The Little iPad Board Game Story

by Milind Alvares

The Little iPad Board Game Story

by Milind Alvares on April 28, 2010

Post image for The Little iPad Board Game Story

[tweetmeme]If you will bear with me, here’s a little story of my childhood. I grew up in a middle class family, in a village in Goa. We didn’t have a television (out of principle) till I was 22 (and now no one uses it). My childhood friends all came from poor families, who couldn’t afford household necessities, forget any forms of entertainment. We played football and cricket in the durty fields during the summer, but had to settle for indoor games during the monsoons. And our house was the place where these little board games made their appearance. Some of them came from Holland (we even knew what the Dutch cards stood for), sometimes chess, carom, and a whole lot of Snakes & Ladders and Ludo. Those two always came together, on one board; on each side of the board. The times we had with those two games. We were of course very irresponsible and someone would misplace the dice or pieces and the whole thing would come to a halt within a week.

Flash forward, 2010; the iPad has just launched, the apps are flowing in, and this ludo playing villager gets a chance to experience his childhood on a state of the art computer from Apple. To note, I’m not that old.

Ludo makes a second appearance

The device was almost made for board games (among it’s many other made fors). At first, looking at the screenshots I was little disappointed with the what awaited. It has a theme that’s way different from what I can remember—a white board with simple black lines, and bright primary colours to separate the four players. This one was more futuristic, with different shapes instead of just the coloured pawns, and looked a little alien.

A minute after installing the game, I was already setting up two players—me, and Preshit, who wasn’t even there. Tap the dice, and the game was on. I was player yellow; he was green. I got a few pieces out, and even tried to cheat and make him lose. I accidentally had one of my pieces sent back into prison as well. The real Preshit joined in. Took him a minute to get familiar with the game, but unfortunately luck was on his side. The game went on for about 15 minutes. By the end of the game, at least i had forgotten that we were reviewing this app rather than playing it. At least I was.

When I came back home, I decided to let a few of the kids in the neighbourhood try it out. They were of course, familiar with Ludo. The first day it was kind of a novelty, this whole touchscreen device. But the second, they had already forgotten about the device, and were playing Ludo. Now I’m having trouble fending them off. I literally had to tell them to stop crowding the device (and wear shirts) when taking the picture (taken at my neighbour’s place).

There are certain elements of the original that are lacking here. For instance, mashing the dice and singing prayers into it for good luck. Or the pleasure of knocking down an opponent’s pawn in slo-mo. But at the end of the day, the benefits of having this game with you anywhere you go, without the hassles of managing the pieces, is a worthy tradeoff.

I’ve been told the developers are working on more themes, an optional 3 dimentional dice, and are aware of the issue with the tiny hit areas. They’re even considering my ‘original ludo theme’ request. Even as it is right now, Ludo for iPad gets my full recommendation. Surprisingly it’s free this week; a few dollars otherwise.

While I’m at it: Checkers

I don’t remember playing checkers. I remember something with marbles, but I think that’s chinese checkers. We downloaded the currently free ‘Real Checkers‘ app and wondered what to do with it. The beauty of the game, is that it doesn’t come with any AI of its own. Just a photo-realistic bitmap board, with movable discs on it. They start off arranged on the board, but you can move them anywhere you want to; just like on a real board.

Neither me nor Preshit knew how to play the game, so we had to look up wikihow and see a demonstration of two happy girls play the game, and we were off. The game didn’t quite end (Preshit is a whimp) but the gameplay was quite satisfactory. The physics could be improved, and I think they will be either in this game or another, but the general concept is rock solid. It’s so real, you can even move more than one piece at a time; I managed to move eleven, using all ten fingers and my nose. The screen is the UI. I made a second attempt back home with a few friends, but we soon fell back to playing Ludo. There are currently dozens of checkers games on the App Store; I haven’t tested all of them.

BoardBox and Game Table

There’s a new kind of board game showing up at the App Store; an all inclusive one. One’s BoardBox by Chillingo, and the other, Game Table by Label Interactive. They combine several games into one single application. Included are several variants of Chess, Checkers, Reversi (BoardBox), Tic-Tac-Toe (BoardBox), Poker (Game Table) among others.

Like Checkers, both these have limited to no-AI. You can move chess pieces wherever you want, tic-tac-toe doesn’t end once you’ve got three in a row. This is all a good thing, btw, as it adds to the realism in gameplay.

BoardBox’s graphics are also pretty nice, though not stellar. Again, it could do with some better physics, especially with the rigid chess pieces. It also tries to do too much, and ends up failing at many levels. Such as tic-tac-toe, which requires two taps to select an X or O, which takes away realism, yet there’s no AI to back it up. I prefer Tic-Tac-Toe in Draw for iPad (Free). It’s $3.99, and a good buy if you’re going to be playing a lot of Chess. I’d rather wait though, either for a good focussed chess game, or for this one to improve on all fronts.

Game Table on the other hand comes with better physics. It is by far the better way to play Checkers—you can practically fling the pieces around. Unfortunately, the rest of its games suck beyond words. Chess is an ugly 2D version, with all its pieces facing one way or the other. Poker—you can’t play poker if everyone can see your cards. They’re going to add more games they say, but the entire game needs a revamp or it’s not even worth the one dollar.


I’ve not played Scrabble—not even on a real board—but I’ve only heard good things about the iPad version ($9.99). Especially the part where the iPad becomes the board, and the networked iPhones become tile racks. Thought it was worth the mention.

Image from Engadget’s review of the Scrabble for iPad game.

There are a bunch of other classic board games popping up at the App Store; many of them often running free promotions. As a platform, I don’t think board games could get better digital counterparts than on the iPad. While game developers are constantly innovating and bringing us some cool new games, it’s nice to know we can still enjoy those games we played as kids (I say this in a very adult voice).

Conclusion: Get an iPad.

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