App Review: Neuroshima Hex is good, about to get a lot better *UPDATE
The new board game app that's based on the 2006 tabletop game Neuroshima Hex is a lot of things. For a cardboard hex-based game that's reproduced in your pocket, Neuroshima Hex is gorgeous. The artwork is wonderfully clear on a Retina Display, and the part-apocalyptic, part-1950s sci-fi style graphics are very fitting. The gameplay combines tricks from a miniatures-based war game with abstract strategy titles. The music and sound effects are also well done, adding to the tension and mood of the battles. Given that the tabletop version of the game runs about US$30, and the app sells for $2.99 [this review is for Version 1.01], there's very little reason to not check out this app if you're at all interested in the theme or board gaming on your iPhone. Need another reason? The developers say that a universal version of the app with a higher price tag ($4.99) will be coming soon. Want to know more? Read on for what you seek.
Set in the post-apocalyptic world of Neuroshima (a Polish RPG), where machines and monsters fight, Neuroshima Hex is a simple little miniatures game for two to four players where you use hex-shaped pieces to attack an opponent's base. The basic rules are simple. Each turn, you draw up to three tiles and must discard one. Then, you can play tiles onto the board. Once every space on the board is filled, a battle is triggered. The pieces fight, HQs take damage, and you repeat until you're the only one left with any (or the most) hit points on your base. Simple, right? Well, as you probably suspected, there's a lot more to it than this.
First, there are four different army decks of 34 tiles to play with: Borgo, Hegemonia (Hegemony), Moloch, and Posterunek (Outpost). Each army has different units and, thus, different strategies to try out. Unit tiles all have an initiative number, which determines the order in which they will attack, as well as any special abilities, like toughness (the ability to take multiple hits before dying) or ranged weapons.
The game involves lots of luck and strategy. You need to be able to make the best moves with the tiles you draw, and there is a lot of tension in making sure you're placing your pieces in the right place for the battle to come. There are also instant action tiles, which can totally change what's going on. The biggest one? The battle tile, which starts a fight right away, before the board fills up. Nothing is ever certain in a chaotic game of Neuroshima Hex, and this is a good thing.
Like Kingsburg, Neuroshima Hex is not the easiest game to figure out by playing the app. In Kingsburg, the problem was the lack of an overview screen. In Neuroshima Hex, the problem is figuring out what your tiles do. Unit tiles have different strengths and abilities that are described using little icons on each piece. At first, these will be overwhelming because, sadly, the app doesn't currently make it easy to duck out of the action in order to figure out what the heck is going on. The easiest method would be to simply have a pop-up window appear if you touch and hold a tile. Right now, you need to pause the game, then drill to the manual and then into the unit descriptions. The developers promise that a change to the way players can access this information is coming soon. Right now, there is a decent video tutorial and a well-written manual to guide you.
There are three levels of AI difficulty (easy, medium, and hard) and three speeds (slow, normal, fast) to challenge you. A poll – with an admittedly small sample size – says that the game's AI is quite good, and I found that to be true in my games. You can play the game with between two and four human or computer opponents, so props for the flexibility.
No app is perfect, though, and one of the minor problems in Neuroshima Hex is the inability of the game to turn off automatic screen dimming. Since battles are "lovingly" animated and take a while to play out without requiring any input from the player, the screen often darkens before it's over. The developers have promised on the app's website to fix this in a future update, and they've also said that they'll add asynchronous multiplayer (which means being able to play multiple matches at once and also being able to leave a game in the middle and come back later, as you can do in Samurai), so big things are on the horizon.
I'd also, as usual, like an Undo button. A sort of win/loss tracker would also be nice, but that might be implemented once Game Center support is added. Speaking of Game Center, the developers were going to make a separate HD version of Neuroshima Hex, but decided against it. The problem? The way Game Center works. Its services are dedicated for single application use only, so according to the developers, "someone who bought Neuroshima Hex for iPhone will not be able to use Game Center's matchmaking to play with someone else with Neuroshima HD." Achievements and purchased expansions won't transfer from an iPhone version to an iPad version, either, so rather than making a separate HD version, the developers are doing a universal build instead.
There are a lot of expansions for the tabletop game available – with great names like Babel13, Doomsday Machine and Mad Bomber – that have yet to make it into the app. Here's hoping that they enter the iOS version sooner rather than later.
There is a short video of the app in action and a longer one reviewing the game below.
UPDATE: A new version is out, and it's got some serious upgrades. Read all about it here.
UPDATE #2: The developer sent us this note, announcing a free lite version of the app:
Neuroshima Hex Lite is a fully functional version of Neuroshima Hex except one thing – player is only limited to play with Borgo (one of armies) against Hegemony (another army) controlled by AI on Easy. After testing game, player is only one tap away from getting the full Neuroshima Hex version – he (she) simply needs to use the 'Get Full Version' button in the menu. Everything player will see in the Lite version is also a part of the full version – Twitter and Facebook integration, army browser and later iPad and Retina support.
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