, and motivation to win fights and level up.
The better your adventurers perform, the more content they will be with the hero life – which makes them more likely to spend money in your village. Similar to Game Dev Story, Dungeon Village has a hidden complexity that is slowly revealed to keep the game interesting. Initially tasked with the simple goal of upgrading the star rating of your village you soon find the requirements forcing you to examine all the game has to offer. As with Game Dev Story the mixture of touch screen and virtual buttons is well implemented to ensure you have little trouble playing the game. Dungeon Village also offers portrait as well as landscape views which work particularly well considering the size of the playable area.
Where Game Dev Story is a fantastic statistical game, Dungeon Village is more visually focused and would suit players who are interested in more than just the stats. That said, both games have free demos so why not try them out and see what you think? If you like it you can buy the full game safe in the knowledge that there are no microtransactions whatsoever. Anyone else play Kairosoft games? Do you have a favourite?
by Ndemic Creations
iOS : $1.49 | ANDROID : FREE ($1.49 to remove ads) | WINDOWS : $1.19
I first played Plague Inc. on PC a couple of years ago… and by “played” I mean “became hopelessly addicted to”. Plague Inc is a pandemic simulation game with a twist. Instead of seeking a cure to save the world, your job is to create as effective a plague as possible and destroy it. As the game is strongly based on real life data, it’s a game that may not suit those with a strict moralcompass. Some of the actions you must perform to create a succesful virus can appear quite horrific.. Initially fairly restricted you earn DNA points as your virus spreads and infects. These are used to evolve your virus and you must ensure a suitable balance between infectiousness, severity and deadliness in order to succeed. Make the virus deadly too early and you’ll plunge the world into fear, causing a cure to be developed more quickly. However, you don’t want to spend too long making it infectious either or you’ll end up with a virus that’s infected the world – but does nothing!
Plague Inc is a good-looking game that has a pretty good interface however the smaller screen means information has to be condensed –meaning there’s quite a bit of “back and forth” when trying to view statistical data. I was initially put off by this as, being used to the PC version, I knew which data I wanted to view, but not where to find it. Luckily the game comes with a decent interactive tutorial that explains everything you need to know. Plague Inc does have microtransactions but they’re just for people who don’t want to unlock content as the game progresses. For example, when you first play Plague Inc you control bacteria. Once you win a game you unlock the virus (which has random mutations and is harder to control). Once you win with that you unlock a fungus, which spreads via spore clouds rather than normal means. The staggered release of this content is designed to ensure you understand the mechanics before progressing, so paying to unlock them early isn’t necessarily a benefit.
The only negative with Plague Inc is that there is occasionally downtime while you wait for your plague to spread. Fortunately, the game has a good sense of humour and the news reel and achievements give you additional stuff to read while you wait. For $1.50 AUD this is a fantastic mobile game. If you enjoy it, be sure to check out its big brother on PC, Xbox One or PlayStation 4 as well.
HONOURABLE MENTION – SIMULATION
This War of Mine
by 11-bit Studios
iOS : $22.99 | ANDROID : $19.99
This War of Mine is an amazing simulation game that provides a realistic look at the challenges that everyday citizens face during military occupation. I own this game on both PC and Xbox One and it’s easily one of the best (and most depressing) games I own. With a price tag of $20-$23 AUD I was hesitant to purchase another copy for my phone as I was concerned that the important information would be condensed for the smaller screen and prove detrimental.
However, 11 bit Studios appear to have done a wonderful job. I played for about an hour on a friend’s phone and was impressed by how they adapted the interface to suit the mobile. That said, I already owned the original game on PC and the remake on Xbox One, so I just couldn’t justify the cost. If I didn’t already own this, I’m sure this would be on my list, but I’m giving it an honourable mention as, from what I played, it seems like a faithful transition of a wonderful game. A little bit pricey but with no microtransactions or in-game ads.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on my suggestions and would be keen to try out any suggestions you may have. Did I miss any of your favourite strategy, tower defence or runner games? Let me know in the comments below, or on the forums. Just because I didn’t mention it doesn’t mean it didn’t make my top list; maybe I just haven’t played it yet…