The best iOS games from October and November
Thanksgiving may be over, but we’re still thankful for the amazing games that dropped for iOS throughout October and November. These range from graphically and strategically complex games like Civilization VI to charming puzzlers like Eloh. We can also now tend to our farms in the beloved Stardew Valley on our phones, and find out how Jon Snow fares on the Iron Throne in the delightful Reigns: Game of Thrones. Regardless of whether you want action or ambiance, we’re sure you’ll find something to enjoy in the latest crop of games.
Stardew Valley ($7.99)
Viewed from afar, Stardew Valley looks a lot like the 1991 fantasy adventure The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. But the fantasy here has nothing to do with swords and sorcery. Instead, it’s the fantasy of escaping the bustle of office life in favor of running an inherited farm outside a cozy coastal village. You can clear land and harvest crops, and you can tromp into caves to sift through ore. Beyond that, you can hobnob with the local folk and get married.
Remarkably, it rarely feels repetitive. The simplified controls make for rougher gameplay than what you’ll find in other ports, but otherwise it’s quite possible to harvest many hours of escapist fun from this Harvest Moon-inspired gem.
Reigns: Game of Thrones ($3.99)
Reigns: Game of Thrones is as simple as Tinder, but it’s one of the finest games to come out of George R.R. Martin’s beloved fantasy universe. You’re thrown on the Iron Throne as Jon Snow, Sansa Stark, or many other characters familiar from the HBO series, and you swipe left and right or make decisions that affect your standing among the military, the church, and the people. Through it all, you struggle to stuff your coffers with gold.
You’ll rarely survive to see the ending. As in Martin’s books, each reign here is often nasty, brutish, and short—but then, that’s part of the fun. The endless swiping inevitably leads to some repetition, but otherwise Reigns: Game of Thrones stands out for how it makes each king and queen face specific challenges that their HBO counterparts might see.
Kingdom Rush Vengeance ($4.99)
Tower defense games are among the great clichés of iOS, but Kingdom Rush Vengeance manages to show that the genre has plenty of life in it yet. The time, you’re playing as the evil Vez’nan the Wizard, who uses his dark influence to build towers for destroying the good-guy minions who starred in the series’ previous games.
Remarkably, its limitations make it fun. You can only enter a round with a custom load out of five towers, but you can choose from an impressive 11 free ones and five premium towers and equip them with up to three boosts. Fortunately, it’s not too hard on you if you don’t plunk out cash for the extra towers.
Assassin’s Creed Rebellion (Free)
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, but any longtime fan of the Assassin’s Creed series knew it was only a matter of time before we could expect a game set in the era.
And so we have Assassin’s Creed Rebellion, a fun, cartoony free-to-play adventure about building a base for assassins who dish out pain in post-medieval Spain. The action sequences distill the best stealth and stabby elements of the popular console games to an iPhone-sized package, and harvested DNA strands let you unlock anachronistic series favorites like Ezio Auditore da Firenze or Odyssey’s Cassandra. It’s a bit grindy (in true freemium fashion), but as for the satisfaction for unlocking the perfect three assassins to bring along on a mission? It’s killer.
Civilization VI (Free—with $60 full game unlock)
As I said in an impressions piece in October, Civilization VI is one of those games that once seemed far too complex to ever come to phones. Here it is, though—the full base 4X game running beautifully on iPhones and iPads. You can play 60 turns entirely for free, but then you’ll have to pay a whopping $60 to unlock everything else. After all, it is the full Civ.
It’ll also only run beautifully if you have a newer iPhone or iPad. In particular, it’s a good fit for the iPhone XS Max, which boasts enough memory to sustain your kingdom even in the graphically crowded late games. Fortunately, you also don’t have to choose which device you play it on before dropping 60 bucks, as the same purchase applies to both devices. Unfortunately, you can’t easily share saves between iPhone and iPad.
The camera in Barbearian stays zoomed out so far that I initially thought this was a game about a ticked-off teddy bear unleashing hell with a double-bladed axe. (And I would have loved that game.) Alas, it’s just a regular ol’ bearskin-clad barbarian who’s been transported to a mysterious new world—a world that’ll soon be sparsely populated, if he has any say in it.
It’s gloriously cathartic, and satisfyingly challenging on all difficulty levels. He swings his axe, and 10 skeletons fall. He swings again, and down go another 20! This hack-and-slash orgy is the core of Barbearian, and it’s a surprisingly good fit for mobile. No in-app purchases or silly stealth missions detract from the carnage: Barbearian has no time for such subtlety. It’s just you against the horde, a few massive bosses, and just enough story to give you a reason for the rage.
Old School Runescape (Free)
Old-school MMORPGs are getting second leases on life all over the internet lately. There’s World of Warcraft Classic. There’s Lord of the Rings Online’s “Legendary” servers. And right here on our iPhones and iPads, there’s Old School Runescape.
Emphasis on the old. It certainly looks like a browser game from 2001, and its spartan tutorial isn’t too interested in easing the way for newcomers. Some elements, like crafting, are hopelessly tedious, and the UI gets jumbled on a small iPhone screen. For all that, it works far better than it has any right to. The original simple mouse controls translate well to iPhones, and there’s a breathtaking variety of often humorous fantasy content that should keep you busy for years. Just keep in mind that you'll have to pay an $11 monthly subscription fee if you want to get the most out of it.
Eloh isn’t a rhythm game, but it makes music as central to the experience as that thumpin’ genre. It’a a puzzle game about shuffling stone heads around the screen, the better to bounce streams of sound off them so that they slip into a goal. Sometimes you’ll have to work with different heads; sometimes you’ll have to match differently colored streams with the properly colored idols.
A funky beat plays through all of this—even when you’ve bungled it seemingly beyond all hope—but it grows funkier as you approach perfection. Not only does this keep Eloh fun, but it teaches that learning a thing can be almost as fun as completing it.
Tesla vs Lovecraft ($8.99)
In life, Nikola Tesla was no match for the dastardly Wizard of Menlo Park, but pit him against the tentacle-beard horror from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft, and he’s the apocalypse on legs.
That’s the idea behind Tesla vs Lovecraft, a relentless twin-stick shooter that sees the enigmatic inventor strapping himself into mechs that obliterate a dozen monstrosities in less time than it takes to whisper “eldritch tomes.” It’s as a fast as the lightning that tickles a Tesla coil—so fast, in fact, that you’ll probably want to play it with an MFi controller.
NBA 2K Mobile Basketball (Free)
Gosh, but NBA 2K Mobile Basketball looks good. This is the game Apple showed off during its October iPad Pro reveal, highlighting the tablet’s “console-like” graphical power and leading crowds to gasp in wonder at the sight of sweat rolling from an athlete’s face.
Fortunately, it’s also fun (though a bit of a battery hog). It’s basically fantasy basketball come to life: You’re building your own team from cards featuring 400 players, and you can play that team against the CPU or against CPU-run player teams that have similar scores as yours. The catch? It’s a lot easier to play with an MFi controller, as making shots in the action sequences consistently feels a little wonky with the touch controls. Even so, this beautiful game scores more often than it misses.