Our current golden age of tabletop gaming has also led to a similar surge in mobile apps that adapt board games to tablets and phones, with new ones arriving almost every week and some games even premiering in digital form at the same time they show up on store shelves. I’ve tried more than 50 such apps, all of which are based on games you can actually buy in stores; these are the best of the bunch.
Unless otherwise noted, these are all available on iOS and Android, with some on Steam as well. The list does not include iOS apps that stopped working in the June 2017 “app-apocalypse,” when Apple required developers to update their apps for 64-bit support, such as Samurai or Through the Desert; or apps that still work but are no longer available for purchase, like Battleline, Stone Age, or Caylus.
With new apps coming all the time, we’ll update this list regularly to reflect any new titles that merit inclusion here.
25. Yellow & Yangtze (Dire Wolf Digital)
I wasn’t even aware of this Reiner Knizia game before Dire Wolf announced the app last year. It’s a sort of spiritual successor to his 1997 game Tigris & Euphrates, one of the all-time classics of area control. In both games, you score by growing your “kingdoms” in four different colors, but at game-end, each player’s lowest score of those four is compared to the other players’ lowest scores. Where Tigris had players placing square tiles on a map, creating kingdoms of adjacent tiles that go to “war” when they’re connected, Yellow & Yangtze uses hexagonal tiles that allow for more connections between groups. It also introduces a fifth color of kingdoms, gold, that can be used to boost your score in any of the four other areas. Dire Wolf’s apps all look great, with bright colors and snazzy animations, and this is no exception.
24. Puerto Rico (Codito)
One of the all-time great Euro games, Puerto Rico is a high-strategy game with very little randomness or luck involved. You’re building out a colony by planting crops, constructing buildings, shipping goods either for money or points and hiring colonists represented by … (squinting) little brown tokens. (That’s true in the physical game as well.) It’s a classic “engine builder,” where you set things up in your space to generate stuff each round, mostly trade goods you can ship for points, which is the optimal strategy unless everyone else is doing it, too. Only available on iOS.
23. Brass (Cublo)
A beautiful rendition of one of designer Martin Wallace’s famed economic games, most of which also involve trains because he really likes trains (and who doesn’t?), Brass is set in the industrial-revolution era in England and asks players to build factories so that they can manufacture and ship cotton, iron, and coal for points — but you have to borrow enough to keep your business going so that eventually you can turn a profit. The original version didn’t have a strong enough AI component, but the developers added a harder option last year.
22. Steam (Acram)
Another Wallace title, this one a little easier to understand than Brass but not as appealing to look at. Steam has players competing to build rail lines on any of various maps — one standard map is New England — to connect cities and towns and then ship various colored cubes across their rail lines. You get money each time good travel along with one of your tracks, regardless of who’s shipping it. There’s almost no randomness or luck involved here, making this a great game if you enjoyed that operations-research class you took in business school.
21. The Castles of Burgundy
One of my favorite complex Eurogames, The Castles of Burgundy gives you a lot of options, and a lot of ways to score points, but it’s a bit of a bear to set up and the original game had some unfortunate color choices on its small hexagonal pieces that made them hard to distinguish. This app version uses graphics from the newest edition and has solid AI players that can navigate the myriad choices and strategies available to players, only lacking in the spite that actual humans can show (there are some times when blocking an opponent is the right strategy). This is a game I rarely get to the table in my house, so playing on the app is often a good way to get my fix.