The Daily Worker Placement

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Digital Cardboard: The Newest in Tabletop Ports to iOS and PC

by | published Monday, March 4, 2019

Two more immigrants to the virtual realm from tabletopland landed this past week: Stefan Feld’s Castles of Burgundy for iOS and the digital release on Steam of Vale of Magic, the first expansion for John D. Clair’s card-crafting deck-builder Mystic Vale. And the PC port of Galaxy Trucker is being released later this week, and I got to take it for a spin. 

When Castles of Burgundy first appeared eight years ago, I felt it was the very epitome of Euro. Like, look up “Euro” in the dictionary and there would be a picture of Castles of Burgundy. I loved it for about two weeks, then got bored of it and moved on. Now, getting a chance to revisit it digitally, I remember what both what I loved and found annoying about it. 

I loved the mix of short-term tactics and long-term planning. I loved that there was just enough luck in the die rolls and plenty of ways to mitigate that luck if you knew how. I did not love the lack of iconography on the building tiles which meant I had to keep looking in the rulebook to remember what each one did. I also didn’t love the low level of player interaction–oh, there was some, no doubt, but it was mainly the “I’ll grab that tile before you can” kind, and sometimes there was no way to get out of the turn-order rut you were stuck it. 

Still, in a digital game it’s all over quickly enough and you can try out different strategies at your own pace. The app lets you choose to have everyone play the same board (standard or variant) or have everyone play different boards. The programmers definitely made the best use of screen real estate (both for tablets and phone)–though each player’s province emerges on their turn surreally through a steampunk hole in the ground, very odd indeed. The AI’s are quite challenging, and multiplayer online seems to work fine. Some people find the isometric view irritating; I find it charming and not at all difficult to process visually, even on a phone. I do wish you could select your player colour, as you seem to be assigned it randomly every game and I like red, dagnabbit. 

Right now the biggest strike against it is the price (C$11.99) which will mean a hard pass for many; you can always wait for Digidiced to put it on sale. For people like me, who once owned the physical copy and traded it away, it’s a bargain.  

Mystic Vale is a game that intrigued me when it came out in 2016: a deck-builder which introduced a new “card-crafting” mechanism. I never got around to trying or playing it (I mean, I have to draw the line somewhere) but for C$17.49 on Steam I thought it was a great chance to try it out. I have to say I really like it, and the digital implementation is simply gorgeous. I love the little animations you get when you hover over the cards. The tutorial quickly brought me up to speed. The AI comes in 5 levels and gets very challenging (to the point that I wonder if it’s “cheating”–ie, given extra spirit points). The only glaring omission is the lack of an undo function, which is very annoying and I hope gets patched. You can buy a “season pass” which entitles you to all the expansions–Vale of Magic is the only one available so far–and is definitely a deal. 

Finally we come to Galaxy Trucker, which has been out on iOS for (gulp) almost five years (where has the time gone?) but has now been ported to PC as an Extended Edition which includes all the alien powers. You have all sorts of options to create custom games, but for me the real treat is the campaign, which has all the humour (and challenge) you’d expect from designer Vlad Chvátl. Even the tutorial is worth playing through for its comedic value alone–though not quite up to the standard of digital Through the Ages, which remains my favorite tutorial ever

I maxed out the campaign on my iPad ages ago, and from what I can tell–I’ve only had a chance to play through the first part–the PC edition is exactly the same. This is not a bad thing at all–tablet users would complain if they lost out on content.  

The biggest revelation for me in the digital version was the new turn-based mode, which one would think was antithetical to the real-time chaos that is Galaxy Trucker, but that is exactly the point: it switches things up just enough to perk up interest just as things get stale, and for folk like me who wilt a bit under real-time play it provides a welcome opportunity to get all thinky. Not everyone’s cup’o’tea, but give it a shot and see what you think.  

The campaign also introduced all kinds of mission-based constraints like explosive cargo, which proved so popular that CGE decided to release them as an expansion to the tabletop version. 

For my part, I prefer the touchscreen interface to click-and-drag, for ergonomic reasons if nothing else, but for those who prefer to game on their desktops Galaxy Trucker: Extended Edition definitely delivers the goods (#nopunintended). 

So, three games, three digital ports. Of the three, Galaxy Trucker works the best as a video game for fairly obvious reasons; the other two provide perfectly serviceable opportunities to play when you don’t have an opponent at hand. Do any of them make me want to go out and buy a physical copy? No. Well, I already own all the Galaxy Trucker stuff anyway, and much as I enjoyed (and will continue to enjoy) the other two, I don’t feel a hankering.  

I know some game publishers look at app versions as “tasters” which will lure punters into buying hard copies, but of all the digital boardgame ports I’ve bought over the years, the only ones that ever made me want to own the tabletop versions were the aforementioned Through the Ages and Elder Sign: Omens. Why those two? Honestly, I don’t know. For me, the arrow of causation has almost always been from having a physical copy to wanting a portable digital version I can carry around and play anywhere anytime I want without having to worry about setting up and putting away. 

Thanks to Czech Games for giving us early access to the Galaxy Trucker Extended Edition. 


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