Hands On: Big Bang Board Games for iPhone

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Erica Sadun
September 17th, 2008
In this article: Big Bang, BigBang, Freeverse, games, iPhone
Hands On: Big Bang Board Games for iPhone
I love Freeverse's Big Brain Bang Board games for Mac so I was super excited to hear that they'd ported them over to the iPhone [iTunes link]. And sure enough, many of the great features that make the software such a winner on the Mac are there on the phone: the snarky avatars (yes, you can tap them), the adjustable gameplay levels, the great graphics, and so forth.

But like many other developers out there, Freeverse has overlooked one big design principle. That principle is: Fingers big; iPhone small. Failing this reduces the game from "must have" to "your mileage will vary".

The iPhone is not a desktop machine. Software needs to be re-imagined not just re-platformed. Developers need to re-design around the hardware and human factors that limit the platform. And it's there that Freeverse made some mis-steps, particularly in sizing.

A couple of the Big Brain Bang games are practically unplayable. Backgammon is the worst offender, both in landscape or portrait play. Although Freeverse has done an amazing job minimizing interaction issues on a tiny screen (the legal plays are highlighted in blue and can be tapped), some game spots are nearly untouchable, leading to a dozen taps or more to advance one move in game play. Late in the four-in-a-row game, it's almost impossible to drop your pieces at the two ends of the board due to the height of the stacks.

The problems comes from two sources: first, Freeverse retained its gorgeous 3D graphics in the port. That means that board areas suffer from perspective -- they lose pixels to style. Second, the platform itself only has so many pixels to offer. It's a tiny screen and we interact with fingers not styluses. Freeverse needs to redesign some of those games to make sure that the thumbfingered as well as the nimble can play.

So that having been said, what works? Obviously, the flexible game play the big winner. Big Brain Bang offers Backgammon, Tic Tac Toe, Chess, Checkers, Reversi, Mancala, and 4 In A Row. Chess, Checkers, and Reversi remain the most playable and enjoyable. The audio design matches the desktop experience, which will appeal or not according to taste. Finally, Freeverse loaded up the package with options that allow you to adjust playback difficulty. So there's a lot of win in the package, even if you might be disappointed with some of the specific play features.

Big Brain Bang Board Games[iTunes link] costs $7.99 and can be played on both iPhone and iPod touch, although the latter requires headphones or an external speaker to experience the sound effects.

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