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App Review: Michael Schacht's Gold! is simply good

Michael Schacht's Gold for iPhone

Michael Schacht's Gold! is the first card game we know of to be released simultaneously as an iDevice app and a physical product. The game is making its virgin appearance on the App Store as a US$2.99 universal app today and at the Nuremberg International Toy Fair, which starts today in Germany. This tiny bit of history doesn't make the game any better or worse than it would be otherwise, but it does show that some designers are willing to work with app developers to try and attract a digital audience before making sure their game is a hit on the tabletop.

Perhaps the reason for the dual debut is that this isn't the first time a Schacht design has hit the App Store. The video-gamey port of Zooloretto is well-done, and there's also an unlicensed clone of Schacht's game Coloretto called Chameleon out there. What is Gold! all about? Donkeys, stealing cards and trying to get the most gold. Keep reading to see what I mean.




The Game

Gold! is a simple but interesting game. You start with a 60-card deck made up of six colors. I couldn't find a list of what cards are in the deck, but could see that the "good" cards in each color are the gold pieces valued like this: 3-3-4-5-6-7-8. There are also two "bad" donkey cards in each color, worth -2 points. What the tenth card in each color is eludes me.

In any case, each player starts the game with a donkey card. You take two cards out of the game (just to keep things random, a nice move) and then put five cards in the middle of the table. You can see what cards your opponent(s) has in hand (Gold! is a two- or three-player game), so there's no memory involved in making your decisions each turn. Each turn, you then do one of three things:
  • Pick up the lowest-value card from the middle row
  • Put down a gold card to take a lower-value gold card
  • Exchange a donkey for any gold card
The reason for all of this picking up and exchanging is that you're trying to collect sets of three cards in the same color. Each time you get three, they get added to your score pile (with the score being whatever positive and negative values are on the cards) and then possibly steal a card from an opponent. You can only take a card, though, if there's one available in a color not already in your hand.

This is why donkeys are valuable; they can nab you good cards from the center row at an opportune time. Of course, if a donkey happens to be one of the three cards in a color triplet, they'll weigh down your score. Sometimes this is an OK trade to make. Matching up a -2 with a 6 and an 8, for example, is a fine move.

As soon as the last card in the middle row is taken, you deal five new cards and so on through the deck. Once all the cards are claimed, whoever has the highest total of each color left in hand gets to score the most valuable card of that color. Add everything up and hit reset. You can read the in-app game rules here.


Michael Schacht's Gold for iPhone

The App

Since the game was just released, we're obviously reviewing Version 1.0 here. The good news is that Gold! feels as polished as other apps after a few revisions. Anyone who has played any of RPGNet's other games – Money, High Society or Kingdoms – will feel right at home playing Gold! The interface is almost identical, and that's a great thing. RPGNet and Skotos Tech originally developed the MobileEuroCard gaming engine for the Money app, and it is serving them well with all of these releases. Moving a donkey onto a more valuable card is easy and works perfectly, and once you find the sweet spot in the middle of your hand of cards to dump cards from the center onto, it's no problem to pick them up, either.

The game makes figuring out your choices each turn easy. There are little gold dots above the lowest value card so that you know which card(s) you can take. There is a little blue dot to identify whose turn it is and reminder text describing what you can do that turn.

The graphics aren't anything special, but they don't need to be. All you need to focus on here are the number combinations. The only thing that would be nice would be some sort of color-blind assistance icons instead of just the colors to differentiate the suits. RPGNet has also added sounds to the MobileEuroCard engine, so we can expect to hear improvements in the company's earlier games as well.

RPGNet has also included a nice variety of options, with three levels of AI players (but even the "hardest" is beatable without breaking a mental sweat), five levels of AI playing speed and either the two- or three-player game. Because everything works so smoothly and the app takes care of shuffling and scoring, a game takes very little time. You can probably start and finish one in 90 seconds if you're fast. Overall, Gold! is a simple affair, and you'll probably feel like you've figured it all out after a dozen or so plays. Still, this is a fine digital diversion and recommended for card game fans.




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Gaming iPhone App Review iPad

Michael Schacht's Gold! is the first card game we know of to be released simultaneously as an iDevice app and a physical product. The...