Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Review: Arkham Horror Toolkit for iPhone

The trend of board games sneaking their way onto phones generally finds good to great digital carbon copy adaptations of games ported gameplay-to-graphics. Fantasy Flight has opted to provide something different with their Arkham Horror Toolkit app. Since a game like Arkham could never really shrink down to handheld size to any satisfaction it instead supplements the tabletop game, ostensibly to help remove clutter (and about 700 cards) from your game table.
Bottom right, Even the Old Ones believe in a proper filing system.

The toolkit drops you to the main menu after a brief splash screen featuring the cover art from the base game. From there you have a simple menu: Dice Roller, Investigators, Location Deck, and Maps. Since I’m the resident Arkham nut in two separate play groups and always seem to be the one dragging my carefully (read: obsessively) sorted and organized copy of AH out for game night , the feature of this app that most appeals to me is the Location deck. You start on the ‘All Locations” screen, which lists, in alphabetical order, all of the locations in town for the base game and any expansions you’ve selected. Left on the top navigation arrow takes you to “Other World” and the right arrow separates the locations by set. Convenient, I guess, if you find looking things up from a complete alphabetical list too difficult. As far as the encounters themselves go, they’re just about perfect. They waste about a half second showing the card back and then flip to the front but load quickly and since the cards only include an encounter from the location selected they’re able to pump the font size up considerably so they’re easier to read.

Worst. Hotel. Ever.

For me, the dice roller is of less interest. Though it smartly lets you select the “Cursed” and “Blessed” statuses, and reduces the die faces to blank or Elder Star Sign success for simplicity’s sake, I can’t see actually using this feature while playing. Navigating from the encounters section to the dice roller and back is annoying and takes longer to do than just grabbing dice off a table. Secondly, I like the feel of real dice in my hand and the act of rolling an amazing or miserable skill test is part of the fun of games like this. Removing the tactile sensation feels like you’re short changing the tabletop game experience a little too much.

The Investigator minder is nice, but not practical if you have to pass your device around the table so people can read encounters to each other. You can raise and lower sanity, stamina, money and clue tokens and adjust your skill points, though it lets you “cheat” and move them in excess of your focus. Starting location and items along with special abilities are on the back of the card, reached by tapping the investigator portrait, where abilities are likely to sit for the duration of the game, entirely forgotten.

I knew him, Horatio...

The last feature is Maps. I won’t waste too much time on it; I’ll just say that this is entirely useless. I don’t need the game map on my phone when it’s sitting on the table in front of me.

Some overall impressions, the app runs smooth and quick on my iPhone 4 and the HD artwork throughout looks fantastic. It also supports the iOS multitasking feature for compatible devices, extremely important if you’re like me and you can’t stop fidgeting with your phone during game downtime. It’s nice to know it’ll pop back up faster when returning to the app, right where you left off. I wish there was a way to support the mythos deck, but rumors and environment events just don’t make it possible. It also seems odd that the game doesn’t feature the Great Old Ones in any way, at least a randomizer would have been nice. It would have made a great replacement for the beyond pointless maps.

For $3 (and $1 or $2 per expansion) is definitely a reasonable price to pay, and it makes sense for FFG to release something like this for all the Arkham nuts like myself. With 7 expansions (and an 8th on the way) we’ve proven we have a little extra money to spend.


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