10. Evolution (North Star Digital)
The best board-game app of 2019 (which was a banner year for new releases) was over a year in development, and does what the best adaptations do: It makes the original game better. Evolution has players competing to create species and arm them with Trait cards that make them better foragers, or turn them into predators, or give them stronger defenses against other players’ carnivorous species. The physical game moves kind of slowly between turns, but it’s much faster in digital form because the app does the work for you of figuring out which species can “eat” where — and the animations when species do eat are clever.
9. Agricola (Playdek/Asmodee Digital)
One of the most successful worker-placement games in history and the reason we have since been inundated with games that pretend that farming is fun and easy, Agricola is really about feeding your family: You grow crops, raise animals, bake bread, build out your house, and maybe learn an occupation or two. It’s actually more enjoyable than it sounds because it’s a sort of puzzle of how to balance gaining points with the requirement that every few turns you turn in enough food to feed your family members. The huge decks of cards with occupations and additions called minor improvements to give the game replay value as well. Le Havre, a heavier game that combines elements of Agricola and Caylus, also has an app version from Codito.
8. Pandemic (Asmodee Digital)
Pandemic is a cooperative game, so playing it on mobile means pass-and-play or playing it solo and handling all the roles yourself. There are four diseases spreading around the world and you have to find cures while slowing their progress across the map. If eight outbreaks occur, or you run out of cards in the player deck, you lose; if you cure all four before that, you win. You can customize the difficulty level as you’d like, including Heroic and Legendary modes if you enjoy losing. On the Brink expansion is available as an in-app purchase, adding new player roles and event cards, plus a new challenge. There are also app versions of two similar games from the same designer, Forbidden Island, and Forbidden Desert; the latter is especially good as a solo endeavor that remains difficult but moves faster than Pandemic.
7. Race for the Galaxy (Temple Gates Games)
I don’t love the Race for the Galaxy board game because I think the product of consuming x2 strategy is dominant (if you don’t know what that means, don’t worry), but man is this app version a thing to behold. Not only are the AI players good but the developers managed to cram a lot of information onto even the smallest screens of phones, allowing you to zoom in on any card easily enough to read the icons, making opponents’ actions clear, and giving you plenty of chances to undo certain moves if you screw up. On a tablet, it’s just about perfect. And I can confirm that I have beaten AI players using a different strategy by going full military … but it wasn’t easy.
6. Through the Ages (Czech Games)
Here’s a game I haven’t played on the tabletop because it’s so long and fairly heavy, but the app is stunning, featuring by far the best tutorial I’ve seen. It even has a legitimately funny joke buried within it. Through the Ages is a 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) style game played out with cards, where you try to build a civilization, complete wonders for points, beat opponents with your military, improve your government, and ensure that your workers don’t riot. There is a lot going on in this game, and too much accounting for my tastes, but the app takes care of that stuff for you, so you can focus just on playing the game itself. It also has built-in warnings if your workers are going to riot or you’re going to lose resources before the next turn. The false 3-D perspective also helps them cram a lot of buildings onto your screen without crowding it. Games against AI players take 20-plus minutes, more than anything else on this list, but there’s very little downtime involved.