Reiner Knizia Games Come to iOS

It seems to be a sign of prestige when the director's name gets tacked onto the front of a movie title, like John Carpenter's The Thing. The same applies to the gaming industry, though the technique is not used nearly as frequently. Reiner Knizia is a prolific German board game designer, and from what I've sampled of his games, he deserves to have his name included in the title. Twenty-four of his games are available in the App Store; I chose three that I felt would appeal to thinkers as well as entice the casual gamer.

Reiner Knizia's Yoku-Gami

$1.99, iPhone/iPod touch:, iPad:

Yoku-GamiAt first glance this might look like some weird Sudoku variant, but it shares very little with the grid based puzzle phenomenon except for the fact that they both rely on numbers. Yoku-Gami is best described as a thinking man's casual game. The object is to select a series of adjacent numbers in a grid such that the largest number in your selection is equal to the sum of all the smaller numbers. When you make a successful selection, you score points and the numbers disappear from the grid. For example, selecting 2-1-3-10-4 would be successful since the largest number (10) is equal to the sum of the smaller numbers (2+1+3+4).

In the Endless and Arcade modes, you play until there are no moves left to make on the board. The main difference is that in Endless mode pieces shift down and get replaced every time you make a valid selection, whereas in Arcade mode pieces only shift when you've emptied an entire row or column. You also have Level mode, where you start with 24 lives and must clear as much as the board as you can without pieces ever being replaced. When there are no moves left, the number of pieces remaining are subtracted from your lives. When all your lives are gone, the game is over.

There are two control methods: tap and drag. They both work well, but if you'd like the chance to reconsider your actions midway through a selection, you'll need to use tap mode. There is no undo, so you need to be sure of what you're doing before you do it. My main gripe with the gameplay is that the random generation of numbers is a bit too random, which quite often impedes the playability of Level mode. You can tell just by looking at a board setup that there will be too many numbers you can't clear away, quickly reducing your 24 lives to nothing.

The graphics are nice but pretty basic. You have a board full of squares with numbers on them, which are very easy to read but not all that exciting. The only real "effect" occurs when the tiles finish shifting… a little puff of dirt rises up. There's also a little blue animated character at the top of the screen, but it would be nice if it were a bit more animated. Likewise, the sound effects are not very exciting, especially given the fact that they have the little blue creature that they could have done more with. The music is very easy to listen to and has a nice Far East tone to it. Grade: A

Reiner Knizia's Monumental

$1.99, iPhone/iPod touch:

MonumentalOne common thread among Reiner Knizia's games is that, no matter what the basic premise behind the game is, it makes you think! This was the case with Monumental, a unique take on the match 3 genre that turns this simple tile matcher into more of a thinking game. It might be a bit of a turnoff for casual gamers who just want to flip jewels and go. But it could introduce a whole new crop of hardcore gamers to a genre that they've been avoiding.

The board is comprised of two grids of 4 rows and 3 columns separated by a central column filled with four tiles. Your job is to slide tiles from the central column to the left or right to create matches and score points. Tiles are considered matched when the background color, symbol, or number of symbols on each tile matches. When you slide a tile out of the central column, the tiles above slide down and a new tile appears at the top of the column. All three tiles in a row have to have at least one thing in common, and you earn bonus points if you match more than one trait in a row of tiles. "Broken" tiles have no symbols on them and can only be matched by color. A section is considered bad if the three tiles in the section don't have at least one thing in common.

In Action mode, the game ends when both bottom sections are "bad" and the timer runs out. In Challenge mode, the game ends when both bottom rows are "bad"—there is no chance to fix things in challenge mode. Your one power up is a stick of dynamite that you earn after scoring so many points. This dynamite can be used to blow up one tile. To move tiles, you simply flick them from the central column either to the left or right. To use the dynamite, you drag it onto the tile you want to blow up.

Visually, the game is pleasant to look at, but don't expect the flash of something like Bejeweled. The symbols look pretty cool, however. The sound effects are actually more interesting than the normal puzzle game fare. I like the blips when it's counting up your score on a section, especially when you match all three traits. The background music is enjoyable as well, even though there's only one theme throughout the game. A different tune for each mode would have been nice.

My main grumble is that the pacing of the game is a lot slower than a typical match 3 style game. Still, as a match 3 lover, it's nice to see someone think outside the box—that's definitely the case with Monumental. Grade: A-

Reiner Knizia's Topas

$0.99, iPhone/iPod touch:

TopasTopas is sort of like Dominos meets Bejeweled on steroids. Like the others in this review, it feels like a thinking man's game trapped in a casual gamer's body. But it's by far the hardest of the three games. You have place domino like tiles on a 6x6 grid. Each tile has 1 to 3 colored gems on it. The object of the game is to line the blocks of like-colored gems into groups, either horizontally or vertically. You can't have more than 7 gems of the same color in a group, and all the pieces must be placed on the grid before the game is scored.

In Arcade mode, you are given 32 tiles to place on the board to complete a level. When you make groups of 7, those grid spaces will be cleared so that you can place more tiles on the board. The game is over when you've still got tiles left in a level and you've run out of room to place them. Weakest Link mode has you playing four games of 8 tiles apiece, and your score is the second lowest of the four games. Finally, there is Color Play mode, where you must score 10 points for each color before you can move on to the next level. From what I can tell, you score 10 points when you've made a group of 7 for a particular color. In Weakest Link and Color Play modes, the grid spaces are never cleared until you move on to the next level/game.

The control scheme is simple: drag and drop to place a tile, and tap with the other finger while dragging to rotate a tile. While I can't really think of a better way to do it, the tapping to rotate just seems a bit awkward. In addition to being the most difficult of the three, I think Topas is also the slowest paced, and there are honestly times where it just seems to drag a bit.

The visuals are about on par with the other games in this review, which is to say that they look decent enough but are not real exciting. There are little sparkles when you match up gems and little puffs of smoke when tiles disappear in arcade mode, but that's about the extent of special effects. The sound effects are pretty average as well. There is no music, which I think is almost mandatory in a game with a slower pace like this one. Grade: B

Just a taste of what 
Reiner Knizia has to offer

This is just a little taste of what the mind of Reiner Knizia has to offer. As mentioned, there are around two dozen games bearing the Knizia's moniker. If these three are any indication, I'd say you probably wouldn't go wrong no matter which game you chose. Finally, if everything I've seen on the Internet is correct, Reiner has a few more ideas up his sleeve that will probably appear on the App Store one of these days.

A look at 3 top games from the prolific German board game designer
July-August 2011
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