Weekly iCross: chairman of the board

, | Features

I’m kind of a board game fan. That photo above is my happy little cabinet of games, and I love it, even though I wish it was about five times bigger. When you live in a dinky overpriced San Francisco one-bedroom with your girlfriend and don’t have room for a proper game table, your options are limited. Fortunately, the iPhone and iPad are fantastic devices for scratching that board game itch. The App Store is chock full of stuff every board gamer should know about, with more piling up all the time.

After the jump: Reiner Knizia has too many apps

Have you heard of Reiner Knizia? If you play “real” board games, the kind that mostly originate in Europe and don’t have “Parker Brothers” or “Milton Bradley” stamped on the box, you have probably seen his name. No, he’s not a web designer from 1990 as you would expect from his site (seriously dude, join us in the 21st century). He’s the creator of lots of award-winning board games like Lord of the Rings, Lost Cities, Amun-Re, Tigris and Euphrates, Tower of Babel, etc. He’s kind of a big deal. What you may not have known about him is that he has apparently fully embraced the iPhone, because he’s got no less than 22 iOS games. Some, like Through the Desert, are adaptations of his classic board games, others are original titles that still function like board games. The quality varies wildly, but they’re worth sticking on your AppShopper watch list.

There’s just something about a touch-exclusive interface that meshes naturally with board games. It’s the way you’re manipulating tiles and pieces on a two-dimensional plane, I guess. What are most board games anyway if not exercises in dragging, placing, and rotating icons and tiles? The turn-based nature is ideal for the imprecise control and limited processing power of today’s touch devices, and makes it easy to play on the go. No wonder so many popular board games have made the jump to iOS. Carcassonne is pricey, but it’s a faithful translation that is fast, beautiful, and features savvy AI players. Neuroshima Hex is probably more famous as an iPhone game than a physical one. Want to introduce your kids to board gaming? Load Children’s Game of the Year The Magic Labyrinth on your iPad. If game publisher business drama is your bag, dive into the current kerfuffle over whether BattleLore.

If you’re looking for an excuse to get an iPad, board gaming may be what you need to push you over the edge. The larger format makes a world of difference for manipulating and visualizing board games. As much as I love playing Small World, I find myself firing up the iPad game more and more and setting up my boxed-up board less and less. Everything is just easier on a touch device. Setup and cleanup are instant. Shuffling and rolling are fair and fast. Keeping track of all the little pieces, adding up scores, keeping stacks of cards and pieces neat and organized — the software does it all for you, so you can spend all your time making your game decisions.

So if you’re into board games, or just sort of want to be, spend some time checking out the offerings on iOS. If you aren’t an iPhone user, this is a serious reason to prefer Apple’s platform over its competitors, which don’t have a fraction of the board games available. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you to the excellent blog on iOS board games over at BoadGameGeek. If you like board games, and have an iPhone/iPad/iTouch, it should be one of your bookmarks or RSS feeds.