We thought the iPad was the perfect medium for a board game; it’s much larger than the iPhone and therefore can fit all of the detail that you need on that smooth glass surface. When you have that expansive canvas, why squash your game down into a pocket-sized screen? Turns out that actually, the iPhone’s screen is all this game needs at least if you’re going to play by yourself.
Like all good games, Neuroshima Hex is very easy to play but hard to master. You control one of four armies; each has a deck of hexagonal tiles that include your units and single-use actions; like initiating the battle sequence, or moving one of your tiles to a new location. In addition to these, you also get a headquarters that has 20 hit points and a special ability of its own. Winning the game means either annihilating the opposition HQ mid-game or simply having more hit points than your opponent come the final battle. This happens when one player runs out of tiles from his deck; battle tiles cannot be activated on the last turn.
Units come in a few forms and each team has its own strengths and weaknesses. Each unit tile has an initiative number on its tile, which means it attacks first or last when battle is declared according to the number; values of 3 are best, with 1 being the worst. A special phase of 4 is called if a unit’s initiative is affected by a HQ ability or one of the strengthening nodes on the map; similarly, some teams have the ability to sabotage other units with initiative decreasing nodes, or webs that immobilise units completely. Initiative phase 0 is reserved for the headquarters itself; it can attack all enemy units that are around it.
Unit attacks are determined by the triangles on its edges; small triangles denote melee attacks whilst longer triangles are ranged attacks. Two or more of these mean that the unit can hit twice or more. As for hit points; well most units have life equal to one hit, but units with plus symbols on them can sustain additional injuries. Mostly the strategy is in rotating your unit tiles most effectively as many of them cannot attack from all sides.
Sometimes you’ll forget that this is actually based off a board game and so will start to become more critical of its way of handling the in-battle animation.
Luck plays a big part in Neuroshima Hex too; as you cannot build a deck yourself, you have to hope that you’re given enough units at the right time. There are ways to speed up this process; in addition to the forced discard every turn, you can choose to discard your entire hand in order to give you more room for new tiles. There are some situations where you might want to keep a tile back for a strategic opportunity later in the game, as the endgame usually results in the board being filled with tiles and your chances to place units around the enemy HQ become slimmer.
Figuring all of this out took us some time as the in-game help isn’t brilliant; the information is there but buried away in menus and not in the game window itself. It would have been really nice to be able to have gotten the tile information up when tapping on a unit; instead of pausing the game, going to rules, going to armies, selecting your army, selecting units, looking at the unit you want, then going back to the army select screen, then to the rules menu, then to the main menu, then finally resume game. Eventually you won’t need the rules, but it can be daunting for new players. Indeed, an interactive tutorial would have been really helpful here.
Sometimes you’ll forget that this is actually based off a board game and so will start to become more critical of its way of handling the in-battle animation. The game does manage to be very fun as it is but the battle sequences lack the punch that a videogame would deliver. We were hoping for particle effects but all tiles do is shove each other, which is cooler than a board game but seems more like a missed opportunity.
One final criticism is that although the game does an impressive job with the small screen of the iPhone, we can’t help but feel that it would be better suited to an iPad. With iPhones concealing your three tiles multiplayer would be absolutely formidable; pass and play isn’t going to have quite the same impact. We hope that the developers make good on their promise to update the app to include native iPad support.
Neuroshima Hex is hard not to recommend; it’s easily one of the first great iPhone ports of a board game. Yes, its interface needs some more attention, but the presentation is top notch; you’ll be playing this one for a while yet.
An excellent board game so well suited to the iPhone that sometimes you’ll forget it has a physical counterpart.
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