Best free strategy game for iPhone and iPad: Clash Royale
This mash-up of RTS and card collecting has you battle opponents online in single-screen arenas. Individual, varied units are plonked on the battlefield from your deck, each costing elixir that refills as you fight. Wins come by clocking an opponent’s strategy, and countering with cunning combos.
Clash Royale’s freemium, so obviously designed to mug your wallet, but canny players can progress for free; and it’s hugely compelling, so although your bank balance might be safe, your free time won’t be.
The Battle of Polytopia
Civilization’s a great game, but there are two tiny snags on mobile: first, Civ games take forever, which isn’t good when playing on an iPhone; secondly, mobile Civs are rubbish. Enter: The Battle of Polytopia, which takes the basics of classic Civ, but speeds things along nicely.
In this distilled, compelling and surprisingly tense take on becoming a world-conquering despot, there’s a real sense of focus: you’re by default up against a moves limit, and the maps are tightly packed. Yet it’s not reductive: you still get tech trees, cities to found and expand, and a range of enemies to administer a jolly good thrashing to.
Triple Town tasks you with building a city on a tiny grid-based board, using a match-and-combine dynamic that has a curious grasp of evolution. Three bushes make a tree! Three tombstones make a church! All the while, bears roam about, making a nuisance of themselves and blocking spaces.
Your free moves slowly replenish (you can buy unlimited turns for £2.49/US$3.99), but that won’t bother you as you stare at the screen, trying to think a dozen moves ahead.
A young Prince is sent to Bogsmarts to learn about magic. While he’s gone, unruly relatives carve up his kingdom.
That just won’t do. A total of 58 castles are therefore ripe for the taking as the Prince and his army set about hacking, smashing and magicking their way to victory in this charming and generous real-time strategy title.
Best word game for iPhone and iPad: Letterpress
There are mash-ups and then there’s Letterpress, the mash-up to beat them all, concocting an absurdly addictive stew from Boggle and Risk.
The idea’s easy: find words on a five-by-five grid. But the cunning bit is any tiles surrounded by ones you’ve claimed are protected from your opponent during their next go. Letterpress therefore becomes a tug o’ war land-grab, more about strategic thinking than pure wordplay. For free, you can play two games simultaneously; £1.49/US$1.99 unlocks unlimited games.
More or less welding Scrabble to Rogue, QatQi has you explore dungeons by building crosswords. As you roam, barriers and coins are discovered; and on completing a challenge, you’re presented with interactive statistics comparing your score to other players from your town or country, or worldwide.
There’s a currency of sorts in undos, but these can be replenished with patience or by watching some ads if you don’t want to fork out any real-world cash.
Coolson's Pocket Pack
Speed’s the name of the game in this simple but furiously addictive word game. Letters drop into a well, and those on the lowest row can be dragged to empty slots in a box below.
The magic lies in the multiplier, which rewards you if you don’t flick letters out from the well’s bottom row to get at the ones above, or move letters from the box back to the well. As Coolson’s speeds up, it becomes a tense test of nerves, and also an indication of precisely how many short words you totally forget when under pressure.