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Author Archives: AnnaMaria Jackson-Phelps

Kickstarter Preview: Psi Wars

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It is the 37th century. Competing warlords have harnessed the knowledge of creation, using it to create powerful armies. This knowledge has spread across the galaxy unchecked causing mass-extinctions. Most of humanity has been wiped out. The Galactic Alliance has enlisted your help. Hyper-Card technology allows you to take part in planetary battles and help re-establish order in the galaxy.

In Psi Wars you’ll use advanced technologies to create an army of forces in order to fight for control of your planet. Creatures battle psyonically, physically, and through cyber attacks. To win, a player must use their army to crush their opponent’s forces and reduce their lab to 0.

Developed by Michael Wohl (a self professed old school gamer) and his son, Adeev (who usually wins their games), Psi Wars is a fast playing futuristic themed deck builder for 2-4 players. I chatted with the boys about Psi Wars and the game design process in anticipation of their Kickstarter launch.

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What prompted the development of Psi Wars?

Michael: My son Adeev and I have been playing games for years, including all sorts of card games. Since I have been a gamer for 40 years and an an entrepreneur for 30 (thanks to gaming) – I had a lot of experience to pull from, both as a gamer and a developer. I really felt games that had absolutes, such as games where a 5 always beat a 4) were missing important elements of life. A 5 has a better chance of beating a 4, but not 100%. In life there are no absolutes, which could be reflected in a game. We realized that we could create a multi-dimensional game that had relatively simple rules with tremendous degrees of freedom of decision-making. This would lead to highly creative strategies – a beautiful balance of creativity and reasoning. We went through so many iterations and refinements together. I like Decision-Making research, Game Theory, etc, which is at the heart of Psi Wars.

Adeev: My dad and I like to play a lot of games and watch movies together. We started bending rules of some games and really enjoyed the process. We thought we could expand this idea.

What did you think about the design/playtesting process? What did you like/dislike?

Adeev: It was a really fun and educational experience. I was able to create something from my imagination. I kept thinking of new cards and abilities and would share them with my dad. I created spreadsheets with tons of ideas. It was really fun doing this with my dad, we learned a lot together and I now know what it takes to launch a business.

 I was always a bit impatient about getting the game out there and always excited for new ideas. I even started counting down the days until launch. I even get to go to game conventions for ‘work.’ I mean, how cool is that?

Michael: The design and play testing was a highlight of the entire process. Our goal was a beautifully balanced game. Every time we changed a small rule it would change us and how we played. We’d see if there was a way to ‘game’ the rules, etc. Once it was refined, we sought highly sophisticated players of other strategic card games and their reaction was wonderful – nobody has played anything quite like Psi Wars. It was invigorating to recognize the excitement they found in playing our game. The other piece was working with all of the artists around the world to create an artistic vision that works also as 3D animated lenticular cards. We were lucky to work with some amazing people to produce outstanding art. Everyone flips out over the 3D cards. From the start, we wanted the game to be mesmerizing from an artistic and sensory perspective. I think holding back Psi Wars until it was really ready to launch was hard. We worked on it for over 2.5 years and we are dying for people to play it. We are very curious to see what all of the amazing minds in the world do when they start to construct/personalize their own decks and strategies. We have non-random expansion packs in the works.

What do you hope your audience gets/takes away from the game?

Michael: Really appreciating the card art while kicking some serious butt through mind-bending strategies that make you jump up and down and scream like we do when we play.  A new joy that playing Psi Wars brings through creative strategy and decision-making. Navigating the fog of war with perfectly imperfect information, which helps so much to understand how to thrive in the world.

Adeev: I hope they have as much fun and enjoyment as we do playing Psi Wars.

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Psi Wars is great intro to deck builders for new players and a intensely fast playing game for experienced ones with striking art that really evokes its sci-fi theme. Check it out on Kickstarter May 15th. Keep up with their progress and updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Indie Game Spotlight: Fire Tower

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Smoke rises on the horizon. A fire rages somewhere in the heart of the forest. From the height of a fire tower, you command the efforts to defend your tower and take down your opponents. With each turn, the inferno grows. Harness the power of the wind to push the blaze towards the other towers, clear tracts of land to fortify your tower, hinder the plans of your opponents with torrents of water, and unleash an arsenal of fire cards upon your foes.

Fire Tower is a strategic pattern laying and hand management for developed by Brooklyn and Martha’s Vineyard-based designers Samuel Bryant and Gwen Ruelle. The rules are simple to learn and explain, but an ever changing environment mean no two games will ever be the same. Set up takes seconds, and you can achieve a heavier games by trying the team variant. Also, the artwork (Kevin Ruelle) is striking.

Our own Crymson Pleasure had an opportunity to talk to Runaway Parade co-founder Gwen about their work on Fire Tower, currently on Kickstarter.

Tell us about the game.

Fire Tower is a 2-4 player competitive forest fire game where players must fight fire with fire. Most fire games are cooperative with players working together to beat back the flames and contain the chaos, but in Fire Tower your only objectives are to protect your own tower and send the flames towards your opponents.

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The wind is one of the main mechanics in the game, an unrelenting force that continually swells the flames. At the start of each player’s turn they must expand the fire in the current wind direction. Players also have a hand of five action cards that allow them to influence events on the board. Wind cards allow players to harness the destructive force of the gale and direct it at their opponents. Fire cards give the ability to add various patterns of fire to the board, and each variety has its own tactical advantages. Water cards beat back the flames and slow the efforts of determined opponents. Firebreak cards allow players to remove combustible vegetation and create barriers to block the encroaching flames. Every tower comes equipped with a trusty bucket for use in emergency situations. Also beware the Firestorm card, whose destructive power appears once per deck cycle and will dramatically expand the blaze.

To succeed in Fire Tower players must learn to effectively manage the resources in their hands, and use sound spatial planning to deploy them. The game incorporates an intuitive play structure that takes minutes to learn and requires negligible set-up. Each card includes a grid that visually explains the ways it can be used, saving new players from having to constantly refer to the rulebook. Although the core mechanics are easy to grasp, an ever shifting environment forces players to switch up their tactics and experiment with varied strategies, making Fire Tower a difficult game to master and each play through a fresh experience.

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What was your inspiration to create it?

The guiding idea that led to the of the creation of Fire Tower was that we wanted a mechanic that would force players to work against an unstoppable force, something that could be slowed but never contained, a growing sense of urgency, a situation that became more unmanageable over time. We wanted players to not only contend with their opponents but also the personality of the game, something more unpredictable than the other people sitting around the table. We also wanted a theme that felt underutilized in tabletop, and a forest fire game, especially a competitive one, felt like it fit all this criteria. The moment of inspiration for joining the theme and mechanics actually occurred while we were on a walk in the state forest in Massachusetts. Research into forest fires really helped guide the development of the game.

When should we expect to see it? 

After working on the game for almost 3 years we’re happy to announce that we’ll be launching our Kickstarter on April 24th! In the meantime, we’ll be at several conventions. Find us on Facebook to see where we are headed next!

Follow Runaway Parade on Twitter and Facebook for the latest news about Fire Tower. 

Purse and Pocket Games – Good Things Come in Small Packages

Waiting. The average person spends six months of their lives waiting – in queues, for service, and on hold. Some of us fidget, some doodle, some mess around on their phones. ALL of us wish we had a better way to pass the time.

With the rise in the popularity of filler games (usually designed specifically to ‘fill’ the gaps in gaming rounds or waiting for players) and efficient storage design, several publishers are hoping to help turn wait time into play time. Sometimes called ‘Purse’ or ‘Pocket’ games, these are small enough to be carried anywhere, usually can be confined to small playing spaces (like a pub table) and play in as few as five minutes.

From a recent poll at Analog Game Grrls, some Real Women of Gaming favorites:

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Hive Pocket
Use your insects to surround your opponent’s queen before they surround yours. This two player tile placement game takes about 10-15 mins to play and is both lighter and smaller than its full sized counterpart.

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Mint Works
Be careful not to mistake this tiny worker placement game for your favorite breath mints. Mint Works accommodates 1-4 players and takes about 20 mins to play. Mint Delivery (its fiendishly cool little brother) is currently available on Kickstater .

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Pack-O-Games
Actually a series of various games from publisher Perplext, these games fit in a box the size of a pack of gum! With games ranging from trick taking to area control to set collection, a handful will fit in the the smallest of bags and still provide lots of entertainment!

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Coloretto
Part set collection, part press your luck, Coloretto will have passerby’s stopping for a second look. Player count from 2-5 make this another great game for a variable group. Younger players will catch on quick, but more experienced players will still enjoy it.

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Red 7
The first rule of Red 7 is to play the highest card. But the rules of Red 7 are meant to be changed. Be the last one holding cards to win in this think-y little hand management game. Two to four players, with rounds that can last as few as five minutes.

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Love Letter
With just 16 cards, Love Letter packs a great punch for such a compact game. Risk, deduction, luck, and manipulation will triumph in this classic for 2-4 players.

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Fluxx
No two games of Fluxx are the same. Be the first to collect the items needed for the game winning condition but be aware, that condition can change with the laying of a new card. This popular little hand management game has several iterations, from Pirates to Anatomy. Game time is variable – sometimes five mins, sometimes close to a half hour.

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Pass the Pigs
This “dice” rolling game has been around for decades. The object – roll your plastic pigs into any one of several configurations to score points. First player to 100 wins. Its decidedly not strategic, just good hog tossing fun for a whole table full of players!

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Game of Trains
Sort your line of trains from descending to ascending order. This 2-4 player pattern building game has a little larger place space and play time than the rest of the list but was a big winner for overall strategy and art.

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Pairs
In this fun little press your luck game players are attempting to collect pairs through a hit or pass system. Hands are fast, and there are several art types to choose from. Two to eight players means this one can occupy everyone at the family table.

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Gloom
In Gloom you have one mission – make your characters suffer the most tragic fates before their untimely ends. With Edward Gorey-like art this will be a winner with horror fans. Long playing time at almost an hour, however, so maybe save this one for the midnight release line.

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Flip Hue
This set collection game for 3-6 seems simple, but with double sided cards, you’re only playing half the game! Games can take as little as five mins or as man as thirty, just watch out for that flip card.

Follow AnnaMaria Jackson-Phelps at Girls Play Games. And keep up with all the latest gamer news with Real Women of Gaming on Facebook and Twitter

Kickstarter Preview: The Primary by Mountaintop Games

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Do you have what it takes to win the nomination? The Primary is a strategy game for 1-4 players currently on Kickstarter. Travel the country, host rallies and fundraisers, and predict your opponents’ strategies in order to earn the most delegates and win the game! And – no politics involved!

This week I chatted with The Primary’s designer, Matt Quock, to talk game design, diversity, and the election process.

Why politics? Just an intriguing theme or motivated by the current climate?
I was definitely influenced by the last election cycle and the idea of a game based on the primary election process struck me as something potentially unique. I thought it could make for a neat mechanic how the different states vote at different points in time, as opposed to the general election. I understand politics can be a divisive topic and the theme is probably love/hate for a board game, but after developing the game, I couldn’t seem to find another theme that would match the mechanics as well.
How long have you been working on it?
I’ve been working on The Primary for just over a year. Somehow it seems both like a really long time ago and also like it was just yesterday. As my first “real” game design, it has been a tremendous learning experience – and especially on the business / Kickstarter side of things.

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There’s great diversity in the candidate cards – was inclusivity a goal while creating the game?
Yes, it was. I think it is important for everyone to be involved in the democratic process and make sure their voices are heard. That being said, I wanted to make sure a lot of different people were represented in the game. I also think the same idea of diversity is important with the board game industry and hopefully inclusive / accessible games will help get more people interested in the hobby.

Do you think The Primary would be a good way to teach/learn about the election process? 

I think it will be a good jumping-off point for people to learn about the primary election process. While The Primary doesn’t follow the exact real-life process, it shows how the primary election is unique and pretty different from the general election. It will be a good way for kids and adults alike to learn about how political parties elect their final nominees for President and the News cards also provide some glimpses of more complex political concepts that hopefully create some curiosity.
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With the growing number of people that play solo, the ELECT-O-BOT solo variant is an outstanding idea. Why did you develop a single player mode?
Honestly, a big factor was some of the board game design podcasts that I listen to. I heard a few interviews with solo game designers and the concept intrigued me. It was a unique design challenge, but it’s also definitely a trend that people look for in new games, like you mentioned. I’ve also played a few solo board games (whether a variant or a standalone design) and can appreciate their value.
What do you hope the average player takes away from the game? 
First and foremost, I hope players enjoy themselves playing The Primary. If it’s not fun for them, then there’s not much of point in playing a game 🙂 After that, it would be great if The Primary could be a way to get players curious and more interested in the political process.

The Primary has a week left on Kickstarter – back your copy today! The game is published by Mountaintop Games – keep up with their progress on twitter.

Follow AnnaMaria Jackson-Phelps at Girls Play Games. And keep up with all the latest gamer news with Real Women of Gaming on Facebook and Twitter

Review: Herbaceous – a Visual Feast

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As an avid gardener and foodie, I felt a little like Herbaceous was directly marketed to me. While I’m not usually a fan of push your luck games, its gorgeous, watercolor style art caused me to overlook that in order to get a peak at all the beautiful cards inside. I wasn’t disappointed – Herbaceous is a feast for the eyes.

This little press your luck style set collection game is geared towards 1-4 players, and games take about 15 mins. The best play seems to be with max players as it really intensifies the nail-biting intensity of each round. The rules are simple enough that you could teach everyone at the table in less that five minutes.

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How to Play

On each player’s turn they’ll take one or two steps:
The first step (potting) is optional. Each player has a set of 4 pots in which to plant their herbs. Every pot holds a specific set of cards – different herbs, identical herbs, pairs, or any combination of three. Pots can only be used once per game, so when and how much you plant is an important part of your strategy. To pot, the player collects all the appropriate herbs from their personal garden and/or the community garden and places them under the appropriate pot card.

The second step (planting) is performed each turn. The player draws a card from the stack in the center either places it it face up in their personal garden or the community garden. Another card is drawn and and placed it in the location not selected for the first card.

Play continues until all the herbs have been planted. Each player gets one more turn after that and then points for the pots are tallied.

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Opinion

As I mentioned above, it didn’t take much (any) arm twisting to get me to try Herbaceous. What I was particularly happy to discover was that I genuinely like the game play and mechanics just as well as I like the serene herb and potting pictures. Its never taken me more than three or four minutes to completely explain the game to someone else. While game play can occasionally be tense, most turns are both quick and simple enough that you can carry on a conversation easily while playing.

My only complaint would be that it can get repetitive after a few back-to-back plays. To that end I hope to see an expansion in the future.

Most would consider this a filler game or palette cleanser, but its enjoyable enough that I’ve pulled it out just to play a few rounds with the kids. Because of its simple rules and relatively quick play time, it makes an outstanding family game.

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Wrapup

If you like games on the lighter side or are looking for an addition to the family game shelf, Herbaceous is a must buy. If you like denser material or dislike filler games, give this a miss.

Herbaceous was designed by Eduardo Baraf, Steve Finn, and Keith Matejka, and published by Pencil First Games. Art is by Beth Sobel and Benjamin Shulman.

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Herbaceous Sprouts, a related, stand alone dice game, will be available on Kickstarter this May.

Summer Reading List: Books Based on Games and Games Based on Books

Whether it’s for listening to on Audible while working out or as we’re starting to plan that poolside novel list, most of us are always on the lookout for great book recommendations. Did you know there are more book/game tie-ins than just Lord of the Rings and Rainbow Six? Consider incorporating some of your favorite games into your spring and summer reading with our favorite books that inspired great games, or were inspired by them:

Witcher

The Witcher

The Witcher is based on a collection of short stories by Andrezej Sapkowski. The success of The Saga, the full-length novels following the short stories, prompted its video game adaptation. The games take place about thirty years after the Saga. There are several books in total including a prequel, and the newest, Season of Storms, comes out in May.

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S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games are based on a 1970s novel called Roadside Picnic. In the novel, the Zones are restricted areas visited and then abandoned by aliens. The book follows the  an experienced stalker who ventures into the Zone to find valuable artifacts. The novels pre-dated Chernobyl, but the site made a terrific setting for the dark and moody video game adaptation.

 

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Dragon Age
The first Dragon Age novel served as a prequel to Dragon Age: Origins in 2009. Since then there have been five novels based on the series, set in a among the games. These are consistently ranked well by Dragon Age players on Goodreads, and provide a lot of depth insofar as the history of Thedas before and during the games. The first three novels are written by David Gaider, Dragon Age‘s lead writer.

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Gears of War
Written by award winning author Karen Traviss, this series really fleshes out the Gears of War story. Originally expected to be a trilogy, the five GoW novels weave in and out of the games, offering perspective of the events you’ve played as well as those you’ve only heard mentioned. Additionally, there are many backstories are here as well, fleshing out several familiar characters.

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Halo
Would it surprise you to learn that there are more Halo books than there are games? There are currently twenty five novels set in the Halo-verse, with a new one, Halo: Bad Blood, set for release this year. Originally this extended universe was not overseen by Bungie publishing, which created a few canonical issues that were changed between the books and games. Since the advent of 343 Industries, the writing process the book and games stories have become much more consistent and intertwined.

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Metro 2033
Metro 2033 is based on a 2005 novel of the same name by Dmitry Glukhovsky. As in the game, the book takes place in the subway system Moscow after it is devastated by nuclear holocaust and the main player-character is the same as the book’s protagonist. Glukhovsky himself worked on the adaptation.

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Uncharted
Uncharted: the Fourth Labyrinth is a great addition to a series rich in myth and story. This book follows Nate and Sully on a fortune hunting adventure in between the 2nd and 3rd games.  Written by best selling author Christopher Golden, its a must-read for fans of the Uncharted franchise.

Got another suggestion for a great, game based read? Add it in the comments!

Follow me at Girls Play Games. And keep up with all the latest gamer news with Real Women of Gaming on Facebook and Twitter

There’s an App for That – Board Games You Can Play on Your Phone or Computer

The board game renaissance is in full swing. There are almost 200 board game conventions each year in the US alone. Friendly local games stores (FLGS) can be found on every continent (well, Antarctica is behind the curve).  Meetup boosts more then 3,700 board game groups.  If you want to get your table-top game on, there’s a place nearby for it.

But what about those times when you can’t get to the game? What if you could trade wood for sheep on your hour long commute or while you’re waiting for the cable guy to show up? wouldn’t it be great to snuggle up in bed on a sick day and create a train route from Washington to San Francisco? Or how about squeezing in a round or two of global conquest with your partner without spending an hour on set up?

Board game apps have got you covered! A number of popular board games are now available as phone apps and computer games. Here are some of my favorites:

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Pandemic – Android, Steam, and IOS

One the most well-known cooperative games, Pandemic pits you and your team against virulent diseases spreading across the globe. The app includes both multiple difficulty settings, and expansions. Also included is a pass and play feature (good for road trips and/or waiting in line for a video game release) and supports solo play.
Pros:
A completely solid, well-functioning app
Tutorial mode as well as a fully searchable rulebook
Cons:
Legacy not available as of yet
No online play options

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Twilight Struggle – Android, Steam, and IOS

Twilight Struggle,  consistently ranked in many top war games lists (Board Game Geek, Dice Tower, etc.), produced an outstanding app last year that may have eclipsed playing on a standard board. Ability to play cross platform and fully asynchronous support for multiplayer online games available makes playing with a friend a snap.
Pros:
Turn based play
Fulling integrated multiplayer across all platforms
Cons:
Better for players already familiar with the game

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Splendor – Android, Steam, IOS

This award winning family game is one of the most polished apps on the list. With a layout that directly mimics having the game on a table, its easy to dive right into this version. Game play is smooth, the guides (like highlighting cards you can afford) are amazingly helpful, and a first game tutorial gets even those unfamiliar with the game playing in no time. Now includes multiplayer modes
Pros:
Well designed interface
Completely stable
Cons:
AI can be strangely erratic

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Patchwork – Android, Steam, IOS

Quilt-making was never this fast and fun. A great layout makes it easy to see both your and your opponent’s boards, even on a phone screen. Asynchronous game play means you can play with a friend on different work breaks. And its a super accessible game for both casual players and those who appreciate something a little more challenging. Great tutorial, but lack of a rule book to review might be an issue for some.
Pros:
Beautiful, clear interface
Skilled based matchmaking in multiplayer
Cons:
Lack of rulebook
No undo button

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Jaipur – Android, IOS
This version of the 2009 game is bright and colorful, but a few omissions in the tutorial might leave a new player scratching their head. It has an interesting campaign setting that will present a challenge to even seasoned players. Unfortunately multiplayer stability can be a big issue. Overall its a good fit for the platform, but it could use a patch.
Pros:
Quick two player fun
Cons:
Stability is spotty at best
Loud music has to be turned down every time you start

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Ticket to Ride – Android, Steam, IOS

If there’s only one reason to get this app its so no one can accidentally knock train pieces all over the place. But in addition, its a terrific app with a well supported multiplayer system. The animation and sound effects really enhance game play and interface is clean, clear, and easy to read at a glance. There’s even a nice tutorial to get you started.
Pros:
Animation and sound evoke table-top game play
Best multiplayer
Cons:
AI in solo is wonky at best

There dozens more great board game apps available to help you get your game on, even when there isn’t a tabletop available. List your favorites in the comments below!