Fallout Shelter on iOS

I bought an iPad Mini in December, and soon went in search of some great games to play on it. One of the first games that I downloaded was Fallout Shelter. It had excellent user ratings and best of all, it was free. I hadn’t played any of the traditional Fallout games, so the franchise was new to me.

The game is great! Beyond the simple enjoyment of the game play, I’m really impressed with how well the app itself is put together. It is solid. It runs smoothly without any glitches, and it has never crashed on me once. It is a bit slow to load, but it has a lot to think about, so I’ll give it a pass on that.

Fallout Shelter is described as a “mobile simulation” game. You build rooms in your vault and assign dwellers to perform different tasks in those rooms. At the basic level, you begin by building rooms that generate power, food, and water. You are encouraged to assign dwellers to particular rooms based on their skill set. After you’ve played the game for some time, rooms are unlocked that can be added to increase the skills of the dwellers.

You can add new dwellers to the vault in two ways. One is by building a radio room and staffing it with dwellers that have high charisma. Dwellers in the wasteland will detect the radio broadcast and arrive to join the vault. Note: The radio room is not available at the beginning of the game.

That leads me to the second way to add dwellers — making babies. Simply drag a man and a woman into the living quarters and sit back and wait a short while. They’ll begin exchanging small talk, and eventually the couple will run off together. The small talk is quite clever and funny, I might add. The game developers appear to have had some fun with that. After the couple returns from running off-screen, the woman emerges pregnant. There is a waiting period before the child arrives, who after that must grow up to become an adult before they can become productive in the vault. Dwellers that are related cannot do this, which is a clever addition.

Naturally, as dwellers are added to the vault, the need for power, food and water increase. Maintaining the balance of energy resources and keeping everyone happy and productive is the main element of the game. Raiders, attacks, fires, and other destructive forces act to slow down your progress.

There is no actual end to the game, except for the limitation that you cannot have more than 200 dwellers in the vault. It makes sense to impose a cap. It’s probably a limitation of the processing power required to calculate and display that much activity.

My vault currently has 89 dwellers. Once I reach 100, I will be able to unlock the final room, which appears to be a bottling facility of some type. At that point, I will reasonably be able to say that I’ve done pretty much everything you can do in the game. To continue adding dwellers beyond that would simply be a matter of having twice as much of everything that I already have in the vault now. I’m nearing the end of the line, but it’s been a lot of fun along the way.

I highly recommend Fallout Shelter. If you like mobile simulation games, you’ll love it. It’s available for iOS and Android. And it’s free! There are in-app purchases available, but I haven’t needed to use any of them, as the game generously allows you to advance painlessly.

I’ve posted a screenshot of my vault below.

Fallout Shelter vault

Pocket Trains

Pocket Trains is a business simulation game from NimbleBit where you manage and grow railroads by transporting cargo around the world. The game was released on iOS and Android in September 2013. I’ve been playing it for a couple of months now. I enjoy the game sound effects and charming 8-bit graphics. I’m currently on level 17 and operating 14 railroads.

The ultimate goal in this game is to acquire a license to operate on every continent and then reach monopoly status on each one. This will take time. Despite playing for a while, I am operating on 4 continents, with 2 remaining to unlock. South America and Oceania are my last two lands to conquer.

Pocket Trains is free. However, you’re incentivized to make in-app purchases to buy extra crates, coins, and game currency called “Bux”. Paying for these items will significantly speed up your game progress, but it is not necessary to pay if you’re willing to be patient and not try to rush through the game. In time, the game will provide you with everything you need to expand your railroads and complete the game without having to spend any real money.

There are countless guides, walkthroughs, and cheat sheets available online for this game. I haven’t actually read any of them. I’ve just been playing through the game on my own, moving cargo about twice a day, and playing casually to build up my railroad operations. Having played it for a while, I have some game tips for you all.

It’s worth making it clear that you can rename your railroads. I didn’t realize this for a while, and as I began to manage new ones, it became hard to tell them apart. Naming the trains is part of the fun. I’ve made silly names that correlate to the color or region of the tracks that they operate on. For example, one of my purple lines is named “Purple Reign”. That amuses me.

If you deploy a train too soon after its last trip, you will get a warning that it needs to be refueled. The game will prompt you to refuel using your Bux, and charge you accordingly depending on the fuel supply that your train currently has remaining. My advice is to never use your Bux to refuel the trains. You need to save your Bux to open the crates that contain parts to make more trains and deploy new railroads. When your fuel is low, simply leave the game and come back later. The trains refuel over time on their own. Also, don’t use the boost feature to speed your train to its destination. Boosts cost Bux and it is a waste of your funds. Just wait it out.

Trains break down over time and require repairs. You can repair broken trains using spare parts you’ve unlocked from crates or by using your coins. In my opinion, the trains break down too frequently. It’s somewhat of a ploy by the developers to get you to waste more of your spare parts and coins so that you’ll be tempted to hurry to get more by using the in-app purchases. My suggestion to you is to simply ignore the train breakdowns. The trains will all still operate while being broken, but they can only move at the slow speed of 25 MPH. As long as you’re not in a hurry to blow through this game, the slow speed is fast enough to reasonably complete your missions. Don’t waste your loot on keeping the trains in perfect working order. It’s worth noting that the longer you run your trains without repairing them, the higher the cost of the repair, should you decide to finally fix them. Repair fees can quickly grow to massive numbers so be careful not to tap the wrong button when dismissing the warnings.

When laying new tracks and expanding your empire, I highly recommend that you avoid the temptation to build train tracks on long spans of bridges. The cost to deploy tracks over water is rather expensive and can eat up a lot of your profits. As you advance in the game and operate more railroads, the amount of profit you receive increases and it will be easier to afford those bridges later in the game.

You don’t have to unlock access to every major city on a continent to achieve monopoly status for that land, you only need to unlock most of them. Once you achieve monopoly status for that land, turn your attention to building up your coins to spend on buying a license to operate on another continent. Each license costs 50,000 coins. This is why I suggested holding off on building expensive bridges early in the game.

I have an annoyance. Every so often when I load the game, I’ll get a popup window that encourages me to download NimbleBit’s other game offerings, most notably Textropolis and Star Wars Tiny Death Star. I suppose that’s a minor inconvenience for an enjoyable game that they are essentially giving away for free, but the ads tend to get on my nerves. Fortunately, one doesn’t appear very often.

One benefit to playing this game that I didn’t expect when I started playing is that it has helped me learn more about geography. I didn’t realize the locations and distances of a lot of the cities in Asia and Africa until this game gave me the incentive to memorize the maps.

Overall, I have to say that Pocket Trains is a lot of fun. I’ve found it to be quite addictive. I’ve really enjoyed playing it. It sounds like I’ve spent a lot of time on it, but I really haven’t. Just five minutes here and there. I know that once I’ve monopolized the planet with my train empire, the game will be over and its luster will fade away. That is one reason why I’m glad I’ve taken it slow and enjoyed the journey.

If Pocket Trains sounds like fun to you then I definitely recommend downloading it and laying some tracks. Enjoy!

Pocket Trains

Words With Friends Stats – For A Fee

I’ve been playing the game Words With Friends for many years now. I began playing way back in 2009 when I got my first iPod Touch. I’ve never been one to tolerate ads in my games, so I bypassed the free version and bought the paid version of the game for $2.99. I bought it well before Zynga acquired the game from Newtoy, the original creator of Words With Friends.

I’ve often had a dozen games going at once, but there are other times when I haven’t touched the game for a couple of months. Currently, I have about 8 games in progress. I usually make my move on each game board once a day when I go to bed at night, but sometimes more often throughout the day, depending on what I’m doing. In all the years I’ve been playing, there is no doubt that I’ve gotten my $3 worth out of this game.

Since Zynga acquired Words With Friends back in late 2010, the company has made several attempts to eke out ever more dollars from its users, even those of us who already paid to download the game in the past. To date, there are the following bonus items available for in-app purchase: Tile Pile ($0.99), Word-O-Meter ($2.99), and the Ultimate Play Pack ($14.99). I don’t know why any of these bonus features would be necessary for gameplay, or what would compel anyone to actually buy them.

I had asked Zynga for years to add some form of win/loss statistics to the game. I’d never understood why that feature wasn’t incorporated in the initial version. What is the motivation to try as hard as you can to win when your loss ratio isn’t tallied in the first place? Also, what negative reinforcement is there to discourage people from just resigning the games that they clearly aren’t going to win? Unfortunately, people do that all the time. The lack of game stats has been a point of frustration for me.

Here is a tweet I wrote to Newtoy way back on September 14, 2010: “@newtoy Why doesn’t Words With Friends keep a tally of my win/loss count? Can this be added as a feature? I’d like to know my game record.”

Yesterday, Zynga answered the call with a new Words With Friends feature: A lifetime win/loss stats page! It’s about time they finally got around to adding this! Not so fast, though. There is a catch. You must fork out $4.99 to access the stats page! That’s lunacy. I don’t care enough to even pay $1, let alone $5. How many people are going to be willing to pay that much money for some stats that they have been playing without for years already? They are simply trying to squeeze every last drop of money that they can on this game. I don’t approve of this senseless money grab one bit. Sorry, but I won’t be paying $5 for the privilege of seeing my stats. No way!

If you want to play with me, my username is Blitzcraig2.

Words With Friends stats for a fee

Temple Run Rocks

A few weeks ago I discovered the mobile game Temple Run, and was hooked immediately. I was actually introduced to this game by my niece. She asked me to play it on her iPod. After playing it, I downloaded it for myself right away. I don’t know how I hadn’t been aware of this game already. It was originally released way back in August 2011. For someone who likes to play games, I can’t believe I hadn’t already been playing this.

Temple Run is a production of Imangi Studios. It is an endless running game. Gameplay begins with your character running from a temple while being chased by some type of demon creatures. From there your character runs endlessly. It’s up to you to tap, swipe, and tilt to avoid obstacles and collect coins and power-ups. As you build your stockpile of collected coins, you are soon able to use them to purchase enhancements to the game. It is the coin collecting that has made the game so addictive for me.

In-app purchases are available for users who want to purchase coins outright, but I don’t see any need to resort to that. I think that the amount of coins and cost of enhancements is paced perfectly to keep one coming back for more. You can eventually unlock everything you need by playing the game normally.

Temple Run gets my highest recommendation. It is one of the most fun mobile games I’ve ever played. It’s available on iOS, Android, and even Windows Phone. It’s ultra-addictive. Since I downloaded the game, I’ve played it hundreds of times. If you haven’t played it yet, you must. Did I mention it is FREE?

Fans of the game will be pleased to know that Temple Run 2 was released in early 2013. I have the sequel and have played it some. The graphics are more polished in the new game. It is still true to the original, but a tad more complex and sports a few different features. Both are great games, but I’m still perfecting my craft on the original, so I’m trying not to get lured in just yet by the flashy newness of Temple Run 2.

Temple Run

Loving Letterpress!

A couple of weeks ago, a simple word game was launched that has taken iOS devices by storm. The game is called Letterpress, and was developed by Loren Brichter of Atebits, the guy who wrote the very popular Tweetie app.

Letterpress is incredibly fun and joyfully addictive. With each turn, you must make a word from the available letter tiles on the game board. Once you do, those tiles become your color. The goal is to control as many tiles on the board with your color as you can. Once the last unclaimed tile is used, the game ends with the winner being the player that holds the majority control of the board. I’ve given a very simplistic explanation of the gameplay, but there is actually a great deal of strategy involved.

Letterpress is free to download. The free version doesn’t have any ads, but does limit the user to two games at a time. A 99¢ in-app purchase removes that limitation, unlocks multiple color themes, and provides a list of words that have already been played in the current game. I think the pricing structure for this app is spot-on, and a model for casual games going forward. Naturally, I paid for the upgrade so I can have multiple games going at once.

I am impressed with the degree of polish in the version 1.0 release of this app. The subtle visual and sound effects are beautifully implemented. I highly recommend that everyone download and play this creative, imaginative game. Prepare to get hooked immediately!

There has been no word of an Android version of Letterpress in development. I’m not sure how that would work across platforms since the game is tied to Apple’s Game Center. Still, it would be nice to be able to play with my friends who are on Android.

As polished as the initial release of the game is, I do have a few feature requests that I’d like to see included in future updates. Those requests are as follows:

  1. There is currently no way to rematch a player when a game has ended. The only way to do so is to go to Game Center, search for their username, add them as a Game Center friend, then request to start a new game. This is a glaring omission and needs to be added as soon as possible.
  2. I would like for the game to tell me how long it has been since my opponent has made a move. When I glance at the list of active games, I can’t tell which have been played recently and which have not. I’d like to know when it’s been several days since my opponent has moved because I want to resign that game and play with someone more attentive.
  3. I would like an overall tally of how many games I’ve won or lost, with a percentage of success on display somewhere. Since this game is so closely tied to Game Center, I am not sure how this would be implemented, but I’d like to see it added to the game in some form.
  4. There are currently no Game Center achievements to unlock in Letterpress. I’m not sure what kind of achievements could be added, but I would like to at least see something there. Perhaps my suggestion above about the number of games won or played could be rolled into an achievement?
  5. There could perhaps be an option to play offline with a friend where the two of you can pass the phone back and forth between moves. This isn’t particularly important to me, but some users have asked for this feature in their App Store reviews, so I think it would be sensible to include it.

It’s worth mentioning that you should enable notifications for Game Center. Make sure those are turned on in the iOS settings. When I first began playing Letterpress I was frustrated that the game didn’t announce when I’d lost. It turned out that I was supposed to be notified but I had the Game Center notifications turned off.

You can follow Atebits and Letterpress on Twitter at: @atebits and @letterpressapp.

A side note: This game has become such a hit, I’d imagine that the folks at Zynga are rubbing their hands thinking, “How can we make a slower, bloated, ad-filled game that looks exactly like this?” Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Letterpress app

Sorry! Isn’t a Sorry Game After All

I’ve found myself recounting this story countless times over the years. Let me say, before I even begin this tale, that the technical name of the game I am writing about is called Sorry! (with an exclamation mark.) In the context of this text, using the exclamation mark when I write the name looks crazy, so I’m not going to.

The sight of the board game Sorry always takes me back my days of being a kid. It’s not that I have fond memories of playing it when I was growing up; quite the opposite. As a kid, I’d never played it at all. Sorry wasn’t in our family game collection. It was, however, in every other persons home that I could remember. My brother can probably back me up on this. It seemed as though every household had this game at some point or other.

Despite that level of penetration into the masses, no one ever wanted to play it. Ever.

I can still recall my childhood days, hanging out with other kids in the neighborhood. When we’d sit down for a board game and Sorry was mentioned, it was consistently shunned. “That’s an awful game,” they would say. This has been the consensus with most everyone I’ve ever met — to this day. It has always baffled me that the same people who have repeatedly shunned the game actually own it themselves. Why did they buy it in the first place, I’ve often wondered?

Many moons ago, I coaxed my girlfriend at the time to play with me. After the game was over, I agreed that the gameplay of Sorry wasn’t all that fun. Still, it was momentous to have finally gotten the chance to play it after a lifetime of wondering what it was all about. It’s funny, I’d seen the Sorry game box at friends houses all my life but didn’t get to actually play the game until I was in my mid-twenties.

I’m bringing this all back around again because my friend Agnes has Hasbro Family Game Night on her Nintendo Wii. One of the games in the Hasbro package is Sorry! I told her my Sorry saga and we laughed. We played. And we have since played the Wii game a few times now. Once I got the hang of it, I found it not to be sorry at all. Dare I say, it’s fun! At least the Wii version of the game is fun. Perhaps I’ve been swayed by the catchy special effects in the game, but looking past that, the premise of the game itself and rules of Sorry do indeed make for a fun experience.

Whether you have a digital version of Sorry or the old fashioned board game, I suggest pulling it out and giving it another go. If you don’t own Sorry, chances are you know someone who does. Play it. Who knows, you might actually enjoy it.

Sorry! Game

Jetpack Joyride

I’ve become hooked on a new iOS game called Jetpack Joyride. It is made by Halfbrick, the company who brought Fruit Ninja to the masses. Jetpack Joyride is an addictive side-scroller. Gameplay, graphics, and sounds are all top-notch. I love that there are gobs of achievements to unlock. It works with both GameCenter and OpenFeint. The game is a universal app that plays on both the iPhone and iPad. Jetpack Joyride is certainly worth the 99¢ price tag. Play it now!

Jetpack Joyride Screenshot

Voodoo Castle on Commodore

A long time ago when my brother Chris and I were kids, we played a text-based adventure game on our Commodore 64 computer. Prior to owning a Commodore 64, we had an even older computer, the Commodore VIC-20. I am uncertain which computer we played this game on, as it was available for both machines. The game was called Voodoo Castle and it was released way back in 1980. At the time, there were no graphics or special effects to speak of. As I said, this game was text-only. We had to use the power of our imaginations to create the imagery in our minds. In many ways, it was like participating in a “choose your own adventure” book.

This past Christmas, in 2010, my brother and I recanted tales of this long lost game. At first, we struggled to even remember what the game was called. After doing some online research, we are now certain the game we once enjoyed was indeed Voodoo Castle. I don’t exactly know the time-frame in which we originally played it, but it was popular in our household at some point around 1983-1984. This game is probably where I mastered my typing skills as a young lad.

Voodoo Castle was released on a plastic cartridge that you plugged into the back of the computer (image below). As such, there was no way to save the game! Once we turned off the computer, all progress was lost. If you’re too young to have used a computer in those days, I’m sure you can’t even imagine what that was like. Well, that was the reality for games that were released 30 years ago. We simply didn’t know any better!

I have no recollection of how the game ends. I do vividly remember repeatedly reaching a point in the game where it told us, “You are lost in a maze of passages.” At that point, you are virtually screwed and no exit can be found.

I’m excited to announce that the complete game is now available on the Internet for free. You can play it in its entirety in your browser via a Java applet. I have played it, and it really took me back. Try it yourself!

Voodoo Castle cartridge

Voodoo Castle cover art