There are a number of different ways iPad developers are handling the board games that are proliferating on the device. Some opt to create a robust AI and online multiplayer gaming experience, such as Ticket to Ride.
Others try and recreate the experience of playing a board game on a table, with games like Small World and Monopoly HD acting as though the players are sitting around a table – which means if you’re playing solo the AI player is essentially upside down.
Cargo Runners goes one step further, and eliminates the AI entirely. This is quite literally a board game, designed around having the iPad set down on a table, and people sitting around it. It means that sometimes it’ll be difficult to get a game going, and eliminates it as a way to pass time on the train commute to work, but for those social gatherings, this is brilliant stuff.
|Board game maps are always fun|
Superficially, Cargo Runners shares some similarities with Ticket to Ride. There is a map (in this case, a global map), with a number of paths (shipping lanes) drawn between locations. The resemblance stops there, though. In this game, you’re playing as a cargo ship, travelling from location to location picking up goods to sell back at port. The goal of the game is to pick up the right combination of goods (one per each coastal city) to complete a ‘contract’ request at each port. The winner is the one who amasses a set amount ($8, $10 or $12 million, depending on how many people are playing).
This doesn’t take too long, since the contracts tend to be worth quite a lot of money. On the other hand, there are tactical cards that people can use to help themselves or hinder their opponents – from the basic (additional goods) through to the downright nasty (take a contract from Sydney and drop it somewhere in North America when someone else is about to complete it.
Like many modern board games, the element of luck is kept pretty low. There are dice rolls, but they rarely have a decisive impact on the game. It’s largely a skill based game, but in a very gentle fashion – like the best Eurogames, this is a genuine family-friendly experience.
|They’re not lying – this game takes about 10 minutes to learn|
The presentation is also top-notch too. Cargo Runners looks like a classic board game, with chunky models for ships and a colourful map.
It’s just a pity that it can be difficult to get a game going. Without AI, and with a fairly barebones online structure, games like Ticket to Ride are far more attractive – you know you’re going to be up and playing quickly.
That said, the developers are promising to build out the game, with robust AI for solo player mode, and Game Center integration for asynchronous multiplayer (i.e, play-by-email) – a brilliant idea for people that only want to play in short bursts, and one that has worked really well with other iPad board games like Reiner Knizia’s Samurai.
For a team of just two to come up with a board game that is so well refined and balanced, this is a must have. It’s thin on the play options at the moment, but not for much longer, and either way, board games this well balanced, and this much fun, don’t come by often.