When Apple first announced the iPad in 2010, the potential use for digital tabletop gaming was one of the first things that stood out to me. It took developers a couple years to get on board with fulfilling that potential, but many of the most popular games now have excellent iPad version. Here are my five favorites:
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When you consider the fact that the physical Eclipse board game costs $64 on Amazon and takes forever to set up, the iPad edition is an incredible deal. Developer Big Daddy’s Creations went the extra mile with the game by creating an intuitive interface and staying consistent with the space theme.
Eclipse is a difficult game to learn on one’s own, but the app has a solid tutorial to explain the basics. It’s enough to get you playing, but you’ll want to read up on some strategy if you’re hoping to actually win.
Up to six humans and/or AI can play either locally or online. Finding a game online might be a challenge, though. When I went to create one, there were only three other players online.
Caylus is another game that I prefer playing on the iPad than in real life. Games tend to go faster on the tablet, and I find the interface makes it easier to keep track of that pesky Provost.
Another bonus is the fact that Caylus is a universal app for iOS, so you can also play on the iPhone. Local games take a combination of five humans and AI players. Technically you should be able to play online, but the app refused to recognize my iPad’s Internet connection.
Le Havre, also a universal app, has some fun with the French harbor setting. Up to five can play at a time, and online multiplayer is available, but the Game Center integration can be a bit slow updating moves, so it’s better at playing a game out over a few days than in one sitting.
The app includes both the long and short versions of the game and works well in either bite-sized chunks or extended sessions.
The layout of the Le Havre board on the iPad feels a bit cramped, though, so this isn’t an exact substitute for the real thing.
Stone Age actually arrived first on iPhone before going universal earlier this year. This is also a game that I prefer to play on iOS as opposed to in real life, as it moves a lot faster without having to manually roll dice and collect resources.
The game supports two to four human and AI players, and works locally or online. Pass and play is a bit touchy since some of the cards and scoring are kept track of in secret, but you can make it work.
In the world of board games, Settlers of Catan is a bit old hat, but the iPad version did get back into the game. The Cities and Knights and Seafarers expansions cost $4.99 each, though a simple Lite version is available with the basic game. With the expansion purchases included, Catan HD is one of the more expensive apps on this list.
The game comes with an interesting campaign version that includes various board setups. The story animations get old, but it should keep you occupied for a few hours.
Sadly, Catan has yet to add an online version, but the developer has promised future updates. Don’t hold your breath, though, as the app’s most recent update was August 2012.
Bonus round: Monopoly
The single most notable thing about the Monopoly iPad app is that it actually plays by the rules. Adding in the rarely used auction rules changes the game significantly by adding new strategic dynamics. For those hoping to recreate their custom childhood versions, the game does allow you to select some house rules, such as starting properties, lower hotel limits and money from free parking.
They almost made it
There were a few other games that almost made the list, but I decided to leave them off because they’re either old and haven’t been updated recently or sub-par implementations that don’t match or exceed the physical versions. Here are some of the runners-up: Neuroshima Hex, Puerto Rico, Small World and Ra.
What are your favorite board games on the iPad?
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