As I have become more and more active in reviewing games both here and at Just Another Mobile Monday, I have been learning more about the origins of many games, particularly what could be considered classic board games. Sometimes, the origins of a game may be shrouded in mystery or controversy. Oftentimes, however, simply by learning the basic rules of a game, you can determine its origins fairly easily. Japanese games, for example, tend to be puzzle oriented (Sudoku, Kakuro, Hitori, etc.). Chinese games, on the other hand, tend to focus more on strategy. This is exactly what I found when I started playing the latest offering from PDAmill, GameBox Asia II. GameBox Asia II consists of two of the most famous Chinese board games: Go and Xiangqi (Chinese Chess). Both require are fantastic games which require a lot of strategy (and a little hint of luck).
Installation and Registration: To get started, simply download the demo from PDAmill’s website. This will give you limited access to try both games. Once you have determined that this pack is for you, you can purchase the full version of the game. At that time, you will be given a link to download a separate file containing the full version, as well as a registration code. To be honest, I have never been a fan of this system of placing the demo in a separate file. Unlike most upgrades, the full version does not remove or overwrite the demo. It seems like a small thing, but you end up with two files on your device. Sure, it is not terribly complicated to simply uninstall the demo. My point is that you should not have to do so.
The Games: Although this program offers a fantastic look at two classic Chinese board games, I was a little disappointed to find only two games. There is such a wide variety of games which could have been included, I was really expecting to find this pack bursting at the seams with different games. Nonetheless, the two games which were included, Go and Xiangqi are both exceptional.
Go, which is also know as Igo or Weiqi, is similar to the more American game Othello (or Reversi). It is played on a 19×19 grid (though PDAmill also allows you to play on a 9×9 grid, which is great for learning the game). Each player selects either black or white stones. They then alternate placing the stones, one at a time, on the intersection points of the grid (not in the blocks like most games would be played.
The object of Go is to control the largest portion of the board. To do this, players attempt to place their stones in order to form continuous chains. If you are able to completely surround a group of your opponent’s stones, then those stones will be captured and removed from the board. Play ends when the board has been filled, or neither player has a valid move remaining.
Xiangqi, or Chinese Chess, is one of the most popular board games in the world. Like Chess, each player controls an assortment of different pieces, each of which can be moved only in a specific manner. The object of the game is to capture your opponent’s general (equivalent of a king in Chess) by surrounding him in such a way that no legal move will avoid capture. Like Chess, this is referred to as a checkmate.
Although the pieces do not all have Chess counterparts, PDAmill offers the option of playing with the Chess pieces which would most closely approximate each Xiangqi piece. This can be a slight bit confusing at first, because the pieces do not move exactly as you might expect. On the other hand, unless you are fluent in Chinese, it is much easier to distinguish the pieces than using the traditional Chinese characters on each piece. Both options are available in the PDAmill version of the game.
Another fantastic feature offered by PDAmill is the Hint button. Tap any piece any push the Hint button to be shown all of the possible legal moves for that piece (below). This is a great way to learn all of the intricacies of the game.
Graphics: Neither game requires complicated graphics, and I was pleased to see that PDAmill did not attempt to overdo it in this department. I found the graphics to be well drawn, and appropriate for each game.
When I first started playing Xiangqi, I was surprised to find that the game did not use the traditional three dimensional chess pieces which you might expect. Instead, it uses small stones with the images of each piece drawn (or painted ) on the stone. I quickly realized, however, that this is how Xiangqi is played. Using traditional three dimensional chess pieces would have ruined the authenticity of the game. I appreciated the fact that PDAmill made such an effort to remain true to the origins of the game.
Modes: One thing I really liked is that the game offers the option of playing against the computer in one of three difficulty levels, or against another individual. Unfortunately, it does not offer the ability to connect two devices via Bluetooth or over the Internet. As such, in order to play against another person it is necessary to pass a single device back and forth, which can be a little cumbersome. Or, if you just want to watch, let the CPU play against itself for a little extra training and instruction.
Difficulty: Both games offer three levels of difficulty (aptly named: easy, medium, and hard). Playing on the easy level is a fantastic way to learn the rules and strategies of the game. I found, however, there was a significant jump between easy and medium and again between medium and hard (which provides a significant challenge). It would have been nice to find some additional intermediate steps between these levels.
Audio: I had very mixed feelings about the audio in this game. Well, let me back up and say that for most games, I would be perfectly happy with no audio at all. But that is just me, and I know many people who would disagree.
Of course, audio consists of two elements: music and sound effects. I really liked the music in GameBox Asia II. It had an Eastern sound to it, which helped build the atmosphere when playing these traditional Chinese games. I think this helped set the mood and tone of the games.
The sound effects on the other hand, mostly just annoyed me. The sound effects consisted of the clinking and sliding of the stones onto the gameboard. In some ways, it may have added a sense of realism to the game, however, I could have really done without these sounds. Fortunately, the sounds and music are controlled separately, so I was able to keep the music active while turning off the sounds.
Instructions: Like the other games in the GameBox series, GameBox Asia II offers an excellent introduction to each game. Once you have chosen the game you wish to play, simply tap the Help button. The game will then provide a narrative describing the background and history of the game, as well as the basic rules. Of course, you are still on your own to learn more of the strategy.
Save: GameBox Asia II offers an extremely simple save feature. All you have to do to save is exit the game. The next time you begin, you will be given the option of starting a new game or continuing your saved game. Select continue to pick up exactly where you left off.
Conclusion: It should be no secret by now that I am a huge fan of board games. I love playing the actual “hardcopy” versions, and I also love playing them on my Sprint Mogul. I was thrilled to find GameBox Asia II, which contains two classic, but little known on this side of the world, Chinese games. Both are exceptionally well constructed and provided a fantastic diversion from the daily train ride home. My only regret (if I have one) is that it contained only two games. As well made as they were, they left me wanting more.
What I liked: The game features two fantastic games for the price of one, both with very well designed and game appropriate graphics.
What Needs Improvement: I would have liked the GameBox to contain more games. Sound effects were not terribly strong.
Where to Buy: PDAmill