I won’t pretend to know what holidays mean for you, but for most, there’s a singularly shared experience: long flights and being far away from your PlayStation or Xbox. If you aren’t already an active mobile gamer, even at this point, you’re missing out on quite a bit of both simple and even deeply involved experiences — and if this holiday, you happened to upgrade your device to the latest and greatest, we’ve got a couple of suggestions. Here are a few of our picks to get through the end of 2016 and beyond.
We’ve rounded up our favorite and most-used apps and utilities for the technology we use every day. Check out our other picks for iPhones, Android phones, PCs, and Macs. We’ve also listed our favorite games for iOS and Android from this year.
It’s weird (re)writing the phrase “Tinder-like fantasy,” but that’s honestly the best way to describe Reigns. Playing as a king who will all but surely perish within a few rounds, at least at first, each decision is made by swiping left or right, increasing or decreasing the power of each opposing interest (the church, the people, the army, and the bank). Should one interest get too powerful or too weak, the reign of one king ends and the next begins. And though each successive monarchy might seem to following the same cycle, there’s a meta-narrative that spans each lifetime.
The Battle of Polytopia
Born Supertribes before a name change earlier this year, Mijiwan’s The Battle of Polytopia is an impressive Civilization-like strategy game that has evolved throughout 2016 with content-rich updates. Turn by turn, you can expand your empire, upgrade various technologies, and if you’re feeling it, conquer your neighbors. The game is free and feature-rich, with one-time in-app purchases designed to add complexity after you get the hang of it (which won’t take long).
The perfect game for when you hate your city commute and think, “hey, I could probably design this subway system better” (spoiler: you probably can’t). Mini Metro is a deceptively simple game of connecting train lines to various shaped nodes so that all the triangle- and square-shaped “people” can get to whatever triangle- stop is closest. Satisfaction comes from survival, and if you can make it even just a few weeks before congestion brings everything down, hey, congratulations.
Whereas most games on this list can work well for short commutes, Severed is a game that’s worth sitting down and devoting some time to (ie. it’s great for long flights). A first-person exploration with smart touchscreen-based combat and gorgeous, if at times intense, art style. This is not a pick-up-and-play game, but it’s thoroughly rewarding if you’re able to give it the time.
Available for iPhone / iPad.
Okay, wait, I know… I loathe free-to-play games that “encourage” you buy in-game currency with in-life money, too. I do. But even without spending a dime, I’ve gotten kind of addicted to Clash Royale. Each 3-minute match has pretty much the same setup: two bridges separate your three towers from your opponents. Elixir replenishes over time, which you use to play troops that’ll march ahead and hopefully conquest. It’s choosing what troops to play, and when, where some serious strategy comes in. There are dozens of troops (represented, as is typical now, by cards) that you can unlock over time, whether or not you pay anything. Warning, though: it does require an internet connection at all times.
Deus Ex Go
Square Enix’s “Go” series of mobile games have always been great, and Deus Ex Go is the best one yet. A puzzler masquerading as a faux board game, each swipe moves your cyberpunk assassin action figure across the board, ostensibly sneaking and killing your way through dozens of levels. Daily puzzles give you new challenges, but if you ever do end up getting bored of it, there’s always Hitman and Lara Croft.
You’re a stranger in a strange land. You’re really good at cutting down trees and making weapons and furniture out of the wood. Somehow, this has become a rather crowded game genre in its own right, and Crashlands is one of its more charming, lighthearted entries. Combat can be frustrating at first, but eventually everything “clicks” and you’ll be more focused on exploring and building the best imaginable — one with, oddly enough, a large graveyard full of your past mistakes (I promise, lighthearted).
Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! series
One part novel, one part RPG, inkle’s Sorcery series is a deftly smart adaptation of Steve Jackon’s gamebooks of the same name. The story is rich to a surprising degree, especially given how much it feels like your own decisions can make a real impact on the narrative. Sorcery spans four separate interconnected games, each allowing you to transfer your progress (read: decisions and consequences) over. The fourth and final game of the series was released this past September.
That Dragon, Cancer
I’m not sure if iPhone or iPad is the most ideal format for playing That Dragon, Cancer, but whatever way it takes for you to experience this game, do it. That Dragon, Cancer is a semi-autobiographical story from two developers about their son Joel’s fight with cancer. It’s… heartbreaking, to say the least, and an absolute must-play. Make sure you’re sitting down, headphones on, giving it your full attention.
You might also like…
Really Bad Chess (iPhone / iPad), Peter Panic (iPhone / iPad and Android), Super Mario Run (iPhone / iPad), Solitairica (iPhone / iPad and Android), and literally every pick from our 2015 iPhone / iPad / Android games list.