An email arrived at Cult of Mac headquarters the other day: “Can you please let me know if it possible to make a review of our game on cultfomac site?”
It was from Andrey Uchaev, one of the team at Russian developers Manera Software, letting us know about a free iOS game called Tochki Online. We don’t often do reviews of free, ad-supported games, even less often about ones like this that we’ve never heard of and that have no user reviews in the App Store. So why are we reviewing this one? Because it’s fun.
Tochki (the name means “feudal lords”) is a simple pen-and-paper game that you may well have played when you were a kid. All you need is a grid and two different colored pens. Players take turns to mark spots on the intersections of the grid, and win points when they completely surround one of their opponents’ spots.
That’s it as far as rules is concerned. Where this game succeeds is in visual design and intriguing gameplay.
First, the design: the developers have gone to great lengths to make this look like a pen-and-paper game might look on your table. You get cheap Biro pens to play with (they also act as turn markers, so you can keep track of whose turn it is – more on that in a moment). I particularly like the 80s-style digital watch in the top right corner, which counts down the 90 seconds of each person’s turn.
As for the gameplay: a lot of excellent games have the simplest rules. If you’ve not played Tochki before, be prepared for some brow-furrowing brainaches. Even on the smaller grids, you soon need to think tactically. It’s not solely about creating enclosures around your opponent’s pieces; it’s also about blocking their attempts to do the same to you. As you start playing on larger grids, the play gets physically broader and ever more challenging to follow. You start kicking yourself when you miss an attack. What’s more, as things get more complex, you really need that 90 seconds per turn to plan your move. Don’t waste it, otherwise you miss your turn. (That’s when the turn markers come in useful.)
Tochki Online is free because it’s ad-supported. I don’t know about you, but I just can’t bring myself to use ad-supported software for any length of time. No matter how well the app is designed, the ads become too intrusive. Removing them from this app costs you $2 as an in-app-purchase. Those of you who enjoy two-player strategy brain benders should have no hesitation in splashing out on this enjoyable, addictive little game.
Pro: Simple, fun, nice to look at.
Con: Adverts, yuk. At least you can buy them away.