“Stealth board game” isn’t exactly a common genre, but it’s the best way to describe Hitman GO, the debut project from Square Enix’s new Montreal studio. It strips down and repurposes classic stealth mechanics from the popular console and computer assassination game series, and the result is a novel experience that’s perfectly suited for the App Store. Hitman GO takes place on a series of game boards with a grid overlay, populated by security guards, night watchmen, and unwitting police officers.
Compared to most popular collectible card games, Blizzard's Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is relatively straightforward. Simple rules make it incredibly welcoming to new players, but they also allow for elegant strategies and varied tactical possibilities. Unfortunately, as a free-to-play game, Hearthstone runs into the same problems that have long plagued tabletop card games: it's hard to get worthwhile new cards without breaking the bank.
Death comes in many flavors in FTL: Faster Than Light for iPad. Will your crew slowly suffocate from depleted oxygen? Be eviscerated by carnivorous space spiders? Get caught by the heavily armed armada fleet that's always in hot pursuit—or something far worse, perhaps? An unpleasant fate is almost a certainty in this challenging strategy affair, but the push to survive and conquer the obstacles thrown your way with each light jump is where FTL's magic lies.
Supercell's Boom Beach sticks close to the basic formula established by mega-hit predecessors Clash of Clans and Hay Day, but it brings an enticing new combat system that grants you greater control over your own fate. It's war of oceanic proportions, as you work to liberate the natives of one island after another from the evil Blackguard (as well as from rival players). Your goals boil down to two needs: keeping your headquarters protected from invaders—with help from an assortment of mines, defensive buildings, and strategic placement—and building up an army strong enough to take down the headquarters of any island not under your control.
First Strike grants a God's-eye view of the end of all things, and inadvertently shows us the beauty in chaos. Like trout leaping from water, nuclear bombs plop down to Earth, slaughtering millions. Mushroom clouds bud like fungi on lumber, and the stars, unjudging, watch Ragnarok in the inky blackness beyond. Were it not for radial menus popping up and shifting national boundaries, a passing observer might mistake it for a new feature in Google Earth.
Block Fortress: War tries valiantly to narrow the focus of its stellar, open-ended base building and first-person tower defense predecessor, but it misfires repeatedly and never quite lives up to its potential. Foursaken Media once again tackles a Minecraft-esque universe of war-torn block races, this time constructing a campaign around relatively linear battles wherein you have partial command of a hero and his minions, plus full control over the placement of defensive blocks, turrets, and bombs.
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.
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.
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.