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Three great board games jump to iPhone, iPad

I love board games and I've been playing since I was young. Occasionally I look to see how some of my favorites translate to the iPhone and iPad. It's really hit-or-miss. Today, I've looked at three of my favorites: Lords of Waterdeep, San Juan and Wits and Wagers. How do they translate? Roll the dice and find out.

Lords of Waterdeep

"You're sitting in a tavern with your companions when a stranger approaches. 'I have a job for you,' he says."

Lords of Waterdeep

These words, or something very similar, have launched countless Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Lords of Waterdeep from D&D parent company Wizards of the Coast puts you in the role of that stranger. Now, Playdeck has brought the game from the table to the iPhone and iPad (US$6.99), with mostly great results. It retains the board game's look and feel while music and sound effects enhance the atmosphere.

Lords of Waterdeep is a strategy/city-building game. As a secretive Lord of Waterdeep, you must send your agents to recruit adventurers who will complete quests on your behalf. As your influence over the growing city increases, you move closer towards realizing your hidden agenda. There's lots of asset management and strategy in this one, as well as the opportunity to derail your friends. Isn't that what gaming is all about?

At the table, Waterdeep has a big game board and lots of pieces to play with. Agents are meeple and the recruits are those tiny wooden cubes that so many strategy games employ (I'd love to see the machine that makes those). The score is tallied around the perimeter of the board. It's a big board, so clear off the kitchen table before you play. However, it affords a constant overview of what's going on, who owns what building and which assets you can gain on your turn.

On iOS, it's pretty much the same game, depending on the device you choose. Fire it up on an iPad and it's a delight. The board looks great and goes far beyond what the static real-world product can do. Clouds pass overhead and at night, the buildings light up. Ambient noises like wind, creaking doors, gulls and water add a lot to the fun.

As for the pieces, the cards look exactly as they do in with the board game, as do the tokens, meeple and money. Game play is similar, too, if not a little fast when playing against an AI opponent (offline and online play is available). I also love the move history option. To find it, tap your score then tap the scroll icon. You can browse a full run-down of every move that's been made in order.

Where this game suffers is on the iPhone, and that's because the screen is way too small. When you place an agent, the UI zooms in on the section you're playing, hiding the rest of the board. Unfortunately, you really need to see the whole board while making a decision. Yes, you can look ahead of time, but I found myself zooming back out over and over to see what all of my options were. Plus, the AI player takes its turn very quickly, so I often had to stop and review what happened.

My other complaint is that the AI player is just way too good, even on the easy level. Several App Store reviewers agree.

That's a hindrance, but the important things are there: It plays, looks and feels like Lords of Waterdeep. It's fun to play with friends online. Fans of the board game should check it out, provided that they have an iPad (or more patience than me).

San Juan

San Juan iPhone

I've only played this game about a dozen times, but it's one of my favorites. San Juan from Rio Grande Games is a city-building/asset-management card game with many paths to victory. You start by producing goods: silver, tobacco, coffee, sugar and indigo. Proceeds from the sale of those goods are used to construct buildings that offer victory points as various benefits, like reduced building cost, increased production yield and more.

During your turn, each player selects one of several roles, each of which triggers an event that affects all players (the person who made the choice receives a bonus that the others do not). So you must carefully choose a role that will improve your game without giving too much to your opponents.

What's really cool about San Juan is that your cards are also the currency. So, if you want to construct a building that costs three, you must discard three cards from your hand to fund it -- not always an easy choice. As soon as someone builds his/her 12th building, the game is over. It's so much fun and, after you've played a few times, you start to devise strategies, depending on what's happening.

I'm very happy to say that San Juan is equally enjoyable at the table or on an iPhone or iPad ($4.99, universal). Ravensburger Digital has done a super job translating this one. The artwork matches the game pieces perfectly, so it's instantly familiar. Animations of cards moving here and there make it super easy to keep track of what's going on, and the beginning and end of each phase is clearly defined. You can also see how many cards each player has, how many points and who's the lead player instantly. The AI opponents are pretty good but it's best to play with friends online.

San Juan for iOS is a terrific translation. Definitely check it out.

Wits and Wagers

Wits and Wagers iPad

And now, here's one of my favorite family/party games. Wits and Wagers is a simple trivia/guessing game that's beyond easy to play and often hilarious. The idea is to make and/or bet on the best answer to a trivia question.

At the table, each player receives a small dry erase board and a marker, plus two meeple: one large and one small. A separate board is used to keep score. The first person (or team, if you like) to 20 points wins.

At the start of each turn, a question is read aloud, like, "How many men have walked on the moon?" or "How old was the oldest recorded polar bear?" Each player writes his or her answer down in secret. Once revealed, the answers are sorted into numerical order and voting begins. Players put their large meeple on the answer they think is most likely correct, and the smaller one on another answer (or both on the same). You don't have to vote for your own answer. Finally, the answer is revealed and points assigned.

On the iPhone and iPad (free, universal), it's a letdown. The whole fun of a game like this is laughing with the other players. I guess you could do pass-and-play with the iPhone, but it's not the same at all. The game itself plays very well and the graphics are pretty. The developers have even added some peppy music to create a fun atmosphere, but the whole thing emphasized the fact that I was playing a party game by myself, which is kind of depressing.

There you have three board games that play well on the iPhone and iPad. San Juan is my favorite of this group. Check them out and have fun. And in case you were wondering: the oldest recorded living polar bear was 42 years old.

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