Trouble Brothers’ Cargo Runners [$4.99] is a digital board game with basic issues that should have been ironed out prior to its release. Its tutorial is bad. Granted, it does a decent job in communicating major goals, but it fails in speaking to flow and strategy, which are constituent parts of the Ticket to Ride-meets-the-ocean-trading experience that Cargo Runners shoots for. Worse, it doesn’t feature a single-player mode -- an option that would have made the learning curve a more bearable ordeal and also would have given you something to do with the game when by yourself and network-less. As it is, you’re expected to play and fumble exclusively in live environments. That's not... ideal. And what's killer is that Cargo Runners has all the makings of a good game, but it’s being held back by these odd shortcomings.

Cargo Runners revolves around making the most money in the shortest time frame. In a typical game, which supports up to four human players, you’re tasked with collecting four pieces of cargo that matches up with a need in a port on the world map. When a ticket is turned in, you receive the cash stated on the port’s contract. The not-so-subtle push and shove here is that other players might be vying for the same contract as you. If they collect it, you’re out of luck.

You roll dice to collect moves and cards, the latter of which adds a bit of spice. With cards, you can steal opponents’ cargo, as well as pick up extra pieces of cargo and even complete certain objectives. Each card has a different color differentiating its use. The blue and green ones, from what I gather, should be used every turn. The yellow ones are sort of the rough equivalent of a Wild Card in UNO. You want to hold on to it for a clip and use their trade route-blocking or contract-gathering powers at the right moment.

Figuring out when that right moment is, however, is an issue. This game dearly needs a better, more comprehensive, and an interactive tutorial that teaches you when to do things and how to think about the game. It's hard to soak in game logic via live play. As with any board game, Lady Luck has a huge hand in a lot of game-side affairs, which can be especially trying when you’re flying blind.

What kills me about Cargo Runners is that it looks great and has legitimate entertainment value. It’s one of the sharpest, most cohesive digital board games in general, though I suppose that says more about the fact that Trouble Brothers’ created this version without a physical one to look at; the actual board game hasn't materialized.

Most of our problems might be addressed in the future, provided enough people buy into this version of the game.

In a recent message board post, Trouble Bothers’ Jeff McCord said, “And yes, absolutely we too would love to have found a way to launch Cargo Runners with AI, but to do so would have been at the expense of one or more of the other critical priorities listed above. As soon as we start seeing income from the game it will help us to add other great new features, included AI (and or) solitaire play, as soon as we can.”

The studio is also sharing other thoughts with our community, so check out that thread if you're into where the game might be going and what's going to be addressed in the future. There is also a hefty amount of Wizard Hex [$2.99] talk, which, oddly enough was another Trouble Brothers' pseudo-board game title that lacked a solid tutorial.

Cargo Runners' shortcomings are too big for us to give it an official recommendation, but we'll happily follow this title as it morphs into something that represents a value and makes good on the promise that we've seen flashes of while playing with this version. That's not to say there isn't a shred of value in this specific version. If you've got a solid group of board game pals, for example, this is almost perfect for you.

Just as a little technical note here, the matchmaking system is slow, and worst case, doesn't work. We've been getting server errors quite a bit, lately.

  • Boxy D

    This game may need some help explaining itself to new users- that much is true. Even reading the "quick start" several times a-piece we struggled through half of our first game before the A-Ha! moment hit. But when it did, we both looked at each other and agreed this was a mighty fine, well-polished game. The graphics and music are top-notch but the random events and strategy are what make this so compelling. I won't write another review but suffice to say that we certainly need more traditional boardgames in the App store. Hell, they may be on there now but this is my first to pick up...

    Bonus points for the first person to standardize the use of iphones as controllers in games like this.

    • Anonymous

      "Bonus points for the first person to standardize the use of iphones as controllers in games like this."

      If you are referring to the keeping of hidden info, then that would be Scrabble for iPad. I too would like to see more games make use of iPhone/iPod as controller/hidden info display.

      The lack of a single-player mode was forgivable with Days of Wonder did it with Small World because that app's launch coincided with the release of the iPad itself! More than a year later, that simply won't fly. Boardgame-inspired or not, these are STILL video games and are met with the expectations of video games.

    • troublebrothers

      Thanks for the kudos!

      We are pleased that you've had a fun experience playing the game! We are also excited to be working on additions and enhancements to make the game even better. The nice thing is that we build the rules in such a way that we actually "push" them to the device when you launch the game. Therefore it is easy for us to take any suggestions players may have that would make the rules more clear and update them quickly (generally within 24 hours). You will see a little 'burst' appear on the "Quick Rules" tab telling you the rules have been updated and then you can click on them as see what is new.For example, Kent (from our TouchArcade forum thread) suggested that we add individual card function descriptions. We are working on doing that just now! There will be a picture of each card and then below it a description of what it does. We will also be adding a little 'Hand' icon to show that a card is a "held" card (to make that rule more clear). That will appear in the 1.0.1 mini-update we are just preparing to submit to Apple today!— Jeff

  • Anonymous

    In conclusion, my review of this review is that the first paragraph reads like a conclusion, not an introduction. Very jarring to read. (see what I did there?)

    First off, the game is great.

    However, the quick start isn't as helpful as one might hope for (there are blatant things missing from its explanation). This is clearly from them not testing a fresh launch with enough new users. This is very important with any app or game - one reason why Angry Birds is so successful. It is *obvious* what you are supposed to do without needing to read anything. Obviously a board game is different, but the point still stands (Rovio did a lot of testing with this, and didn't come to the conclusion of using a sling shot until they realized nobody knew what to do).The lack of AI is the most frustrating part of this release. I want to play against other people, but only found a match once, and I am afraid to say that the game crashed in the middle. The other lacking feature is *resuming* an online game if you were in the middle of one. People can't be expected to keep the app open all the time (and the developers should not assume that their app will not crash in the middle of gameplay).

    All that being said - I WHOLEHEARTEDLY RECOMMEND THIS GAME! It is worth the current $4.99 sale price, absolutely. Any board game fans should pick this up. We need more people playing online. One thing I love about New World Colony is you can play against the AI while waiting to be matched with someone. That is another great iPad board game that suffers from nobody ever being online to play against. But it at least has good AI to play against in the first place.

    • Aaron Sullivan

      Regarding your "conclusion": Welcome to the world wide web! Everything worthwhile on the world wide web is written inverted pyramid style so you can scan something quickly and read further if you desire more depth. I hope you like the world wide web while you are visiting.

      I didn't read the stuff that's later in your post, I hope it wasn't important. 😉

  • Tim Lord Gek Jordan

    I have no problem with them launching without AI as long as they make that clear and a TOP PRIORITY for an early update. ;-P

    • Anonymous

      Agreed. I bought it because I support the idea, I like the design, and see the potential. I understand that some people might not have the luxury of "investing" in a game before it's really ready, which unfortunately might be why this game won't take off. I do not think they priced it correctly. If a developer knows something isn't ready and doesn't have all the features people will want, it makes much more sense to price it lower, and then raise the price when everything is in there (a la Carcassonne). This $4.99 sale should not end on Thursday, it should continue until they get AI in there. That's the only way it will get more players...

    • troublebrothers

      Yup! Hey Lord Gek.

      We are working on developing an AI solution as we speak. As you know, we are a small independent dev company (the two "Trouble Brothers") and poured all of our resources into getting the best game we could afford to get out there. When faced with the choice of introducing it with Online Multiplayer OR AI at launch, we opted for the former rather than the latter, knowing that we would quickly follow with the other once the game was released.

      The game is born out of a classic board game tradition, and we wanted to honor that experience through great around-the-table play (with family and friends) and through Game Center for an Online Multiplayer experience. We also realize that there are limitations when a game first launches as an audience is built, so that enough people are out there looking for games at any given time so that people can find game matches. Knowing that this would be an issue, we have also created a Calendar page on our website where people can go and request us to post matches (give us 24 hours to post them). People can also, of course, use the "Invite a Friend" option on Game Center for a guaranteed match!— Jeff

  • Anonymous

    It baffles me that this shipped without AI controlled opponents.  It looks gorgeous and the premise is great, but I don't usually have mates over to play games on my iPad so the AI option would have been nice.

  • troublebrothers

    PS: We are also thinking of setting up a "Game Night" when we can plan to play iOS board games (not just Cargo Runners) between the hours of 7:00 and 9:00 pm PST on either Monday or perhaps Saturday nights? Please weigh in on what you guys/gals may be interested in. Games like Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Cargo Runners, etc., and allow for random matches and "Invite a Friend" matches. Shoot us an email from our website here if you want to suggest the best night to do it and whether you wish to participate in a first test Game Night to try out!!

  • GP

    Add AI and I will buy!

  • AnthonyAfterwit

    Five bucks for a game with no single player, that the designer suggests you go to a website for to look at a calendar in order to make an appointment to play because there's no multiplayer either. Five bucks? Really? And that's on SALE?!

    • troublebrothers

      AnthonyAfterwit, Just to be clear, there is Online Multiplayer through Game Center. We are just providing a calendar page so that players will have an additional way to link up for games. Just wanted to clear that up. Your other point (about no AI) has been fully-acknowledged, and we are working as quickly as we can to provide what people are asking for! Despite the expressed concerns people who have actually played the game generally say they like it a lot, appreciating it for its play experience as an original board game that is not derivative of a pre-existing board game. We appreciate any feedback that helps us improve the game moving forward. Sincerely, Jeff McCord

  • Artfoundry

    I tried this at Macworld in January - it was a fun game, but definitely needed a tutorial.  The dev was able to explain it well enough, but I know if I was going to learn it on my own, I'd need some help in figuring out some of the nuances/details.

  • nitte

    Its a great game - I really like it!

  • Arcadio

    Come on guys... Granted, the tutorial needs more work and it could certainly be more intuitive, but the game is not that complicated. You just need to play Pass 'n Play game to figure out how things work.

    What do people expect? That the devs put in the AI overnight? Give it some time and support what is there already. The game is very promising and certainly will mature over time.