Abstract Games for iPhone and iPad – The Definitive List
This is a (regularly updated) collection of iOS apps for luck-free 2-player abstract strategy games, including links to the iTunes App Store for each. It was a pain to collect them (it required searching for and testing A LOT of apps) but I did it, because I care about these games. I need help keeping it current, so I’ll be grateful to anyone who links to games I’ve missed in the comments, or better apps for the games I have listed. Also, if you find problems with any of the apps listed, please comment about that as well.
Multiple apps exist for each classic game and I’ve tested many. I’ve listed the best app I know of for each game.
9 Men’s Morris – Create lines of 3 of your own pieces in a row to capture your opponent’s pieces. Win by capturing all but 2 of your opponent’s pieces. The app features online and local multiplayer, or play against the AI. The online part is done especially well, with ELO rankings, a good chat system, and other goodies.
Checkers – Capture opponent pieces by jumping over them. Win by capturing all your opponent’s pieces or blocking him so he can’t move. Play against AI at several levels or against another human. Great user interface that highlights legal moves. You can play with or without the compulsory capture rule.
Chess (t Chess Pro) – The most famous western abstract game gets an app worthy of its stature. Everything about it works beautifully, it has all the features you’d expect , and many others you don’t: really strong chess engine, position editor, opening libraries, an integrated ebook for learning the game, etc.
Connect 4 – One of the simplest of the classic games. Drop chips into slots to be the first to a row of 4. Play against the computer, with friends via bluetooth or pass-and-play, or over the internet. Lots of achievements to play for, several different game modes, and even has cut-scenes and exploding chips. Ridiculous.
Dots and Boxes – Players take turns drawing lines between dots on the board. When a player draws a line that completes a box, the player “owns” that box. Whoever owns more boxes when the game board is full is the winner. Play locally, online, or against an AI with several difficulty settings.
Fanorona – Classical game probably invented in the 1600s, from Madagascar. Capturing game where you capture enemy pieces by moving your own piece toward or away from a line of enemy pieces. Features online play, or you can play against an AI at several different difficulty levels.
Go – The Emperor of Boardgames. 2000 years old and deep as the ocean. This is perhaps the most well-done app on this list, but also the most expensive ($19.99). Way too many features to list here, but lacks online play. If your main desire is online play, try this one, which is cheaper and has many admirers.
Gomoku – A simple, ancient game from the far East. Place stones to be first to create a row of 5. Play against one of four levels of computer opponent or against a friend. Multiple board sizes to choose from. You can start a game by bumping your phone with your opponents’.
Hex – Hex has among the simplest rules of any game, and yet it’s deep. It’s also the main inspiration for teeming hoards of abstract game designers (to the extent that they teem), me included. Play against computer opponent or over the internet against players all over the world (the computer opponent is weak).
Mancala – Another ancient game. Scoop up pebbles from a pit and sow them, one at a time, into other pits. A simple but very well done app. Includes play statistics, Three difficulty levels for the computer opponent, and multiple themes for the board and the pieces.
Pente – This game is like Go Moku above (you try to complete a row of 5), except it has a capture rule and a few other enhancements. Play against a friend or 3 levels of computer opponent. This is the best Pente app I could find but it ain’t great. The app is old, the AI is weakish, and it plays oddly.
Reversi (Othello) – Well known game where you flip rows of your opponents’ pieces by bracketing them with your own pieces. Player with the most pieces on the board when it’s full wins. Play against a human or variable-difficulty computer opponent. Includes undo function. Auto-saves games when you exit the app.
Shogi (Japanese Chess) – This game, one of the most popular in Japan, has only lately become well known in the West. Many who play it, me included, end up liking it more than we like regular (Western) Chess. Captured pieces can “parachute” back into battle, which changes everything. Excellent, feature-rich app.
Tafl – Game of unequal sides invented by Vikings (!!!) hundreds of years ago. One side tries to help his King escape, while the other side tries to capture him. Has lots of features and pretty graphics. You can play against humans in realtime or via email, or against the computer opponent, but the computer opponent is weak.
XiangQi (Chinese Chess) – The national game of China and reportedly the most-played game in the world. It’s like regular (Western) Chess, but the pace is faster and there’s more action. There were tons of XiangQi apps to choose from, and this one is amazing – ridiculously feature-rich. Favorite feature: hundreds of Xiangqi problems to solve.
Modern and Obscure Abstract Games
These games aren’t as well-known as those above. In rare cases there were multiple apps for the same game and here again each link is to the one I consider best.
22 Apples – Move around the board and be first to collect 11 green apples or 11 red apples, or force your opponent to collect more than that. 3 different variants available, and 3 different AI levels. Or play against friends via pass-and-play, or over the internet. Includes leaderboard/achievements.
Abalone – I almost put this in the classics section, but I put it here because it’s a flawed game in that it’s prone to stalemates and over-defensive play. However, the app, which is excellent, fixes the problem by allowing various initial marble layouts and even has an editor that allows you to set up your own board.
Alchemy – Combine different pieces together in stacks and prevent your opponent from doing so. Stacks occasionally explode. Play against a friend via pass-and-play or against the computer opponent at different difficulty levels. Good graphics and competent computer opponent.
Animal Chess (Dou Shou Qi) – Simple, Chess-like game popular in China. Each player tries to move her pieces into her opponent’s “den” area. Not super-deep and as such good for playing with children. Play againt AI opponent or a friend. No online play. Cartoony animal graphics.
Arimaa – A popular modern abstract. Players race to move a piece from one end of the board to another. The app is high-quality, with lots of features: tutorials, various difficulty levels, handicaps, play against humans or computer opponents, rating system, email games, the ability to replay games, and more.
Chekked – A cross between Chess and Checkers. You capture like in Chess but your pieces can stack and get more powerful like in Checkers. The identity of the pieces you start with depends on your previous win/loss record. 8 different AI opponents with different styles.
Clara – This is like Hex in the classics section above, except there are no spaces on the board. You place objects in an open field and try to connect them to create a chain across the board one way before your opponent can create a chain to cut you off. I don’t know much about the app – I haven’t played it.
Coffee – This game is like Gomoku above, but your opponent can limit where you place a stone on your turn. The game is quick and light. Play against computer opponent or other humans over the web. Features chat, ranking system, and nice graphics. Note: this game has nothing to do with actual coffee.
Connect6 – This is like Gomoku above except players place 2 stones per turn instead of one, in an effort to form a row of 6. The result is a much better game, imo. The app features computer opponents, pass-and-play against a friend, internet play, and puzzle-solving challenges.
CubeSieger – Player take turns placing cubes on a board and moving them, slowly turning them into stacks. So it requires 3-dimensional thinking. Features local bluetooth play, internet play (with opponent matching option), GameCenter integration. Has a weird “free play” mode where you just play around with the blocks.
Diaballik – This game is a little like rugby or soccer: you pass a ball between your pieces to try to move it to your opponent’s side while your opponent tries to get his own ball to your side. Play against a friend via pass-and-play or against a computer opponent. Two different variants of the game are available.
For the Win – Each player has ten tiles (2 each of zombies, pirates, monkeys, aliens and ninjas). To win you must connect 5 into one big clump, with certain restrictions. Has AI opponent with several difficulty levels, pass-and-play for up to 4 players, tutorial, leaderboards, and among the best graphics on this list.
The Game of Gale – (iPad only) Old square-grid connection game from the 1960’s. Also known as Bridg-It. It’s most famous feature is that a perfect winning “point pairing” strategy was discovered for the player who goes first. If you know the strategy, it’s not much of a game. Play locally against a friend or against an AI.
GIPF – (iPad only) I haven’t tried this one, there are no reviews, no information about the app’s features, and it seems to be an “unofficial” version – proceed at your own risk. The game itself is the central game in the most famous collection of modern abstract games, the GIPF series, and it’s great.
Hey, That’s my Fish! – An ice-floe with a bunch of penguins on it is breaking up and you try to get your penguins on the biggest chunks and strand your opponent’s penguins on the little chunks. Play against AI or human opponents on several different board layouts. Includes an optional move-timer with several settings.
Hippos and Crocodiles – Place pieces to crowd out your opponent and make it impossible for him to place his own pieces. One player’s pieces are shaped like hippos and the others’ like crocodiles. Play against computer or online against other humans. Features chat, high scores, rankings, and great graphics.
Hive – Take turns placing and moving pieces on a table, such that all pieces stay connected in one big group, and try to surround your opponent’s “queen” piece. Features online play, pass-and-play, and several levels of AI opponent – each level can only be unlocked by beating the level below it. The graphics are 3D.
Horror Vacui – Charming retro graphics. Players place pieces of different temperature, affecting the temperature around them. Player with the most “normal” temperature pieces on the board when it’s full wins. I haven’t played this one, and there may be a luck element (anyone know?).
Kamisado – Colorful Chess-like game. Where each player moves on her turn determines which piece her opponent is allowed to move on her next turn, which is mind-bending. The goal is to move a certain piece from your end of the board to your opponent’s end. Several AI levels; the high levels are killers.
Khet – In board game form, this Chess-like game is famous for using real lasers. Your pieces are mirrors and you have to use them to direct your laser to what is essential your opponent’s king. The app can be a bit buggy, seems to crash sometimes, and of course no real lasers. But lots of features and good AI.
Kismat – Kismat is inspired by one of the most unusual abstract games ever invented: Tamsk. Your pieces are sand-timers. When you move a piece, you flip it, and if a sand-timer runs out before you move it, it’s dead forever. Play against the AI, via pass-and-play, or (amazingly, given the crazy timing issues), online.
The L Game – This is a historical curiosity – it was invented by lateral thinking expert Edward de Bono as an attempt to build an interesting strategy game out of a tiny number of components, in this case a 4×4 grid and 4 pieces. I’m not sure if it succeeds, but it’s a fascinating attempt.
Let’s Catch the Lion – Up in the classics section there’s a game called Shogi, which is an excellent, even timeless game, but can be hard to learn. Let’s Catch the Lion is a supersimple version of Shogi, often used to teach children. Doesn’t have a ton of features, but it does what it does well. Includes AI opponent.
Lines of Action – A borderline classic – has had some international competitions. Players start with pieces lining the edge of the board, and each tries to be first to move her pieces into one connected clump. Play against not-super-strong AI or against friend; not online. Crisp, lovely graphics.
Mana – This one is for iPad only. Winner of an international game design competition Concours International de Créateurs de Jeux de Société. A fast, Chess-like game with unusual mechanisms. Play against AI or friends via pass-and-play. Features a game timer for high-pressure games.
Martian Chess – Chess-like game where the pieces change sides depending on where they land. Score points to win. Play against another human via pass-and-play or over the web, or against the computer opponent. Beautiful, soothing graphics. This app is free but it has ads (you can disable the ads by paying a small fee).
Momentum – Elegent, twisty little game where you place marbles on the board, which in turn repel opponent pieces off the board, forcing your opponent to take them back. The goal is to be the first to get rid of your marbles. Features online multiplayer and solo modes, along with a ranking system and scoreboard.
Neutron – Players take turn moving their own pieces and the neutral piece. The goal is to be the first to surround the neutral piece or carry it to your home row on the board. You can play against a friend via pass-and-play or against an AI. I haven’t played this one, but it appears there’s no online play.
Pentago – One of the most commercially successful modern games. It’s like Gomoku in that you try to complete a row of stones. But here one quadrant of the board is rotated 90 degrees on every turn, which leads to surprises. The app is a non-official version and I don’t have much experience with it.
Phalanx – On the one hand this is an uncredited ripoff of Epaminondas, a famous game by Eminence Grise designer Robert Abbott. On the other hand, it’s a fairly well-done ripoff of a very good game. However: it has no AI, which is a bit criminal these days.
Symmetry – The goal is to have the most stones on the board when it’s full. If you create a symmetrical pattern of pieces in a subgrid on the board, all the pieces there are switched to your color. No ability to play online or against a friend. You can only play against the AI, but you can share scores on GameCenter.
Through the Desert – Famed game designer Reiner Knizia’s take on the connection game genre. You create chains of camels across the desert. The app is good, except it’s too easy to accidentally put a camel in the wrong place, especially on the iphone. Decent online play, but hard to find an opponent.
Tix – You place cubes on a board, move them, activate them and inactivate them. The goal is to inactivate all your opponent’s pieces. Play against a friend with pass-and-play or against 3 levels of computer opponent. Includes achievements. Great graphics and smooth play.
Trax – Simple, deep game, which could just as well have gone in the “classics” section, given that it’s widely admired and was invented in 1980. Place pieces on a board and try to be the first either to form a loop or a line in your own color. Play against a friend with pass-and-play or against the computer opponent.
Versus – Score points by moving pieces to various locations on the board, but your pieces can be moved by opponent pieces which act like magnets, or even converted to the other side. There are 2 game-modes (fast and slow), and you can play against a friend via pass-and-play, but note: there is no computer opponent.
Virus Wars – Deep, rich game that originated as a paper-and-pencil game in Russia, or so I’ve heard. Well done app with online play, bluetooth play against friends, or play against an AI that can be monstrously hard. Comes with a good tutorial and graphics that nod cutely to the game’s paper-and-pencil origins.
Vorble – 3D game played on a sphere tiled with hexagons and pentagons, like a soccer ball. You battle for control of the tiles. Play online, locally, or against AI. It’s also got a bunch of variants to play, a number of achievements, and a leaderboard on GameCenter.
Wizard Hex – Transmute your pieces and use special piece powers to gain territory. Maybe the best graphics I’ve seen – like playing with enchanted amulets from Middle Earth. Play against the computer, with a friend via pass-and-play, or over the internet. Features voice chat and internet leaderboards. For 2-4 players.
If that still isn’t enough for you, check out this list of abstract games from ipadboardgames.com. There isn’t a ton of overlap between their list and mine: they have games that include luck elements, single-player puzzles, and some stuff which doesn’t meet the strict inclusion criteria of my list. One nice thing is every game is fairly thoroughly reviewed.
Last updated 10.9.13