published Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Tablet-op gaming: Touchscreen conversions make board games less expensive, more accessible

"Ticket to Ride" is a game set in the era of the railroad barons.
"Ticket to Ride" is a game set in the era of the railroad barons.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Board games are fun. At least, that's the idea.

To some, however, any excitement over an afternoon playing with friends deflates at the prospect of arguing over the rules and the need to set up and micromanage games featuring hundreds of pieces. That's assuming, of course, that they can find people (and pieces) to play with at all.

Enter the humble tablet.

Since the release of the iPad in 2010, some of the most popular board games have leapt the digital chasm and now are available as smartphone and tablet apps. Offerings range from mainstream favorites such as Scrabble, Risk and several variations of Monopoly to so-called German-style board games, including Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan.

Digitizing a game can greatly streamline the playing experience. Apps eliminate the need to set up the board, allowing players to start sessions instantly. Almost all tablet board games feature some form of online multiplayer to find opponents at any time of day, and computer rule management to minimize squabbles over cheating.

Tablet board gaming apps also have a much-reduced cost of entry compared to their cardboard-and-plastic counterparts. App prices typically are $5 to $10, a discount of about 80 percent or more off the standard price for a physical set.

About 20 percent of the top 200 most popular games as ranked by BoardGameGeek.com have released editions for tablets, including the following 12 apps, which represent a variety of game styles and settings.

[Note: Prices are MSRP and do not reflect discounts through retailers. Play time estimates are via BoardGameGeek.com.]

AGRICOLA

• What it is: Beginning from humble roots as a husband and wife living in a dirt shack, players compete to see who can build the most successful farm, taking turns planting and harvesting crops, raising livestock, improving their homestead and increasing their family. Players must be able to feed their growing brood or lose points when they're forced to beg for food.

• Average play time: 120 minutes

• Release date:2013 (tablet/phone)/2007 (tabletop)

• Players: 1-5

• In-game tutorial: Yes

• Multiplayer options: Solo against computer opponents, single-device pass-and-play, online

• Phone version available: Yes

• Cost: $7 (iOS devices)/$70 (tabletop edition)

CARCASSONNE

• What it is: In this strategic city-building game, players recreate the landscape of medieval France by placing tiles representing roads, cities, fields and monasteries. As the landscapes takes shape, they can claim important sites -- and earn points -- by assigning agents such as knights, monks, thieves or farmers.

• Average play time: 45 minutes

• Release date:2010 (tablet/phone)/2000 (tabletop)

• Players: 1-5

• In-game tutorial: Yes

• Multiplayer options: Solo against computer opponents, single-device pass-and-play, local connection between devices or online

• Phone version available: Yes

• Cost: $5 (Android devices)/$10 (iOS devices)/$35 (tabletop edition)

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: LORDS OF WATERDEEP

• What it is: Players take on the role of the lords and ladies who comprise the power players secretly in control of the harbor town of Waterdeep, the City of Splendors. They expand their influence over the city by buying buildings and recruiting adventurers to tackle missions.

• Average play time: 60 minutes

• Release date:2013 (tablet/phone)/2012 (tabletop)

• Players: 2-5 (6 with purchase of in-app expansion Scoundrels of Skullport, $3)

• In-game tutorial: Yes

• Multiplayer options: Solo against computer opponents, single-device pass-and-play, local connection between devices or online

• Phone version available: Yes

• Cost: $7 (iOS devices)/$50 (tabletop edition)

ECLIPSE: NEW DAWN FOR THE GALAXY

• What it is: In this interstellar strategy game, players lead one of seven races of space-faring aliens vying for control of the galaxy. They must conquer or outwit their enemies by exploring and colonizing new star systems, forging and breaking diplomatic treaties, researching new technologies and building an armada of starships.

• Average play time: 120 minutes

• Release date:2013 (tablet/phone)/2011 (tabletop)

• Players: 2-6

• In-game tutorial: Yes

• Multiplayer options: Solo against computer opponents, single-device pass-and-play, online

• Phone version available: No

• Cost: $7 (iPad)/$99 (tabletop edition)

LE HAVRE (THE HARBOR)

• What it is: In this game of economic domination, players outmaneuver their rival harbormasters in a race to build the strongest shipping empire. They must balance their growth by investing in the construction of new buildings and selling off goods via an ever-expanding fleet of vessels.

• Average play time: 150 minutes

• Release date:2012 (tablet/phone)/2008 (tabletop)

• Players: 1-5

• In-game tutorial: Yes

• Multiplayer options: Solo against computer opponents, single-device pass-and-play, online

• Phone version available: Yes

• Cost: $5 (iOS devices)/$70 (tabletop edition)

NEUROSHIMA HEX

• What it is: In this fast-paced strategy game, set 30 years into a post-apocalyptic future, various factions -- from cyborgs to mutants to intelligent plants -- position their armies and battle one another in an effort to destroy their rivals' headquarters while protecting their own.

• Average play time: 30 minutes

• Release date:2012 (tablet/phone)/2006 (tabletop)

• Players: 2-4

• In-game tutorial: Yes

• Multiplayer options: Solo against computer opponents, single-device pass-and-play, online

• Phone version available: Yes

• Cost: $3 (Android devices)/$5 (iOS devices)/$50 (tabletop edition)

PANDEMIC: THE BOARD GAME

• What it is: In this cooperative game, players join forces as a team of disease-treating specialists. Together, they must research and implement cures to help contain and eradicate four epidemic outbreaks around the world before all of humanity succumbs.

• Average play time: 45 minutes

• Release date:2013 (tablet/phone)/2008 (tabletop)

• Players: 2-4 (5 with purchase of in-app expansion On the Brink, $2)

• In-game tutorial: Yes

• Multiplayer options: Solo against computer opponents, single-device pass-and-play

• Phone version available: No

• Cost: $7 (iPad)/$40 (tabletop edition)

PUERTO RICO

• What it is: Players seek to dominate the economy of colonial-era Puerto Rico. Each assumes the role of one of the island's governors in a quest to dominate their rivals -- and amass the largest pile of doubloons -- by mining for gold, planting crops, constructing buildings and shipping goods to Europe.

• Average play time: 90 minutes and up

• Release date:2011 (tablet/phone)/2002 (tabletop)

• Players: 2-5

• In-game tutorial: Yes

• Multiplayer options: Solo against computer opponents, single-device pass-and-play, local connection between devices or online

• Phone version available: No

• Cost: $5 (iPad)/$45 (tabletop edition)

SETTLERS OF CATAN

• What it is: One of the first "German-style" board games to achieve popularity overseas, this easy-to-learn-hard-to-master game of island domination pits players against one another in a race to build settlements, cities and roads, control ports, collect resources and raise an army.

• Average play time: 90 minutes

• Release date:2010 (tablet/phone)/1995 (tabletop)

• Players: 3-4

• In-game tutorial: Yes

• Multiplayer options: Solo against computer opponents, single-device pass-and-play, online

• Phone version available: Yes

• Cost: $4 (Android Devices)/$5 (iOS devices)/$42 (tabletop edition)

SMALL WORLD 2

• What it is: Vie for rulership of a magical land as one of more than a dozen varieties of mythical creature. Things get really interesting thanks to the inclusion of randomly assigned magical abilities that confer special, gameplay-altering abilities on your race, from alchemist ratmen and berserk halflings to dragon-master trolls.

• Average play time: 80 minutes

• Release date:2010 (tablet/phone)/2009 (tabletop)

• Players: 2-5

• In-game tutorial: Yes

• Multiplayer options: Solo against computer opponents, single-device pass-and-play, online

• Phone version available: No

• Cost: $10 (Android/iOS tablets)/$50 (tabletop edition)

SPACE HULK

• What it is: One player commands a small squad of gung-ho Space Marine troopers as they explore a mysterious derelict vessel crawling with vicious aliens. Tackle 15 missions and navigate claustrophobic environments where positioning of troopers becomes paramount. The other player? He or she controls the bloodthirsty extraterrestrials.

• Average play time: 60 minutes

• Release date:2013 (tablet/phone)/1989 (tabletop)

• Players: 2

• In-game tutorial: Yes

• Multiplayer options: Solo against computer opponents, single-device pass-and-play, online against other iPad/PC/Mac users

• Phone version available: No

• Cost: $10 (iPad)/$374 (tabletop edition, limited release, now out-of-print)

TICKET TO RIDE

• What it is: It's the age of the locomotive and players are cast as rival transportation tycoons competing to see who can secure the most lucrative routes between major cities. Extra points go to the owner of the longest continuous track, and points are lost for failing to complete assigned routes.

• Average play time: 45 minutes

• Release date:2011 (tablet/phone)/2004 (tabletop)

• Players: 2-5

• In-game tutorial: Yes

• Multiplayer options: Solo against computer opponents, single-device pass-and-play, local connection between devices or online

• Phone version available: Yes

• Cost: $2 (iPhone)/$7 (Android tablets)/$10 (iPad)/$50 (tabletop edition)

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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