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Friday, January 7, 2011

Review: Samurai (Reiner Knizia's Samurai, on iPad)

With a large, high definition screen (by portable standards), and an easy-to-use touch screen, the iPad is a natural fit for some genre.

One pleasant surprise is that it is leading a renaissance of board games in videogame form. By nature these are games that are best played locally, and with everyone able to participate at once. The iPad is easy to pass around and easy to take with you on trips – the perfect vehicle for a portable board game, in other words.

So in recent months we’ve seen good-to-great versions of Monopoly, Scrabble, Risk and other mainstream board games. What hasn’t been so well-publicised, but is perhaps more exciting, is the wave of Eurogames that has also hit the App Store.

Catan is good, and Carcassonne is great, but perhaps the best (though relatively unknown) so far is Reiner Knizia’s Samurai.

Though he’s not a household name, Knizia is responsible for some of the most entertaining eurogames of recent years. Samurai follows his typical modus operandi – it’s a simple game where you’ll be placing tiles around a Hex-based map of Japan to try and surround key locations with the highest “points,” thus winning that location.

Like any Eurogame, Samurai takes literally five minutes to learn how to play, but the strategies to win become increasingly more complex as you become experienced in the game. That inspiration to keep playing and improving is quite high.

On the iPad, Samurai looks and sounds good. The map is well drawn, the animations are minimalistic, but attractive, and the music is forgettable, but not offensive. More importantly, the interface never distracts, and causes you to make a move you didn’t mean to.

Local multiplayer is easy to set up and player’s names are saved for future games. There’s even an online play available, and for busy people it can be set up so you have up to a day to make each move. That leads to some very drawn-out games, but you can juggle multiple games at once.

For practice, there is some basic AI patterns built in, but once you’re equipped with the basic idea of how the game works, you’ll outsmart it easily enough.

But all-up Samurai deserves all credit for doing what it says on the box – provides a clutter-free but aesthetically appealing board game that everyone, from child through grandmother, can enjoy. It’s inexpensive and small in size – just the kind of thing that is good to keep seated on the device for those family parties that are starting to drag.

Review: Samurai (Reiner Knizia's Samurai, on iPad)
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