With the previous week being such a light week for new releases, I decided to wait and do a combined list for the past two weeks.

Kicking off the coverage is a nice, quick little two-player strategy board game adaptation from Boardnaut Studios (Land 6, Maquis) called Castle Builders Board Game. Originally physically released in 2008 as the first game in the Game-o-gram series, Castle Builders casts opponents as two builders, hired by the king to construct a new castle. Players are competing to build the majority of the castle by laying down tiles which will either allow them to build one unit, take extra turns, double the point values of towers or even destroy sections built by their opponent. Point are awarded to the player who captures the majority of a row or column in the castle. There is a degree of luck (of the random draw of tiles) but it is still strategic and quick playing, plus it is easy to learn and offers both AI and same-device hot-seat multiplayer. It is worth noting that Boardnaut is also working on a solitaire wargame called Constantinople which will be coming out in either February or March.

Next up is Peppy Pairs. On the surface, this looks like a cute little matching game for kids, but it offers up a fun little challenge that should even stimulate and test an adult’s memory. The early levels are fairly simple, with just your traditional matching game of flipping tiles with adorable characters on them to make match all of the tiles on the board within a specified number of moves. Then things start to get a bit more complicated with multiple boards and other challenging new elements are introduced like bombs and conveyor belts which move around the tiles, making it more and more difficult to remember exactly where things are. The game was created by 231 Play, a German studio founded by the team behind a great early iOS game called Zombie Smash whose previous studio, Game Doctors was acquired by Zynga in 2012. Peppy Pairs is a charming way exercise your brain.

As the name suggests, WarFriends is an entertaining free-to-play cover-based 3rd person 3D shooter in which you are battling it out with a friend (or random opponent) in real-time battles. You directly control one soldier who must stay alive the longest to win the battle. As you take out your opponent’s troops you earn energy which can be used to either manually or automatically deploy troops of varying types (grunts, long-range snipers, drones and more) who will (unassisted) traverse the battlefield to try to take out your opponent, their troops or their shields. In some ways it feels a bit similar to Star Wars: Force Arena as you constantly have to stay on your toes to avoid grenades and enemy fire. However you must do all of the shooting yourself with the soldier that you control, aiming and firing and switching weapons when suited. The free-to-play mechanics don’t seem to really hamper play and this one is definitely most fun when playing against someone you know. However, online matches against random players are still entertaining and can help you level up and hone your skills. Overall, WarFriends is a fun little time waster from the folks at Chillingo.

If you want to battle your friends, but aren’t big on bullets, then bring your grudge match to the links with Golf Clash. Players go head to head on a single hole, trying to get their ball into the hole in the least number of strokes. Ties are broken with one-time closest to the pin drive-offs. Approachable and easy to play, club selection is done automatically and swinging your club is super simple; just aim where you want to shoot tap the club and drag back, releasing your finger when oscillating arrow is at the “perfect” mark. If you drag back a little further, you may be able to squeak out a little more distance, but stopping that arrow at the right time will be more difficult as the flips back and forth VERY rapidly. As you play through matches you’ll earn card packs which (also like Star Wars: Force Arena) help you to unlock and/or upgrade additional items, which in this game, take the form of special clubs and balls. There are cool new drivers, irons, rough irons, sand wedges and more to unlock and upgrade.. New and/or upgraded clubs offer increased power for more distance, increased accuracy, more roll and other stats improvements that will help you win your matches. A fun, quick take on multiplayer golf, each shot must be taken within a brief shot timer, or you forfeit your turn. This leads to short, fast-paced games and very little downtime between shots…perfect for quick mobile play.

It’s been a little while since we’ve seen a new release from the team at Cobra Mobile, but they recently launched a delightful new isometric puzzle, adventure game called Red’s Kingdom. You play as a squirrel named Red, whose father has been kidnapped and whose supply of nuts has been stolen by the Mad King. You have to scour the kingdom to find and rescue your father while finding hidden treasures and fighting off the Mad King’s minions. Aside from the cute characters and humorous setup, the thing that really sets this game apart is the movement mechanism. We’ve seen quite a few logic puzzle games which use a “figure out the correct order / direction of swipes to navigate a level and collect pieces” (Quell and others come to mind), but I can’t think of another game where it is used as the main method of movement. It gives the game a really unique feel and pulls you into the action. Such a brilliant decision and a recommended pick up.

For the kids we have yet another entry in the ever-growing My Town imaginative play series, as they motor on to an impressive 17th app, My Town : Car. Your little ones will enjoy 7 new locations and 15 new characters as they repair and upgrade vehicles in their very own garage, wheel and deal as they buy and sell cars at the Dealership, fuel up in the Gas Station or clean their ride in the Car Wash. If your child loves cars, then they’ll have a lot of fun with this one, I know my daughter has been having fun with it.

One of the real standouts of the week is the innovative new puzzle game Splitter Critters. It comes to us from RAC7 Games, the talented two-person Vancouver, BC-based development studio who explored the use of sound a couple of years ago with Dark Echo. Each level of Splitter Critters plays out on one of several different colorful planets where you are trying to help an adorable crew of stranded aliens reach their spaceship. You do this by literally tearing the screen in half either horizontally, vertically or diagonally and gently sliding half and releasing it to re-position things to either block off some danger or create a new pathway for the critters to take. While sliding a piece, the action continues to play out in both halves, platforms continue to move, creatures continue to walk and more. It is almost as if you are moving two ever-playing video screens. You can perform up to four rips and then you are forced to undo one or more of your previous moves (in reverse order) before making additional changes. One really neat thing is that ‘undo’ isn’t just used for correcting mistakes, it is actually a key part of the strategy for solving levels. The difficulty ramps up as you go, with new challenges including triggering pressure switches, aiming deadly lasers and avoiding spikes. Each new world presents a unique new challenge and each of the different alien species moves a little differently so you need to take that into consideration as well. Perfectly suited for mobile, the touch-based interface is such a crucial part of the screen manipulation, that I don’t think the game would work nearly as well on a non-touch based device. Splitter Critters is super creative and solving a number of the puzzles takes a bit of trial and error and some outside of the box thinking. I know we are still only in the first month of the year, but this sort of innovative gameplay is exactly what I look for when picking my favorite titles of the year.

I’m going to be purposefully vague when it comes to describing A Normal Lost Phone as to not spoil the plot before you have the chance to experience this emotional title for yourself. Touching on a number of topics, at its core, this game is about “exploring the intimacy of an unknown person whose phone you’ve just found”. The well-written and at times heartbreaking, yet hopeful narrative plays out almost poetically as you search the phone’s text messages, pictures and applications in order to uncover and learn about the phone’s previous owner…someone named Sam. It makes you think about how all of these traces of information that we leave on our personal devices give others intimate peeks into our lives, friends, family and relationships. In Sam’s case these scraps of information lead up the evening of Sam’s 18th birthday and a mysterious disappearance. Authentic and emotional, I found A Normal Lost Phone to be a rather engaging and emotional experience. Well done!

In a word, Asmodee Digital’s latest digital board game adaptation, Potion Explosion is simply magical! In this faithful adaptation of Horrible Games’ and CMON’s set collection puzzle game, players take on the roles of students in a magical potions class, trying to collect the ingredients they need to learn and craft new potions. Once crafted potions may be triggered (immediately or at a later time) to take advantage of special effects which allow the player to grab extra ingredients, steal ingredients from other players and more. The centerpiece in Potion Explosion is the giant hopper which contains columns of marbles of each of the game’s four ingredient types. Potions take a some mixture of these ingredients to craft and on your turn, you may remove one marble to gain that ingredient, then all marbles above that one drop down to fill the empty space. If two (or more) marbles of like colors strike one another then this causes a cascade (think Bejeweled) and you gain those marbles as well and things keep going like that until the chain reaction stops. Plan correctly and you could get a ton of ingredients to work with to make one or both of the potions in front of you. You have three glasses in which you may choose to retain extra ingredients between turns.

Finished potions can be used before or after taking your one marble, leading to loads of interesting strategic choices. Do you manipulate the ingredient supply before taking your marble to set up some sweet chain reactions, or do you use it afterwards to hopefully keep your opponent from getting the colors they need? Depending on how many players you have, there are a set number of skill tokens which are awarded when players either craft 3 potions of the same type, or 5 different potions (of the 6 total) types. You don’t always know which potions will be available for you when it comes time to select the next potion you want to try to craft, which again leads to some nice decisions as you try to decide between a high point value potion which take more ingredients, low point ones which will be faster to craft or a certain type of potion which will help you earn a skill token. Once all of the skill tokens have been claimed the end game is triggered and the player with the most victory points wins. Asmodee has done a phenomenal job bringing this game into the digital realm. Beautiful graphics and animations bring this potions class to life and everything is laid out clean and concisely, there is even a simple one-click button for having it auto-apply all of your ingredients. There is a detailed tutorial to get you started and the full rule book (with illustrations) is available within the app. Potion Explosion offers both local multiplayer with humans (via pass and play) or AI opponents (in two difficulties) as well as online play with multiple selectable game lengths. Really the only ding I can give the game is the lack of notifications for when it is your turn during an online match, but this seems like something that could easily be remedied in an update. This game is a fantastic deal at just $4.99 (I was expecting a launch price of $6.99) and plays very well on either an iPhone or iPad. With loads of satisfying replayability, this is an absolute must have for any digital board gaming fan.

And that’ll do it for this week…enjoy and fee free to send me Potion Explosion game requests at OTGGamer.

Go to the second page of this post to watch the trailers for these games.