When Through the Desert first made its jump from board game to Android game I was quite thrilled. Finally, there are some quality board games on a device that pretty much sleeps with me. Unfortunately it didn't have App2SD and weighed in at a hefty 18 MB which was much too much for my beleaguered Droid. App2SD has since been added and I've since downloaded and played it.
First, here is a quick summary of the game. Through the Desert is turn based and is known as an 'area enclosure game' that involves placing camels on a board. It supports up to 4 players (whereas the original board game supported up to 5) which can be either Human or AI opponents. Each player has a caravan leader in each of five pastel colors. You place these leaders one at a time in turn order on a board that is divided into hexagons. Each hexagon contains either sand, a water hole in one of three sizes, or an oasis (represented by a palm tree). Once every player has placed their five leaders then game play begins and players in turn order will place two camels per turn and have to place them adjacent to an identically colored leaders building a chain. Reaching an oasis or occupying a water hole earns victory points. Furthermore, there is also additional scoring for surrounding an area that is unoccupied by anyone as well as leading the longest caravan (chain of camels) in each of the five colors at the end of the game. In a nutshell, there's a lot going on here.
The game includes decent instructions, but no interactive tutorial so I question how easily new players will pick this one up. I also think the wording is weak not to mention that the text is quite tiny and the curly font only makes things worse when trying to read information on the screen. Typically board game conversions will feature options to speed things up by turning off some of the cutesy animation, but no such luck here. An AI opponent on hard seems to make its move relatively quickly (a few seconds), but then it takes another second or so to watch the hex being occupied become highlighted and for a camel to float on over to it. Another rather important user interface issue is that when zoomed out on the map you cannot see the bottom several rows of hexes. That's ridiculous and I can't believe that hasn't been rectified yet. In order to see them I have to be at maximum zoom.
I'm not a skilled Through the Desert player having only played the board game once, so I really didn't think I could judge the AI's skill properly. The AI comes in two flavors: easy and hard. I left it on hard for my first two plays and was able to beat it on my second go around. I'll admit to being a bit of a seasoned board game player, but I just don't think that should happen on 'hard' mode in a game that boasts "great AI opponents". You can also play hot seat mode against other humans, but there's no network play in case you were wondering.
I've probably been a bit hard on the game because board games are a passion of mine and I get kind of giddy when one of these makes its jump to the world of video games. Through the Desert has a great musical score that plays throughout and the graphics are pretty nice albeit small. I also didn't have any problems with the touch interface when it came to placing pieces (unless I wanted to place on the bottom few rows). If you're looking to learn a new board game or play against some mediocre AI then this is a good find. Likewise, on a tablet with hot seat mode this is a steal for a few dollars when retail for the board game is $35. I just don't see it extending a hand to non-board games and think better AI and some interface tweaks are in order for a higher rating. 3.5/5 stars.