Wednesday, September 5, 2012

iOS App Review: Hnefatafl

"Hnefatafl is an okay game for passing the time during a road trip or in a waiting room with another person, despite its lack of eye-candy."

What It Is

Hnefatafl is a newly released game for iOS. It comes from a family of ancient games spread by Vikings and Celts. Unlike many board games, both players in this game don't have the same winning objective. The Red player (attacking) tries to capture the king in the center by getting past the defenders and placing units on four sides of the king or by cornering him. The White (defending) player tries to transport the king safely from the center of the board to a corner.

This app has three different Tafl games (variations of boards and slight variation of rules): Hnefatafl, Ard-Ri and Tablut.

Price: $0.99
Available for: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch (Universal)

The Good

Good concept and simple rules

Instead of creating an original board game that could potentially have been a failure, the developer, Timothy Risi has created an app for a very old board game. The rules are not as complex as Chess. You can easily teach a newbie the rules verbally and start playing. It takes maybe two or three minutes to get the hang of it and understand the basic strategy.

Hnefatafl is really fun to play when you and a friend don’t have much to do.

Online multiplayer

There is no single-player mode in this app. Understandably enough, programming an AI would have been more difficult. If you don’t have friends to play with, Game Center integration will find you an opponent. Due to the nature of this game, each match will go on for hours or maybe even days, similar to Words With Friends.

Local games are saved

Each game takes a while to finish. So the app keeps a game you are playing in Pass 'N Play mode saved even when you close the app completely. The board is just there when you start it again. If you want to start a new game, just tap the large New Game button at the bottom of the board and the board is reset. While I like the way no questions are asked and everything is quick, I would be worried about tapping the button on a shaky road trip.

The Bad

No eye-candy

Although this game doesn’t really need beautiful graphics, it would look so much better even if the pieces on the board were not flat and had some simple animation. At least they could slightly fly out of the board with minimal shadow when they are placed on another square. The game is very fun, nevertheless and the lack of advanced graphics is not really a deal breaker in this case.

Simple font and interface makes it look cheap

The Rules section has some very simple font that doesn’t really go with the wooden texture and a custom interface that does not look like simple iOS elements. Something a bit more fancier could make it look richer.

Text rules are hard to understand

The first time I read the rules, they were overwhelming. I had no idea what the board looked like. I had to start a game, move around pieces and come back to the rules to get them. I really don’t like it when games do this. If making an interactive tutorial is difficult, at least include more diagrams and cut down on the text.

Trust me, the rules look way harder to understand the first time than they actually are.