5. Istanbul (Acram)
Istanbul was a really thoroughly designed app right out of the box: It has strong AI players and allows you to fully customize the game’s variable board. Istanbul is a route-finding game that manages not to feel like too much of a route-finding game: You move your merchant around the four-by-four board, with each space allowing you to perform some specific function, like collecting goods, selling them for coins, upgrading your caravan, or trading goods or coins for rubies, which is the actual goal of the game. The first player to get five rubies (six, if you’re playing with just two players) wins. It’s clear, moves quickly, and the AI players are impressive, especially with how well they adapt to randomized boards. Acram’s port of Charterstone, a competitive legacy game for up to six players, should be released shortly as well.
4. Small World (Asmodee Digital)
Days of Wonder, which is now part of the Asmodee family, put out two of the earliest successful board-game apps with Small World and Ticket to Ride. Both feature outstanding graphics, easy-to-follow play on tablets or phones, and competent AI, opponents. They also worked particularly well for pass-and-play, with Small World — later updated and dubbed Small World 2 — including a feature that allows two players to face each other across a table and play on a tablet without having to exchange or rotate it. Small World is an area control map where there just isn’t enough room on the map for all of the players. You pick a race, grab some territories, and then put your race into “decline,” so you can pick a brand-new race and start all over again. It’s bloody good fun for the whole family — and the app takes care of the one small hassle of the physical game, tallying up points each turn.
3. Carcassonne (Coding Monkeys on iOS, Asmodee Digital on Android/Steam)
Carcassonne was one of my top apps of the last decade because the iOS port, from Coding Monkeys, was the best of breed from the day it was released. Its license for the game expired at the beginning of March, however, and it’s no longer available to purchase; there is currently no iOS port of this game, although I assume one is coming soon. In the meantime, you can play Asmodee Digital’s version on Android devices and Steam. This version offers players an isometric view instead, which gives the tiles some texture, although you can switch to top-down if you prefer that. The iOS app is cleaner to look at, while the Asmodee version offers more animations to give it more of the feel of a video game. There are four AI opponents: a “focused” AI, a builder, an aggressive opponent, and a “conqueror.” There are six in-app purchases available, including what I think is the best expansion for the board game itself, Traders & Builders.
2. Ticket to Ride (Asmodee Digital)
This was the original model for how to build a great board-game app, complete with an active player community, and it remains one of the best, thanks to an overhaul a few years ago and regular releases of expansions. The base game is my go-to recommendation for readers who ask for a game that they can play with their kids because the rules are simple, the scoring is easy to understand, and QED train games are awesome. The app’s tutorial is good, the animations and graphics are excellent, and the user interface is intuitive. (You’d be surprised how often board-game apps screw that last part up.) The Ticket to Ride app offers Europe, Switzerland, Nordic countries, England, Germany, Asia, India, and Pennsylvania maps as expansion options, as well as new card sets like the 1910 and 1912 sets for the U.S. There’s also a version for younger players, Ticket to Ride First Journey, as a separate app, which is also quite good.
1. 7 Wonders (Repos Production/Outer Zone Entertainment)
The 7 Wonders app appeared last November after years of anticipation, delays, and testing … and it was worth the wait. 7 Wonders itself is one of the best board games we’ve seen because it condenses the city-building theme into consistent 30-minute playing time. Each player gets a hand of seven cards per round, plays one, and then passes the remaining cards to the next player, who selects one from his or her hand and passes the remaining around … so that everyone plays six cards per round (discarding one), but the cards you get to choose from keep on changing as the hands move around the table. You do this three times, playing 18 cards, building a little engine that gives you the resources and coins you’ll need to play, more buildings, or completes your Wonder. There are many ways to score, so part of the game is finding a path to points that your opponents aren’t following. Moves are simultaneous, so solo games fly by on the app, although it can be tough to follow what all opponents are doing, AI or real, if you’re playing against more than three other players. The developer just added the Leaders expansion as a $1.99 in-app purchase. It’s a tremendous game that finally got the app it deserved.