BGG’s All-time Top Ten Board Games on iOS & Android
This article was originally written in January 2014 and looked at BoardGameGeek’s top ten list, and where any digital/mobile projects where at in terms of development. A reader asked that we take a look at this article and give it a refresh, given how much has changed in digital board games over the past five years. PT regular Michael Coffer kindly went through Owen Faraday’s original words and found out what became of those projects. We’ve also provided a new list based on the current top ten at the bottom.
We’ve tried to leave Owen’s words intact, but edits have been made where needed to reflect the current situation.
Original Story (Jan 17th, 2014)
We’re in the middle of a board game renaissance. Sales of board games are hot and getting hotter — industry observers called the summer of 2013 “the best summer ever” for the market.
Part of that success is wrapped up in the rise of iOS as a platform for digital board game conversions. I don’t know which one is the chicken and which one is the egg here, but clearly there’s some very influential people who think that digital board games have a very bright future, as evidenced by Silicon Valley-sized investments raised by digital board game purveyors like Playdek. Clearly, we’re going to see a lot more board games on iOS in the next couple of years.
It’s easy to see the appeal for board game publishers. When you decide to port a board game to iOS, much of the hard work in designing the game itself is already done, and you benefit from an existing fanbase for your product who will help spread the word about it — marketing is the toughest part of making a successful iOS game, as a lot of devs can tell you firsthand.
Board Game Geek is the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-meets-IMDb of the tabletop gaming world. BGG maintains a database of over 68,000 boardgames, all ranked by the site’s half-million-strong membership. That’s a pretty authoritative list right there.
Which of the board games in BGG’s top 10 can you already play on iOS? And which ones will you be able to play soon? I did a little asking around.
#10 – Le Havre
Status: Available on iOS
2008 board game Le Havre is a quintessential “Euro” board game: light on the theme, but deeply strategic. Players collect resources and compete to develop the titular French port city without overextending themselves.
Update: Codito’s Le Havre has remained a staple on the app store all these years, although there’s more to the story. Much like with Agricola (see below), in the years since Asmodee Digital acquired the rights to the two-player spin-off game, which is called Le Havre: The Inland Port. They made a digital adaptation of that version, which is also available on iOS, as well as Android.
#9 – Mage Knight
Status: In Development
Mage Knight is a big huge genre-mashing game of significant complexity: it marries together lots of mechanics that usually carry whole games by themselves. The one time I tried to play Mage Knight at a board game night, we ran out of beer while we were still learning the game. In other words: an ideal game for a digital conversion, as the iPad can do a lot of the rules interpretation and computational heavy lifting for you.
WizKids, the publishing house who hold the rights to Mage Knight, just launched their very first iPad game: Quarriors, which Dave reviewed for us in December. I asked them about their plans for a digital Mage Knight, and they told me that they were planning on following up Quarriors with another iOS game, they just hadn’t decided which one yet.
Current Situation: It seems nothing became of that plan, because nothing’s turned up in the five years since. However, we did get news back in January 2019 that Dire Wolf Digital had recently acquired the rights to a whole range of digital board game apps, which includes a partnership with WizKids that will involve a new attempt at a Mage Knight port. As of September 2019 it still hasn’t turned up yet – the company decided to work on Raiders of the North Sea first it seems, but we’re hoping Mage Knight will come soon, if not next.
#8 – Power Grid
Status: No Idea
This network-building game (not hugely dissimilar from the popular and easy to learn Ticket to Ride) is a license that Le Havre makers Codito tried to acquire back in 2012 but were rebuffed when publisher 2-F Spiele told them that a digital version was already in the works.
I wasn’t able to dig up anything more recent. Maybe an iPad Power Grid’s release is imminent. Maybe it’s stuck in development hell.
Update: Development hell is most likely – it hasn’t appeared in the years since, and we can’t find any recent information about it.
#7 – Eclipse
Status: No longer available
This science fiction empire-building game was released for iOS last spring to considerable acclaim — here’s Kelsey’s review of it. Polish iOS board game specialists Big Daddy’s Creations don’t shy away from complex games (their previous release was intricate abstract wargame Neuroshima Hex), and they’re still releasing updates for this one.
Current Situation: Despite critical acclaim and a release on Steam and Google Play in 2016 (the Steam version doesn’t have good user reviews), the developer seems to have gone bust and shut down. Due to the lack of post-release support, you can’t currently buy this on any platform (although if you already own it, you can download and play still). The current rumour is that the license holders are looking to make a new app based on the 2nd Edition of the game with a new studio.
#6 – Terra Mystica
Status: Available on iOS & Android
Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be a digital edition of Terra Mystica in the works, and some off-the-record conversations I had suggested that complex IP rights arrangements with Terra Mystica‘s publishers in different regions might make an iOS edition difficult to work out.
Current Situation: Oh ye of little faith. Terra Mystica would get a mobile release on iOS and Android three years later in 2018, developed by digital board game connoisseurs DIGIDICED. It’s so good, it’s on our list of the best mobile board games.
#5 – Android: Netrunner
Status: Yes & No
This William Gibson-inflected cyberpunk card game designed by Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield has been hugely popular since its release in 2012 and publishers Fantasy Flight Games have fed thirst for the game with a steady drip of expansions.
Fantasy Flight are famously quiet on the PR front and wouldn’t comment, but an industry source told me that Android is in the works. Fantasy Flight have been hiring digital artists lately, and since they’re not producing the recently-announced Witcher digital board game in-house, those new bodies have to be working on something. My bet is this.
Current Situation: Except it wasn’t. An official mobile app of the game never materialised, although you can play it via a web browser thanks to jinteki.net. The physical game was also retired in 2018 after a six-year run, meaning that no new card sets or official tournaments will be happening. So far, FFG seems to have turned a blind-eye towards the browser game so that’s your only means of getting that digital fix at the moment.
#4 – Puerto Rico
Status: Available for iOS
The oldest iPad app on this list, Puerto Rico HD has been up on the App Store since 2011 and German board game publisher Ravensburger (who had Codito build the app on their behalf) have updated the game every year to keep it current with new versions of iOS.
Like Codito’s Le Havre above, this game is none-too-friendly UI-wise.
#3 – Agricola
Status: Available for iOS (& Android, sort of)
The second appearance on Board Game Geek‘s top 10 for German game designer Uwe Rosenberg (who also designed Le Havre), Agricola is one of the most remarkable digital board games we’ve ever seen. Players run a medieval European farmstead and attempt to increase the size of their farms while managing to keep their growing families fed.
While it’s true to the rules that made the tabletop game such a huge hit, Playdek’s realisation of the game for iOS brings it to life in a way that only video games can, transforming the game board into a living, breathing farm village. We liked this one so much that we named it the Board Game of the Year and our Runner-up Game of the Year for 2013.
Current Situation: Playdek’s version of the game never made it to Android, and the developer later sold the rights to the game to Asmodee Digital. DIGIDICED created a separate game in 2016 that is the digital adaptation of the two-player variant, Agricola: All Creatures Big & Small. They also sold the rights to Asmodee, and that game is available on iOS & Android. I know.
#2 -Through the Ages
Status: Available on iOS & Android
This Civilization-style empire builder is one of our most anticipated games of 2014, though it’s far from a sure thing that the game will come out this year. The iOS conversion was originally in the hands of Le Havre makers Codito, though the board game’s publisher Czech Games Edition parted ways with them in 2012.
Czech Games Edition head (and TtA designer) Vlaada Chvatil told me this week that work is progressing on Through the Ages for iOS, but that his company’s current focus was the digital edition of Galaxy Trucker. Chvatil said that they were re-doing much of the art that had been made for Through the Ages, suggesting that maybe this one’s going to be on our 2015 most anticipated list, too.
Update: Vlaada Chvatil got in touch to say that he wouldn’t rule out TtA for a 2014 release.
Current Situation: Through the Ages wouldn’t actually turn up until September 2017, although it was well worth the wait. Available on both platforms, it’s also on our list of the best mobile board games. In a rare turn of events, Michael actually enjoys playing the digital game more than the table-top version. In an even rarer turn of events, we learned that not only would Through the Ages be getting its first expansion in September 2019, but that it would be coming to the digital app BEFORE it got a physical release.
#1 – Twilight Struggle
Status: Available in all its glory for iOS & Android
Twilight Struggle is a game that I’ve been getting into myself over the past year. It’s an extraordinarily cerebral head-to-head contest between players taking the roles of the US and the USSR during the Cold War, waging an indirect campaign against one another as you vie for influence with client states and spread your ideology.
First released in 2005 (and designed by XCOM: Enemy Within designer Ananda Gupta), Twilight Struggle has been in the works for PC for years now and release is perennially six months away. Publisher GMT told me that there’s “no concrete plans” for an iPad edition, as all of their efforts are currently focused on the PC version.
Current Situation: The PC & iOS versions of Twilight Struggle would eventually be released by Playdek in 2016, and it was glorious. An Android release followed shortly afterwards, and there was much rejoicing.
Board Game Geek’s Top Ten Board Games September 2019
Now that we’ve resolved 2014’a list, let’s have a quick peak at the list as it stands today to see where we’re at in terms of digital adaptations for mobile. As we’re going to be updating this article semi-regularly, this part especially will change as BGG’s own top ten list changes over time.
If any game needed a digital conversion, it’d be this behemoth of an Adventure/RPG. It’d certainly be a load off everyone’s minds (and backs, for the game weighs 10 kg). It’s definitely coming to PC thanks to Asmodee Digital, and the Early Access kicked off in Jul 2019 – we had Matt take a look at it and come up with some pointers for anyone not familiar with the game.
Unlike past digital ports however, Asmodee haven’t yet committed to mobile versions. Lately we’ve seen more and more mobile games port over to the Nintendo Switch rather than mobile, and we’re a little concerned companies like Asmodee will follow suit. They’re still committed to a Terraforming Mars port (see below), and Scythe technically was supposed to come to mobile, so we imagine these projects will inform the company’s future strategy in this areas.
2. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
Unlikely, given that Legacy games stake their niche on physical alterations and a permanent end-state, concepts which don’t exactly translate well to a digital app. Although that’s not going to stop ACRAM Digital from trying with Charterstone, mind. The original game, Pandemic, already has a digital version that’s quite good, so we imagine that’ll be enough for most people.
3. Terraforming Mars (Up from No. 4)
Coming soon™ since 2018. We were so close to the finish line when the closed beta test started over the summer in 2019, but then the developer decided to go bankrupt. As far as we know, Asmodee Digital has retained the rights and all of the development assets, so we imagine its a case of either trying to complete it themselves or bring another studio on board to finish the port. The PC version has been out for some time, in case you weren’t aware.
4. Through the Ages (Down from No. 3)
Present and accounted for, and waiting for its’ first expansion. See above – I wonder if that’ll help shift it back up to third place?
5. Twilight Struggle
Present and accounted for, see above.
6. Star Wars: Rebellion
Nothing, and probably not going to happen for a few reasons. Like Twilight Struggle, this game simulates a struggle between two factions for ultimate control and is heavy on bluffing and deception. While there’s no reason an AI couldn’t reasonably emulate these qualities, FFG generally doesn’t make digital versions of games. They have a dedicated digital studio now which has been hard at work adapting The Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game into a digital product, but going from that to Rebellion would be a huge leap.
Rebellion is also a premium product of a premium IP so its exclusivity on that front means a digital version might cheapen the game’s status, from a business standpoint.
(While not on iOS, you should all check out the late-90’s grand strategy game of the same name, which is available on Steam. The board game is pretty much a replica in physical form-ED)
7. Twilight Imperium (Fourth Edition) (Up from No. 9)
No, and not in the pipeline for similar reasons as Rebellion above (since FFG owns this one as well). Stretching back aeons (okay, 1997,) this sci-fi game featuring seventeen playable races in its present incarnation (4th ed.) is epic in duration and execution. Its ambitious design has stood the test of time, offering a related tabletop version of the intricacies of 4X genre, what with the conflict of warfare being counterbalanced by technology, economy and general politicking and ‘diplomacy,’ which is as genteel a front for betrayal and vendetta as any.
Given the massive scope, a digital version of this game would be near indistinguishable from a made-from-scratch Space 4X strategy game, and there’s precious few of those on Mobile.
8. Gaia Project (Down from No. 7)
Possibly, especially since its spiritual precursor, Terra Mystica, already has one. If Terra Mystica were re-imagined from the ground up and shot into space, it would look something like Gaia Project, which is a little more sandbox-y and a little less blueprint-y. Still every bit as cutthroat but, going with that space theme, a more capacious and innovative design.
9. Scythe (Down from No. 8)
In Scythe, mechs of fearsome size harvest and gather or wage war across Europe. This Eurogame strikes a tight balance between territorial conflict and engine-building and is well-beloved for its starting factions and their distinct identities and powers.
Asmodee Digital are publishing the Digital Edition, and it was developed by newcomers Knights of Unity. The game was released on Steam in September 2018 after a stint in Early Access, but has yet to make the leap to iOS. There’s been no official word on the mobile port for a while now, but the Invaders from Afar expansion has been released on PC, so at least the game is still being worked on.
10. Great Western Trail
Pfister’s proven himself a designers-to-watch since Mombasa, and his Great Western Trail does not disappoint. Long past are the days when victory point games were inevitably about homeland and empire, now it’s more en vogue to have peripatetic ‘journey’ themed games (Voyages of Marco Polo, the Century series of games). The Great Western Trail tasks players with a herd and a dream and sees them wrassle with dust and disaster. It’s fresh but already feels like a staple of many a game night.
The thirst for an app is ‘being shared with the team’ but no concrete plans have been announced or rumoured so far. 2016 is relatively young in board-game years, and unless you happened to be an Asmodee property, the turnaround for digital editions is years, not months, so don’t hold your breath, this one is likely but only in the far-future.
We hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane – let us know if there are any other older articles you want us to take another look at and update!