I grew up playing board games of all kinds, but my taste in games has changed over the years. When I was 4 or 5 I liked Chutes and Ladders and Candyland. Later on, my tastes turned to Risk, Clue, and Mousetrap. When I was in high school I played strategy games. As an adult, I am a fan of strategy board games sometimes called Eurogames.
These newer games were heavily influenced by games like Catan (or Settlers of Catan) which was published in Germany in 1995. This game and ones like it provide some of the great strategies I liked in the games I played in high school but can usually be played in less time than Monopoly or Risk.
The problem with board games is that you need to find someone else to play with you. That got even trickier in the midst of the 2020 pandemic, but a great solution can be versions of these games available on the iPad. Here are some of my favorite games like Catan that are also available in a version for the iPad.
- Solo Play, Network Play or Pass and Play
- Catan HD
- Puerto Rico HD
- Roll for the Galaxy
- Ticket to Ride
- 7 Wonders
- Lords of Waterdeep
Solo Play, Network Play or Pass and Play
All the games below can be played in solo mode against computer AI opponents or can be played against real humans through the internet. Some of these games also support a pass and play option for people who are in the same room. In pass and play you take your turn and then pass the iPad to someone else.
It is surprising that even with the pass and play that playing the computer version can often be quicker than playing the actual board game version. If you have played one of these games then you will understand that setting up and taking down the game can take some time, but the computer game simplifies that significantly.
Before we talk about games like Catan that are available for the iPad we should mention that Catan itself is available. I have the Catan HD app which is a very good computer version of Settlers of Catan.
For those of you not familiar with Catan, the game takes place on an island (or islands in the variants) where different players place their original two settlements. Each settlement is near one or more hexes and each hex will produce one of five different resources: wood, stone, brick, wheat, and sheep. Each turn the player rolls the dice and if it is a 9, for instance, then anyone with a settlement next to a hex with a 9 on it gets one of that resource and anyone with a city next to that hex gets 2 of that resource.
You can build a road with one wood and one brick. In the Sailors of Catan version, you can build a ship with one sheep and one wood. You can build a new settlement with one wood, brick, sheep, and wheat. You can upgrade a settlement to a city with 3 stone and 2 wheat. You can buy one of a series of resource cards with a wheat, a sheep, and a stone. That’s it. 5 resources and 5 different things you can build. You expand your holdings on the island until you take over enough of it to get a certain number of points. It does not take long to learn and it does not take long to play.
You can trade resources with other players (human or computer). Certain places on the board are ports that can be quite important as you can trade a specific resource more efficiently at a port. So if you have a wood port, for instance, you can trade any 2 wood for any other resource. So combine wood port and a great supply of wood and your path to domination is bright.
Catan HD has a number of different scenarios built-in and others that you can unlock with in-game purchases. Catan is a turn-based game (only one player is playing at a time) so you can play this one pass and play.
Puerto Rico HD
Puerto Rico is a game where the players control plantations in the colony of old San Juan. They can plant fields of coffee, indigo, sugar, and corn. They can buy various buildings which give them different benefits. For instance, most crops (except corn) require a building to process them. So if you want to make money from planting sugar you also have to build a sugar mill. You have colonists to place to work your fields and buildings and you have doubloons to spend to build your economic empire.
Each turn a player chooses one of 6 roles: Builder, Captain, Craftsman, Mayor, Settler, and Trader. Each role has certain advantages depending on what you are trying to accomplish. The builder can build a building cheaper, the Mayor receives an extra new colonist, etc. For each role that a player chooses you will do that phase, but if no player chooses a particular role that means that all players will not perform the corresponding action in this turn. A doubloon is added to unused roles to give you the incentive to perform that role in a later turn.
I like the gameplay for Puerto Rico, the board game, but this is the only one of the iPad games that I don’t like the interface and think that the board game is easier to play than the iPad game. Playing the tutorial definitely helps but this game needs some work.
Agricola is a game where you are building up your family farm and trying not to starve while you plant your fields, raise your livestock, and grow your family. Each round players take turns claiming one of the action spaces. Some of these spaces give you some of the resources in the game: wood, brick, stone, and reeds. Some enable you to plant your fields with wheat or vegetables or to get sheep, cows, and pigs.
You start with two people in your family and therefore get two actions. You also start with no fields and no enclosures for animals. Over time you can improve and expand your house. When you expand your house you can expand your family. When you have more family members then you can play more actions in a round.
You can choose different occupations that will help you and can buy major and minor improvements. If you get an oven, for instance, you can turn wheat into more food for your family.
The trouble with Agricola is that those other players are going to get in your way. What choices you make early on will determine whether you will be a subsistence farmer or you and your family will thrive. The game has a fixed number of turns with harvest happening every four turns. In the harvest, your crops grow and your animals reproduce.
Agricola requires some strategy and I will admit that I bought this as one of the first of these strategy games for the iPad in part because I wanted to be able to play better against my son-in-law the next time I faced him. One of the advantages this game has over an iPad game like Peurto Rico is that they decided that not everything has to fit on the screen at the same time. That left a clean implementation that lets you concentrate on the game.
Roll for the Galaxy
Roll for the Galaxy is a dice-based board game. You have a certain number of different color dice that will determine what you can do in a given turn. You are building your interstellar empire. You have 5 different actions you might be able to take in any given turn: explore (eye), develop a technology (diamond), colonize a planet (circle), produce goods (cylinder), and ship goods (spaceship).
You start the game with 2 planets and one technology. As you colonize planets or developed technologies you add them to your tableau. Most planets let you produce a certain type of good. When you ship goods you earn victory points or money. You need money to be able to buy back dice you used so that you can use them again. Planets and technologies also provide a certain number of victory points that is often the same as the cost to buy them.
Each turn you roll the dice in your cup and place them on the 5 actions. In general, the symbol on the face of the die determines which phase you can accomplish, but different technologies will give you more flexibility. You can designate one and only one phase that you will definitely do this turn. Like San Juan, you will play only the phases that are chosen by one of the players. You may have dice on all 5 phases as above but if you have 3 players, you will only play 1-3 of them depending on what players choose.
I like the board game for Roll for the Galaxy but my wife finds the instructions a bit cryptic with all the symbols that the game uses for various cards, especially technologies. For that reason, the iPad version plays much faster as you can automatically assign dice with one click and then adjust them. I have been playing the beta version of the iPad game which will be releasing soon.
Roll for the Galaxy Board Game | Roll for the Galaxy iPad (coming soon)
Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride is probably the simplest of these games and a great board game for kids. You are trying to build your railroad empire by completing certain routes while the other players are trying to do the same and are getting in your way either intentionally or not. You can draw new trains, complete a segment, or draw new routes on any given turn. Most segments have a color and you have to complete them with trains of that color (which oddly enough is not how railroads work in the real world).
The iPad version of this game is a clean interface and is well laid out. Of course, it does not come with cute plastic trains like the real game. The standard games is included and you can use in-app purchases to buy some of the other variants of the game like Ticket to Ride Switzerland or Ticket to Ride Europe.
If you are looking for a fun game to play during this or any other pandemic then how about the cooperative game Pandemic. Unlike most strategy games, in Pandemic all the players win or all the players lose. It’s us against the viruses and I can’t win without you (just like in the real world).
In the game, there are 4 different viruses that have infected the earth and we are racing to develop 4 different vaccines. Every turn there will be new outbreaks of disease and we will be racing around the world to treat the outbreaks before they get out of hand as we try and buy enough time to develop a vaccine (sound familiar?). This game is played with cards where most of the cards are specific countries. You can use a card to move your player or you can a collection of 4 blue cards and a research station to develop a vaccine for the blue virus.
Different players will have different special abilities. One can develop a vaccine with fewer cards, one can treat the outbreaks more efficiently, one can suppress new outbreaks near them, and so on. Choose your team wisely because time is running out and things can easily get out of control.
The iPad version of this is a great rendition of the game and does not have the risk that your cat will jump on the board and scatter all the small cubes in the board game.
7 Wonders may be the quickest of the board games in this article. You play in 3 rounds. Each round starts with every player holding a deck of 7 cards. Each player chooses one card that they can acquire for their tableau and then passes the rest of the cards to the next player. You are generally working on your own empire but can frustrate the plans of others by what cards you choose not to pass.
The cards include raw materials (brown), manufactured goods (grey), military structures (red), scientific structures (green), civilian structures (blue), commercial structures (yellow), and guilds (purple). You are trying to amass victory points by building structures, including your wonder of the world which has 3-4 parts. You need raw materials and manufactured goods and gold to build buildings. You can use your resources or those of your neighbors (at a price).
With the board game, you can easily play a game in less than half an hour, faster with a group that knows what they are doing. With the app version, I can easily lose in 5 minutes. The app version is so fast that it took me 3 games to take the screenshot above. I kept getting sucked into the game and forgetting why I was there. 7 Wonders is for 3 or more players but there is a version of the board game called 7 Wonders Duel for 2 people.
Carcassonne is both a beautiful walled town in southern France and a popular board game with tiles. In the board game, you draw a tile and place it in a fashion that makes sense with the growing game map. You can place your tokens on the tile you place as you lay it down to claim a specific town, road, monastery, or city. You can’t claim a feature that is already claimed.
As the game continues if a road completes then the player (or players if two or more roads or fields or cities merged) who controls that feature will score points based on the type of the feature (1 per length of the road, 2 per square of a city and so on) and they will get their token back to use in the future. At the end, points are also scored for partially completed features. This is another pretty quick game.
This app version is very attractive and the gameplay is quick and easy. Although, I do wonder why it appears we are playing on the floor.
Lords of Waterdeep
Lords of Waterdeep is one of my current favorite board games. Like Agricola above, the players take turns placing their tokens on the different buildings on the map to claim resources or take actions. In the board game, there are 5 resources. The resources include gold and 4 types of adventurers (cubes): rogues (black), priests (white), fighters (orange), and wizards (purple). Each player is collecting these resources to complete a series of quests.
Each player has a secret identity card that determines which of the 5 different types of quests (Arcana,
Commerce, Piety, Skullduggery, and Warfare) will give them bonus points at the end of the game. The game is played in 8 rounds. In the first 4 rounds, you have 2 tokens and in the last 4, you have 3 tokens.
There are a series of intrigue cards that will give you special opportunities or advantages or will help you attack another player. An attack may be as simple as taking an adventurer from them or it might be assigning them a mandatory quest that they must complete before they do anything else.
Over the course of the game, additional buildings will be purchased by the players and put into play as places where you can place your tokens.
Lords of Waterdeep is one of my current favorites of this type of strategy game and that also includes the iPad version. The version has a great UI and advantages over the board game such as highlighting which places to play will work for your turn.
There are two different expansion packs for the board game: Scoundrels of Skullport and Undermountain (out of print). Both are available in the iPad version via in-app purchases.
Whether you buy one of these games to play your favorite board game via the internet or play solo so you can beat your son-in-law next time, each of these will give you hours of entertainment