Here we find that most elusive of creatures: a 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) strategy game for iOS that's not compromised by a free-to-play model. Autumn Dynasty Warlords scores a victory on that front alone. This tale of martial ambition in ancient China may have a harder time conquering on some other fronts, but its simple strengths usually suffice to rout its flaws. It's essentially Shogun: Total War Lite, delivering a compact take on that PC favorite. Warlords is designed for conquests on 10-minute subway rides, and thus it lacks the depth of, say, Sid Meier's Civilization – though what's here does the trick.
Arithmetic has never been so strangely fun as in Calculords, a collectible card game from developer Ninja Crime and comedy writer Seanbaby that puts math calculations at its very core. It has a bit of a learning curve, and its NES-inspired retro art style may prove divisive, but there’s a lot to like once you get over that initial hump. Computer-controlled opponents give as good as — or even better than — they get, complete with snappy taunts and humorous sci-fi-referencing one-liners, and you can easily find yourself locked in battles for hours without noticing how much time has passed.
If there's one thing that playing Out There expertly imparts, it's that space can be a cold, lonely, and rather depressing place. The dangerous homeward journey of a cosmic explorer lost amongst the stars proves pretty grim in this turn-based sci-fi explorer. With fuel, oxygen, and ship repair materials in short supply, every light jump in the right direction also pushes you closer to the potential for a premature demise. It's gloomy stuff to be sure, but it pairs well with the intensely moody atmosphere and comic book presentation, which make the experience feel distinct from what's come before.
While we can generally figure out how to operate most new apps with little instruction, Peek Calendar required a trip to the tutorial before we got started — one of several we made during the course of reviewing the app. It's not so much that Peek is overloaded with powerful features or intricate gestures, but rather it rarely led us in any logical direction. Peek Calendar pushes the iOS 7 human interface guidelines to their limits with its ridiculously minimal, gesture-heavy approach, but while it tries to limit the amount of time you spend interacting with your calendar, its unique concept is ultimately too smart for its own good.
Social networking is a great tool for groups or businesses to communicate with the masses, but getting the message out across multiple services can be like pulling teeth. Like most everything these days, there’s an iPhone app for just such a purpose — no toothache necessary. Postcard is a free app for iPhone that simplifies the task of cross-posting to multiple social networks at once. Rather than switching between different apps or services, you'll simply tap out your missive once and then sit back as it’s posted to the relevant websites of your choosing.
Every notes app worth its salt needs to strike a balance between form and function, combining speed, effortless navigation, and easy organization into a simple tool that gets out of our way as we work. UpWord Notes doesn't just hit all of these marks — it does so in such an elegant way, we can't help but wonder if we've finally found the perfect app for quick note taking.
Handy Photo's unique user interface makes it fast and fun to edit images from a mobile device, whether that's an iPhone or an iPad. Name a feature and it’s probably on Handy Photo’s checklist, along with convenient tricks such as Move Me, which allows an object from one photo to be transported to another in just a few taps. For those who aren’t so easily impressed, Handy Photo also includes Magic Crop, which allows photos to be “uncropped” by dragging any edge beyond the available image, then automatically healing the remaining space left behind. While results vary depending upon the type of image, the feature performed quite admirably in our testing.
Thanks in no small part to Bejeweled and Candy Crush, match-three puzzle games have made a curious resurgence in recent years, especially within the mobile market. We’ve seen match-threes dressed up as dungeon crawlers, medical simulations, pet shops, and even a shanty-laden pirate drama. Another Case Solved, the latest such app from Chillingo, tosses a few additional mini-games into the mix and goes the way of the 1940s-era private detective.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then PopCap must feel downright exalted upon spotting this new casual tower-defense affair. Trolls vs Vikings is so similar to the massively successful Plants vs. Zombies that the two would be barely discernible if not for this game’s slightly cruder art style. Almost every friendly and enemy unit and gameplay element has a direct analogue, and while Trolls vs Vikings is competently designed and tries to improve the groundwork that PopCap laid, it whiffs on some of the fundamentals.
Foursaken Media barely misses a beat on Bug Heroes 2. It takes 2011’s hit tower defense/dual-stick shooter/real-time strategy hybrid and pumps out a cool, fun, great-looking, and fast-paced sequel that ups the ante on just about everything (but sadly marginalizes the story of feuding bugs). Strategic nuances mix brilliantly here with arcade-style action, and the mission, skirmish, and endless modes alike all offer plenty of variety in the flow of play — though not in terms of scenery, as only three maps are included.