App of the Week – Fiz: The Brewery Management Game

Developer: Bit By Bit Studios

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 4.3

Price: $1.99

Available: Here

While every man has no doubt entertained the thought of brewing their own beer at some point, the incredibly pricey and unappealing process of actually doing so tends to successfully deter all but the most die hard of brewmeisters.

Instead of lamenting another goal tossed by the wayside, though, why not download “Fiz: The Brewery Management Game” and put those ale ambitions and distillery dreams to the test?

“Fiz” is another in a line of micromanagement games that have have thus far covered everything from restaurants to the death star. The objective here, as you no doubt guessed, is to start a brewery in your garage and turn it into a world wide name in fine beer.

As you also probably guessed, it takes a lot of work to get there. On the road to success you’ll have to perfect your recipe, craft it, sell it, keep an eye on the market place, hire and fire employees with various skills, upgrade your equipment, compete with rival breweries, compete in beer challenges, kill rodents, complete special assignments, and much, much more.

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If it sounds like a lot of work that’s because it is. This is a game that asks a lot out of you and, no matter how successful of a brewery you may be running, is constantly giving you something to do.

While that could be a bad thing, somehow the developers managed to present all of this information and all of these tasks to you in a very gradual way that makes it so you may always be busy, but you’ll never be lost. This philosophy extends to the controls as well, as everything is handled through  just a few taps.

You can’t overstate how important that balance is to the fun factor of this game. Too often this genre produces titles that are either too simple to last, or too complex to be enjoyable. That “Fiz” so expertly gives you so much to do, and presents it in a way so that the instant you’re asked to do more is the moment you’re ready for it, is a true accomplishment in game design.

It also doesn’t hurt that the game doesn’t take itself seriously at all from an aesthetic standpoint. Everything from the writing, to the sounds, to the character designs have been expertly crafted to infuse a level of fun into all the game’s various proceedings, and they go a long way to keeping the proceedings light when they could otherwise so easily become hectic and aggravating.

Another in a strand of Kickstarter success stories, “Fiz” is simply a highly enjoyable game that takes some already intriguing subject matter, and bolsters its appeal with airtight game design. I never realized how little I was enjoying other micromanagement titles, until I started to spend some real time with “Fiz.” It’s such a marvel of the genre that that you’ll want to buy the developers a beer after just a little time with it.

With no micro-transactions to its name and hours upon hours of content to explore, “Fiz” is a prime example of mobile gaming done right. Take a break from all your worries, crack open a cold one, and be sure to spend some time with this lovingly brewed app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Skulls of the Shogun

Developer: 17-BIT, Inc.

Compatible with: iPhone 4 and up, iPad 2 and up, iPod Touch 4th gen and up

Requires: iOS 4.3

Price: $4.99

Available: Here

Strategy games on the mobile scene are a tricky lot. Too often many of them just default to the tower defense style and get lost in the masses of that sub-genre, while those that aim a little higher tend to be crushed under the weight of their own ambition or simply don’t appeal to those not looking for an in depth strategy game on their phone and tablets.

Yes, it’s not easy to make a compelling new strategy game for mobile devices. That’s why “Skulls of the Shogun” is all the more impressiv

Now, the first thing to know is that “Skulls of the Shogun” had a long road to becoming a mobile title. It started out its life as a Windows 8 exclusive, and has made an appearance just about everywhere else since then. However, it’s on the mobile scene where I feel confident saying it may have finally found its home.

A big reason behind that is the simplicity of the game’s combat and movement. There’s only a few units in the game (generals, monks, archers, infantry, cavalry) with a few variations, and they all work in a rock, paper, scissors format to insure that no one unit is necessarily more powerful. Moving them around is also as easy as it gets, as you simply tap your unit and choose where in their movement circle you’d like to place them. Combat also only consists of a few taps, when you are in range.

There are a couple of variants in place, though, that keeps things interesting. For instance there are various rice fields on the battlefield which can be occupied by your units and produce currency which is then used to purchase additional units. There’s also terrain advantages and disadvantages to consider such as bamboo used for hiding, and spikes which can cause additional damage to both you and the enemy. There’s also a somewhat morbid, yet very interesting, mechanic which requires you to devour the skulls of your enemies in order to power up your general.

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It’s a set-up that reminds me of the “Advanced Wars” series. That’s a comparison that I don’t make lightly, as those happen to be among the greatest strategy games of all time despite their relative simplicity. In both cases, these games take their smaller set ups and turn them from a potential detriment, into games that take advantage of the smaller number of variables and provide some of the tightest, most intense, and most rewarding experiences in the genre.

Now, don’t take that to mean the game is difficult. It isn’t. Instead it finds a rare balance in challenge that makes it so you often have to consider your movements, but are never overwhelmed by what is happenings. It’s a balance that makes it part of the reason the game works as well as it does on the mobile format, as you move along at a brisk pace, yet spend your game time still having to consider your options and their consequences.

The game’s art style is also perfect for your device as while it is far from visually taxing, the level of commitment put into the art style is head and shoulders above many modern games. More than just visually pleasing, the art style maintains a consistency throughout the game’s run that ensures that every new element introduced fits perfectly into the incredible world they come together to form. Even better, that world adds a dimension to the experience that easily sucks you into the proceedings in a way that only the best visual designs can.

There’s few games as easy to recommend as “Skulls of the Shogun.” It’s the type of game that mobile devices could use more of, as it feels like something that would have been released to great acclaim on a full fledged mobile system like the Nintendo DS, but comes in at a fraction of the price of one of those titles. It’s an immediately appealing and constantly engaging game that never wears out its welcome and encourages you to keep coming back based on no other factor than the consistent fun it provides.

One of the most complete experiences available on the app store, “Skulls of the Shogun” is also my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Friendstrap

Developer: Game Oven

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: Free

Available: Here

While the heyday of the board game may have passed long ago in the eyes of many, if you haven’t been paying attention to them lately you may be surprised to find that some of the absolute best party games available to adults are board games. Whether it be the raunchy and hilarious “Cards Against Humanity,” or the clever take on the battle of the sexes “Ladies and Gentlemen” provides, there are a growing number of board games out there that may cause your guests a moment of hesitation when you suggest them, but will soon have them engaged in a way that no other form of party entertainment can achieve.

“Friendstrap” is not one of those board games. However it does retain the spirit of them, as well as the relaxed yet competitive atmosphere they can lead to.

It’s setup couldn’t be more simple. You and a friend put a finger on one of the two dots on screen while a topic appear atop, and a counter begins on the bottom. To play you each have to simply have a conversation on the topic until it disappears and is replaced with another. You repeat this until someone removes the finger and thus themselves from the conversation.

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Now where this gets interesting is in the topics themselves. While some are no more invasive than the weather, others can get incredibly intimate and even awkward. Even better, the topics themselves are often presented in only a few vague words (for instance; “Friends With Benefits”) allowing the psyche of the users to take the game in unique directions. For instance, one strategy would be for each player to pursue the most outlandish conversation paths in order to ensure their companion is too mortified to contribute.

To be honest, based solely on its built-in design, “Friendstrap” is an incomplete experience that works better as a conversation starter or time killer than a full on game. However, with the application of a few “house rules”to keep the participants in check, and the right kind of participants, there is a lot of potential in its simple set up to lead to hours of laughter. Fortunately no such outside creativity is required for the topics themselves which remain ambiguous and entertaining regardless of the specifics of the personal games you create using the built-in set up. With over a 1,000 of these topics included (with additional, even more awkward ones available for purchase) you’re likely to never have the same conversation twice, especially when considering the individual whims of the players.

It’d be misleading to call “Friendstrap” a complete app, as taken at surface value there frankly isn’t much to it. However, the incredibly ambiguous set up is best viewed an an intentional design, as it allows whomever has a finger in the game a level of control over the experience that caters more to their individual whims and unique quirks, rather than forces them to necessarily adhere to pre-set rules. In that regard, its incomplete nature becomes its greatest asset as it ensures every session will be entertaining and unique above all else.

If conversation is truly a lost art, then the ability for “Friendstrap” to strike up entertaining conversations between nearly any participants on any of its topic makes the app something of a work of art itself. An unassuming yet brilliantly maniacal party game, there’s little discussion to be had regarding “Friendstrap’s” status as app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Ridiculous Fishing

Developer: Vlambeer

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android Devices

Requires: iOS 5.0, Android 2.3

Price: $2.99 (or on Android for $5.21 as part of the Humble Bundle)

Available: here (for iOS) and here (for Android)

You don’t often get a second chance in life.

For instance, earlier this year when I missed the debut of “Ridiculous Fishing” on iOS, I thought I’d missed my chance to cover what may just be the most entertaining gaming app of the year. As luck would have it, though, the fine folks at Vlambeer have finally released the game for Android, and given me a chance to let anyone who may not know in on one of the best gaming apps you can buy.

As you may have gathered from the title, this is a game about fishing. Specifically it’s about a simplified arcade style of fishing and as such gameplay boils down to little more than casting your line, tilting your device left and right to avoid as many fish as possible, and then waiting until your line runs out so you can grab as many fish as possible on your way back up. Touching a fish on the way down will result in your line being pulled in early, and therefore a smaller catch. To help you make bigger and better catches are a variety of upgrades that provide special items, better lures, longer lines and a host of other benefits.

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Sound simple? It is. However, as you no doubt also gathered from the title, besides being about fishing this game is also ridiculous. This changes things quite a bit.

For instance once you bring the fish to the surface, instead of putting them in the boat and maybe cooking a nice dinner with them later, you throw them in the air as high as you can and pull out a gun to blast them to hell with for money. With that money you buy those aforementioned upgrades. Only, since these upgrades are ridiculous, they include things like chainsaw lures which can slice through any fish in your way along with better and more powerful guns that allow you to shoot more airborne fish when the time comes.

It’s quite simply arcade perfection. There is an appeal in trying to catch new species in order to move on to the next area or to top your high score, but the real pleasure here is a visceral one that isn’t easily described and is better to experience. It’s a game in three parts (avoidance, catching, shooting as many airborne sea creatures as possible) and all three are tightly design and work together to create one of the most entertaining time killers that mobile gaming has produced yet.

“Ridiculous Fishing” defines pick up and play perfection. With its seamless gameplay and surprisingly appealing visuals, it’s a rare kind of title that is insanely addictive while you are playing it, yet can be put down in an instant when you have to only to be right where you left it when you get back. I’ll never know how I missed “Ridiculous Fishing” the first time around, but make sure you don’t make the same mistake and pick up this very belated app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Aereo

Developer: Aereo

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Android 4.2

Price: Free ($8 a month subscription fee for service required)

Available: here

It’s not a huge surprise that one of the more popular demands in the world of technology is for people to have easier access to their favorite content for far less money, but it is interesting that there are a number of programs and companies out there providing just that. Steam does it for games, Spotify does it for songs, Netflix does it for DVD’s, and a growing company called Aereo is proposing to do it for live TV.

Of those Aereo is by far the least established, but among the most desired. More and more people are ditching their cable services, but there is still a strong desire to have access to basic television content (like sports) that keep a large number of subscribers paying more than they should for the content they actually watch. Aereo proposes, as an alternative, that you pay them $8 a month to have both live and DVR access to all the major basic cable networks, along with a growing number of preminum cable channels online. Available only in America, and largely on the East Coast, they might not have the coverage they’ll need to accomplish that goal quite yet, but the service they offer is very legitimate, and quite effective.

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And now thanks to a public beta, you can download Aereo and have access to it on your android mobile device.  It’s the same service as you get through the Aereo website (and there is no additional fee to use the app), but it’s easy to see how the ability to stream live TV legally and for extremely cheap is much more appealing on the go than it is in the home. That’s especially true once you factor in the DVR capabilities the app retains, as you can pause, record, and save programs from your device as well.

A perfect companion to Netflix and Spotify, Aereo may just find its calling on the mobile market, especially for football fans who can never find themselves at home on a Sunday. While it needs a lot more channels to be considered a real threat to cable, the fact that you are able to get the most basic channels plus a few more for a cost that is more in-line with the content you’ll actually use than cable, suggests that this is a program that is on to something big, and might soon become the best friend to the growing number of people who’ve cancelled their cable and occasionally lament the decision.

Be sure to check if you have access to the beta (not all devices are compatible at this time) and if you are in Aereo’s market, but if so then it’s pretty easy to recommend the service, especially since the first month is free. Even in it’s clearly un-finished state, it provides a desirable product in an effective manner and deserves to be given a shot by anyone who occasionally wishes to have access to television as they know it at home while on the go. It remains to be seen if it can join the ranks of similar services and re-shape how we watch TV, but even as it stands now Aereo is certainly the app of the week.

  

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