As you might have heard on Wednesday’s podcast, I’ll be appearing on a new studio show on ESPNU called College Baseball Live, every Thursday night at 7 pm EDT/4 pm PDT from now until May 12th. (There’s one more show on May 19th but I had a scheduling conflict.) The show will cover college baseball in general, with an emphasis on the SEC, as well as a modicum of draft chatter, and will be followed by an SEC game of the week, beginning this week with South Carolina vs. Tennessee. I’ll appear again on a brief postgame show.
This is probably as good a time as any to mention that I’ve also signed a new contract with ESPN, which has made much of this year’s extra content across all media possible. I have always appreciated the comments from readers who ask me if I’ll join their favorite team’s front office, but this is where I want to be right now, not least because life on the media side has always worked better for my family.
My weekly Tuesday column yesterday was on some rookies who were surprising Opening Day roster additions.
Reiner Knizia has been as aggressive as any game designer in licensing his games for iOS app development, producing a few of my favorites so far (notably Samurai and Battle Line). His two- to four-person boardgame Through the Desert is now available in a beautifully rendered app, but on the iPod Touch there are some implementation issues that have made the game trickier to play.
Knizia’s Through the Desert ($1.99 for the regular game, $2.99 for the iPad/HD version) is played a board of hexes with several oases and watering holes scattered more or less evenly throughout it. During the setup phase, each player places one camel in turn, with players rotating until each player has placed all five of his starting camels. (Players begin with five camels, each a different color.) After the setup, players place additional camels (drawn from a communal pool) adjacent to those they have already placed, building “caravans” that can accumulate points in three ways:
* By abutting an oasis, which is worth five points.
* By crossing a watering hole, which is worth three points for a large hole and one for a small hole.
* By fully enclosing an area within the caravan; between the caravan and the edge of the board; or between the caravan and the small, impassable mountain range within the board. The player receives one point for each enclosed hex, plus any bonuses for surrounded watering holes.
The only restriction on placement is that a player cannot place a camel next to a camel of the same color placed by another player.
There are also game-end bonuses of ten points apiece for the longest caravan (most camels) of each color. The game ends when there are no more camels available in any of the five colors.
The game offers a lot of decision-making with zero randomness involved. I’ve found the bulk of my thinking during the game is spent trying to anticipate each opponent’s next move or two, both to see if I can block anyone and to make sure I’m not going to end up blocked. The problem is ultimately one of resource constraints – you can only place two camels per turn, your number of turns is finite (but not known exactly), and your number of possible moves is restricted by the board and opponent placement – with the board big enough that the game is different every time, especially with three or four players.
The app itself is perfectly stable, but the way the developers implemented the game has proven frustrating. For one thing, there’s no way to tell whose turn it is, and there’s no way to see the current score of any player other than the one whose turn it is. In the four-player game, the bottom row of hexes on the board is obscured by the silly waving carpet at the bottom of the screen, and I couldn’t figure out how to place a camel there. I’ve also found the hard AIs to be a little light – in at least a dozen games, I’ve only once had an AI player make a move to block me, and that came in a four-player game where one of the other AIs was about as challenging an opponent as a sack of hair.
The AI problem isn’t a huge deal since the game allows for network play, and the hard AIs are good enough to make the game a nice diversion. It’s just not as challenging as it could be, and the lack of any kind of scoreboard or indication of who’s up is annoying and completely avoidable. I’m hoping at some point there will be an update to at least fix the bottom-row glitch and provide a score option, although the AIs probably are what they are for the long term. I’d recommend the game if you’ve already grabbed the two I mentioned above as well as Carcassonne and Ingenious and are looking for a change of pace; if I see any improvements come down the line I’ll repost with a stronger recommendation. And if any of you should try the iPad version, let me know if any of these issues are resolved.