Top Ten iOS Board Games

by Matt Miller on Jul 01, 2013 at 01:30 PM

Amid the many excellent tower defense, endless runner, and puzzle games available on iOS, a lesser known breed of mobile game is gaining steam. Even as actual tabletop gaming popularity continues to soar, some of the same games have made the transition to digital devices. Many of these games make for fantastic strategic gaming experiences that you can take with you on the go, while others provide a great turn-based multiplayer experience to share with family and friends.

We've gathered ten of the best mobile board (and card) game adaptations for you to choose between. In every case, we've chosen games that have been adapted from actual physical tabletop games. We've also left off some games because of their similarities in gameplay or theme to other games on the list.

 Maybe one or more of these great games can enliven a long summer vacation trip?

1. Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy
Developer: Big Daddy's Creations

For truly deep and rewarding strategy gameplay, it's hard to beat the excellence on display in Eclipse. This grand and complex 4X space sim tasks players with controlling an outer space empire as it reaches across the stars, colonizing and doing battle with opposing races. An excellent tutorial helps get you started, but be warned that Eclipse is not built for casual play - expect a steady but challenging learning curve before you fully grasp its many intricacies. Up to six players, mixed between real people and AI, can all play together to explore this awesome outer space adventure.

2. Agricola
Developer: Playdek

Few board games have garnered as much praise from dedicated board game enthusiasts as Agricola. Up to five players (or their AI equivalents) can compete together in this stellar digital adaptation. You control a lone farmer and his spouse as they try to turn their empty lot into a thriving farm. Each turn, your family members disperse across town to work the fields and gather resources, and you need to balance growing your family with how well you can feed and support all its members. What at first seems like it might be a boring concept grows compelling through the variety of choices you face in any given game round. Gorgeous art and a smartly designed interface make Agricola an ideal pick, while the family-friendly concept makes this an easy choice for all player groups.

3. Ticket To Ride
Developer: Days of Wonder

Fantastic interface can carry you a long way, and it's one big reason that the already excellent Ticket To Ride works so well on iOS. Up to five players (including AIs) control competing railroad tycoons as each spreads their track across the burgeoning United States. Ticket To Ride is perfect for player groups without experienced board gamers, since the rules are simple and it's easy to get up and playing in a matter of minutes. The excellent game mechanics were enough to garner the original tabletop version the highly sought Spiel des Jahres award back in 2004, and those same rules transition seamlessly onto mobile devices. If you can't get enough, in-game purchases let you try out new maps, like the sprawling railroad competition for Europe.

4. Elder Sign: Omens
Developer: Fantasy Flight Games

A terrible ancient evil is about to breach into the world through the exhibits at a local museum, and only your team of intrepid adventurers can stop them. Fantasy Flight's chilling Lovecraftian fiction transitions surprisingly well to the digital space thanks to this thoughtfully constructed adaptation. Elder Sign: Omens can be played with up to four players passing a device back and forth, but this is also my favorite digital board game adaptation to play solo, since the game has all four investigators cooperating together to succeed. Atmospheric music, gorgeous art, and high challenge combine to make Elder Sign: Omens thoroughly addicting.

5. Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer
Developer: Playdek

Whether you're already a fan of deck building games, or you're new to the genre, Ascension provides hours of fun. Up to four players or AIs compete in this richly illustrated fantasy card game. Each turn, a new hand of cards lets players buy new heroes and constructs. In turn, those cards recycle back through the deck to let players confront and defeat the many monster cards that emerge into play. As your deck grows, the strategic options for any given hand grow more elaborate. A thoughtfully crafted interface handles all the card shuffling and card placement without your input, allowing you to focus on building your deck and becoming the most legendary hero of the land.

[Next up: Cooperative island exploration, and the most popular card game ever on digital devices]

6. Neuroshima Hex
Developer: Big Daddy's Creations

For straight up tactical battles, don't miss out on the post-apocalyptic fun of Neuroshima Hex. Four players or AIs each control their own unique army out to control territory on a claustrophobic hex-based map. The asymmetrical nature of each army's abilities adds tactical complexity to the game, and the higher AI difficulty levels offer plenty of challenge. While I recommend this game wholeheartedly to fans of the original tabletop version, new players should be aware of a steep learning curve if this is your first exploration of the title.

7. Small World
Developer: Days of Wonder

The vibrant fantasy art of Small World is enough to catch the eye, but it's the fast-playing and excellently designed head-to-head play that will keep you around. You control a fantasy race as it expands out across the land - unfortunately, your human or AI opponent is doing the same, and the available resources just aren't enough to support both races' growth. Added depth comes from unique traits applied to each fantasy race at the beginning of the game, resulting in crazy mash-up races, like the Pillaging Skeletons, Dragon Master Orcs, or Alchemist Dwarves - each of which offers additional ways to score. Small World is a perfect choice for you and one other player who both enjoy the fantasy milieu.

8. Forbidden Island
Developer: Button Mash Games

The tabletop version of Forbidden Island has won praise for its fast pace and cooperative play, and both elements carry over well into this digital adaptation. Up to four players work together to track down and collect four ancient relics hidden on the environs of a small forgotten island. Unfortunately, the island is slowly sinking as you play, making for a thrilling race against time. This one gets my nomination for the best choice on this list to share with younger kids; its non-competitive vibe and easy to grasp mechanics should make it a hit for family game night, even if you're not at home.

9. Magic 2014 - Duels of the Planeswalkers
Developer: Stainless Games/Wizards of the Coast

Longtime players of the ubiquitous collectible card game have had several excellent versions of the game to enjoy digitally in recent years. The most recent installment adds a more robust single-player campaign experience, along with the option to explore sealed play mode. Experienced Magic players can enjoy the excellent mobile implementation of their favorite game, but the digital version is also a worthwhile way to introduce new players to the long-running card game. This entry comes with a caveat, however; beware the extensive and pricey options for in-app purchases, particularly in this most recent version of the game.

10. Warhammer Quest
Developer: Rodeo Games

The recently released Warhammer Quest is an adaptation of the 1995 board game of the same name, and it appears on this list because it manages to do fantasy turn-based strategy better than any other game I've yet found on iOS. You control a band of adventurers as they delve into one dungeon after the next, fighting monsters, leveling up, and bringing home loot. The digital adaptation is designed to be played as a solo tactical RPG, unlike the multiplayer cooperative vibe of the original. Fun narrative sequences help to move the story forward, and the classic fantasy setting is familiar but entertaining. Battles are great fun, so long as you can handle a note of randomness in your dungeon-crawling.

Honorable Mention:

Talisman Prologue HD
Developer: Thumbstar Games

Talisman's high fantasy setting and simple roll-and-move gameplay has garnered countless fans over the many years since its original release in the 1980s, and the digital adaptation does justice to the well-loved board game. This recently released Prologue HD version is built exclusively for solo play, and the game would undoubtedly be included on this top ten list, except that the separate multiplayer version of the game isn't planned for release until this fall. Nonetheless, the solo experience holds up well thanks to numerous character classes to explore, and several dozen quests you can attempt to complete over the course of any given playthrough. The art and feel of the game is a pitch-perfect recreation of the board game original, down to the look of the miniature that you march around the board. Talisman is an ideal choice as a gateway into hobby games, whether you try this digital version or the original physical version. 

Share your favorite digital adaptations of board and card games in the comments below!