Mobile Games and Satisfaction

I play a bunch of different iOS games, often while I’m outside enjoying my pipe. So when someone tells me about a new game that’s up my alley — logic or physics puzzles, games with RPG elements, and so on — I give ’em a try. Here are a few short personal reactions to games I’ve been playing lately, inspired by my tweet yesterday asking for more iOS games and some people asking what I’ve played.


This game is still the high water mark for me, at least for games with asynchronous online play. But I have been for a bit now refusing 3- and 4-player games because they move too slowly in asynchronous time.

The way it’s integrated into Game Center seamlessly, its fantastic tutorial setup, pretty much everything about it is top-notch about it — except for not being able to tailor your online games the same way you can a local game and the overall weak AI. And even then, those aren’t serious crimes.

Temple Run

This is a new-to-me game, but was clearly a craze a bit ago. It hits my buttons as a short, parkour-ish game with a dirt-simple interface — one that I can play with one hand while smoking my pipe. It’s got just enough things going on to be worth playing from one game to the next, though at this point I’ve achieved nearly everything you can without insane amounts of playtime.

And that’s been making me thing about Skinner Box-style rewards. There were enough incremental rewards after a game or two that I kept playing, and those would change up game play enough to keep me going for the next bit.

Now I’m at the point where I’ve unlocked all of the extra stuff, and I can tweak my game play further, but the remaining achievements are bullshit ones (play X games or get X lifetime coins) or really, really fucking hard ones (get 10 & 20 of X upgrade in a single run). So I’m playing it as a casual “meh, kill some time” game rather than a game where I’m seeking to accomplish something, as I was doing with it earlier. Not that I begrudge that — all games have a lifespan, and sometimes they’re worth replying later (as I’m doing now with Dungeon Raid).

Also, the racism in the game is mildly amusing, in that the developers thought to incline that stuff. One of the unlockable characters is “Karma Lee, the fastest legs in the far east” wearing a kimono.


I tried this game for a bit, and I have to say it was frustrating — in that I almost liked it, but it kept feeling like there were one or two good game design decisions short of a really good game. I eventually deleted it, because I would play a game while smoking my pipe but be unable to focus on anything other than missed opportunities in the design.

Tiny Wings

I haven’t played this game in a bit, because I got pretty far in the achievements, but man this is an amazing game. It’s got the simplest interface of any game I’ve played — you’re a bird sliding around a hilly course, and you press on the screen to tuck your wings in. When you aren’t, your wings flap. They aren’t big wings, but it’s enough to where you can launch yourself up for air ona hill, and tuck your wings in to catch the downslope of another hill.

It’s gorgeous and loads of fun for something so simple.


I really wanted to like this, because many of my friends were playing it. But I deleted it after around a dozen games because the play experience was wholly unsatisfying.

The early moves feel meaningless, so there’s no sense of strategy. I won a couple times, lost others, but honestly couldn’t tell you where I ever went wrong — I don’t really enjoy non-random chaos in my games, and this is that. Along with that, I’m spoiled by other games that integrate game requests and rematches into the UI, so Letterpress making me deal with Game Center just seems lazy.

It’s unfortunate that I had to pay to unlock it in order to find out that I really don’t like it. But that’s how it goes sometimes.

Ticket to Ride

I like playing Ticket to Ride, but this medium doesn’t lend itself well to it. Ticket is a great game for sitting around and bullshitting, because your decision points on a given turn are short and simple. Taking that to an online, asynchronous space, and there’s so, so little to do each turn that the game loses context and meaning. Contrast with Carcassonne, where your individual turns have a sense of strategy and you have something to honestly think about and decide on with a given turn.

Having many of the “it’s my turn in Ticket now? Okay, I’ll…draw some cards. Whee.” experiences, I decided that I’ll just play against the AI. I like the game just fine, so I’m not looking to delete it, but the async play is pretty lacking.

Hero Academy

I grabbed this, and subsequently never got into it. If you’re making a game that can only be played asynchronously, then my learning curve for the game increases significantly — I cannot learn at my own pace, but at the pace of those I’m playing online with. So this game falls in that weird category of “games some of my friends love that gets away with a crappy new-person UX.”

But then, I’m spoiled by Ascension, which did this right.

What games should I try?

I asked this on Twitter, and I’ll ask it here as well. If there’s an iOS game you think I should try (I have an iPad 1 & iPhone 4S), leave a comment and tell me why you dig it. Thanks!

– Ryan


12 Responses to Mobile Games and Satisfaction

  1. Albert A says:

    a few of my faves from the past year or so:

    Rune Raiders is a fun puzzle-dungeon game. Each member of your party and each type of enemy has different movement and attack patterns, but you can only move on hero per ‘turn’ before triggering each enemy to move and attacks to happen. The basic missions are fairly easy, so it’s not an enduring play, but it’s well worth the couple of bucks.

    Kingdom Rush is one of the most-polished basic Tower Defense games I’ve played. If you have any tolerance for the genre, it’s a lot of fun.

    Rebuild is a “City Reclamation” sim. Claw back your city from the zombies, and manage your resources between defense and exploration. lots of different victory conditions make for decent replayability.

  2. Matt says:

    Puzzle Craft is something I was recently playing. Fun match-three puzzle game.

  3. Your taste in games seems to mirror mine. In particular, your analysis of Hero Academy and Ticket to Ride.

    So, um, games that maybe you’d like:

    Neuroshima Hex: the async is not great, sadly, but it’s an otherwise fine implementation of the game. I enjoy it because it’s essentially Mexican Standoff: The Game.

    Summoner Wars: it crashes on my iPad 1 but works fine on my iPhone 4S. FYI. This one allows for “try before you buy”, in that you can play with one faction against the AI for free. This is the love child of Magic and Heroscape. If that makes you happy, you should check this out.

    Nightfall: this one feels like a bit of a guilty pleasure for me (not sure why). It’s a more combat-oriented deck builder. The tutorial (at least at launch time) is a classic example of what not to do, but the chaining mechanic is clever enough.

    Elder Sign: Omens: no async, but this one put a hook in my brain and won’t let go. This is basically Arkham Horror in 30 minutes on the iPad. Yes, I think that’s a selling point. (No, I’ve not played Arkham Horror. I’d like to, at some point when I have 4-6 hours to give to it and have no other FFG games like Battlestar Galactica or Android clamoring to be played and I can find a copy to borrow. In other words, probably never. :-/)

  4. Sarah T says:

    For matching types, I like Chuzzle, Puzzlings, Azkend (1&2) and Dragons. I love Ticket to Ride & am trying to get 2 more achievements. Enigmo is good for physics of a water drop. Solebon is good for a bajillion solitaire card games.

  5. Joe E says:

    My go to games right now are Outwitter (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/outwitters/id432969074?mt=8)which is another Turn based war game played on hex grid map. The other games is Punch Quest (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/punch-quest/id554223561?mt=8) which is an endless runner but this time through a Dungeon full of monsters.

  6. Simon says:

    Re: Summoner Wars – The iOS game is by the same folks who made the iOS Ascension and it uses the same out of game UI (so the game list, game center integration etc…)

    Triple Town is a simple matching game that does a good job of occupying my time. They’ve periodically added some interesting game modes too.

    There is a Smallworld app but it does not support anything but one on one vs the AI, which is a bit of a disappointment.

    There’s also a Dominion app that I’ve played very little of but it has online play as well as solo vs the AI.

    Finally I had some hope for the MtG app, but it feels like they put too much effort into making it pretty and not enough into making the app easy and quick to use

    Meta – For those of us who have a similar take on this game list, and don’t want to go back and dig through twitter, any chance in the future of a follow-up post here ;-)

  7. Jürgen says:

    Hellsing’s Fire is an excellent monster hunter puzzle game. Can be played one-handed.

    The secret to Hero Academy is starting 5 to 10 simultaneous games. Don’t be afraid to play with strangers. You’ll always have a couple of moves to play whenever you take a break.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I have zero interest in playing with people I don’t know, so that’s another strike against Hero Academy for me if that’s a necessary condition. I’ll check out Hellsing’s Fire.

      – Ryan

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      (The main reason I don’t care for playing with people I don’t know is that there’s no way to enjoy talking about that game with the person afterward, the same way I always can talk about a game of Carcassonne or Ascension I play with friends after the fact, in a geeky postmortem sense. If all there is is the game, it’s less interesting to me.)

  8. Bruce Harlick says:

    Amazing Alex is a great physics puzzle game. Check it out; it’s a great time waster in bite-sized pieces.

  9. Paul Tevis says:

    Regarding the Skinner-Box thoughts: Are you familiar with Csíkszentmihályi’s work? One of my cowoerks and I have been talking about a lot about what she calls “brain candy” and I think there’s crossover (and fertile ground) here.