Terra Mystica

Terra Mystica App Announced for 2017

Game developer Digidice announced at Spiel and on Twitter this past week that they are developing an app version of Terra Mystica, to be available in the first quarter of 2017.


I’ll be very interested to see how this one plays, as Terra Mystica is a notoriously long game:  one time through can monopolize an entire game night.  My favorite board game apps, unlike my favorite tabletop games, are able to be played in an under ten minute time frame, and I’m wondering if the Terra Mystica app will hit that window.

And if game play is rapid, will it satisfy the same strategy-loving gamers that have currently elevated the game to a fourth place ranking on BGG.com, and to a long list of awards that, when run in a single column, barely fit on my desktop screen?  Perhaps making the game more user friendly may make it small in other ways as well…

Thoughts on Splendor Online Play

Online play in the Splendor app is not yet a month old, and it appears to be, compared to other board games on mobile app stores, much healthier in terms of matching a bevy of eager players. It even seems easier to find other players than in the venerable Catan app, and it is much quicker to get the virtual table outfitted as well: from loading the app to picking your tokens takes less than a minute. Also, and most importantly, unlike all other mobile tabletop gaming apps that I own, the app forces players to stay involved by timing each player’s turn. In virtual Splendor, there are no agonizingly long three to five minute turns (although some players take an eon to realize that all they can do, if there are three short stacks, and there’s nothing they can afford or want to buy, is take three tokens or reserve a card). But if the other player’s timer does expire, congratulations! They just forfeited through being inattentive, and you won the game. This means that online Splendor, while slower than Splendor against AI, is much quicker than other games that feature online play.  However, it is still quicker than playing Splendor on a real-world tabletop, as most real-world players don’t use a timer, and there’s always that one Splendor player that takes two or three minute turns.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of this rapidity of play is that you are quickly introduced to a wide variety of Splendor strategies. I just finished playing a game with a player that started the game by reserving a red jewel card from the bottom row, and from then on in, was determined not to let me have any red jewel cards on the bottom row, so that whenever one would be placed, she would reserve it. As the green deck was top heavy with red cards, this meant that her first three turns required her to reserve three red cards in a row, so that while I quickly had a card and five tokens, she had three jokers and three reserved cards after the first three turns. Unfortunately for her, the next card placed in the bottom row was also a red token card, and as she had already reserved the maximum of three cards, and I had five tokens and a card, I was better suited to buying it before she did. I’m intensely interested in seeing how this kind of color monopolization strategy might work in another game in which the luck wasn’t as lopsided, but I will probably never play this way myself. I won this game 16 points to 10.

Another player closely scrutinized my till of tokens, so that whenever I was able to buy a point-scoring card, they would reserve it. This probably throws off other players’ games, but as I have played a lot of Splendor, and I have experience in diversifying my strategy, and they can only reserve three cards at most—cards that usually turned out to be useless to them, as they were saving very different colors than I was saving—I won 17 points to 5. However, I will admit to being more annoyed by this player than any other Splendor player, although the feeling was mitigated when I realized that they were stuck with three cards that did not match their game investments, which blocked their ability both to reserve cards and to get joker tokens for the rest of the game.

More than half of the players that I have played have reserved a card from the bottom row. Folks, this is a bonehead move, and tells the person across the table that you have no idea what you’re doing. I’ll allow the exception to this to be the color monopolization strategy I mentioned above, as I have only seen it used in one virtual game and no real-world tabletop games. Color monopolization on the bottom row may very well be a bonehead move as well, but I have little experience with the strategy to say either way. If your first three moves are to reserve a red card, a brown card, and a blue card, though, you’re definitely a mook, as the bottom row cards are inexpensive and plentiful, and are best purchased with a canny economy of three token draws and using prior purchases to make it cheaper to make future buys. Good Splendor players reserve around three cards per game, and they are usually three to five point cards. Sometimes a bottom row card might be reserved towards the end game if it is the color that a player needs to attract a noble.


For instance, if I have three green, three blue, and two white cards, and I need one more white to get the noble above, and the white card that costs three brown is drawn for the bottom row, reserving it to get the joker token to add to the two brown in my till will get me three points in the following turn—as long as another player is not about to take that noble.  This is usually the only instance in which I would reserve a card from the bottom row.

There are also the kind of players that you meet in real life, such as the Splendor Gamblers that like to reserve the cheap cards in the middle and top row as an opening move, for example the four point top row cards that only cost seven tokens of one color. While I almost never do this, and only reserve cards that I might play in a round or two, and very rarely reserve compeititively (taking a winning card from another player that will also give me the joker token I need to squeeze out a big purchase), when I see a player reserve a cheap card, it tells me that they know how to play Splendor, and this game will be more challenging than most. Experienced Splendor players fall on a continuum between Splendor Gambling and Splendor Economy, and one of the main disadvantages for a Splendor Gambler is that your early strategic reserves tell the other player that you grok the game while also telegraphing your strategy several moves ahead to your opponent.  I may return to the continuum of Splendor Gamblers and Splendor Economists in a future post.

While I’ve had a lot of fun playing the online mobile version of Splendor, I would only recommend it with the caveat that if you are not playing this game on a good WiFi connection, you could find it a frustrating pastime. If you have a rocket fast internet connection (I have Xfinity, which does the trick), and only try to play it at home on that network, you will probably have a great time with online Splendor play. If you’re trying to play through a 3G or 4G connection, you stand a good chance of being disconnected from the server, which the app counts as a loss for the player being disconnected. This is such a pervasive problem that on any given time if you enter the Online section of the app, the chat stream is likely to have one or two players venting about being disconnected.

Also, I should advise players that while I have mentioned in other articles on this blog that the Splendor app fits that five to ten minute sweet spot for a mobile game, that only holds true when you’re playing against AI. When you’re playing in the Online section of the app, even considering the timer running in the background, the games take at least 50% longer, around 15 minutes with an attentive opponent. 

However, even with these two criticisms weighing in, the Splendor app is currently my favorite online tabletop gaming platform, ending a period of several months in which, when I had ten minutes to kill, I would play San Juan or Puerto Rico nearly exclusively.

You can find my review of the tabletop version of Splendor by following this link.

Splendor Board Game

Splendor on Android.

You can find Splendor on iTunes through this link.

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Splendor, Small World, and Ticket to Ride 25% Off on Apple, Android, and Steam

To celebrate their new Ticket to Ride update, enhanced with new maps for the Ticket to Ride Europe, Days of Wonder has slashed the prices on some of their perennial favorites on iPhone, iPad, Android, and Steam. Additionally, some of the in-app map purchases in Ticket to Ride are on sale as well, with the best deal being that if you buy the Europe board, you get their new map update, Europa 1912 Destinations, for free.

Whether you’re big fans of the tabletop versions of these games, or just looking for something other than throwing birds at pigs, you’ll find these are some of the most entertaining apps on the App store.  Days of Wonder not only creates some of the most easily playable and understandable board games, they also have great app developers, and these games are worth paying for at full price.

Buy Splendor for Android on Amazon

Buy Ticket to Ride App on Amazon

Buy Small World 2 App on Amazon

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Castles of Mad King Ludwig Hits iPhone, iPad, and Android

Castles of Mad King Ludwig, one of my favorite games, has just joined the growing digital board game collection that’s available on the iOS and Android App Stores.

Nominated for 6 Golden Geek Awards, and winner of the Meeples’ Choice Award and the Mensa Select Award, Castles of Mad King Ludwig has always been a game that appealed to intelligent and discriminating board gamers, and now it appeals to board gamers that are budgeting money or time.  Not only is the App version a fraction of the cost of the boxed version, it can also be played on not just tablets, but phones, so that busy people can find some time to play vs. AI on their break at work.

Those that like to play digital board games with real people, whether via Bluetooth or online, will be disappointed, as the app version of Castles of Mad King Ludwig currently only supports “pass and play.”  However, players can post their castles on Facebook or Twitter through the app, rather than the long way around of taking a screenshot and inserting it into a post, as most board game apps currently require you to do.

That digital board games are a big deal in App Stores can be read by just how fast the digital version of Castles of Mad King Ludwig is climbing the charts:  as of this writing it is already number 283 on the list of paid apps in the Amazon App Store (as well as number 2 on the list of paid board game apps on Amazon, which is more attributable to the game’s great word of mouth among board gamers).  I can attest that is is really hard to resist buying a game digitally that you already have great fun playing on game night.

Buy Castles of Mad King Ludwig on the Amazon Android App Store

If you’re on iPhone like me, download here:

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