098046_largerFiraxis is best known for their excellent strategy game work on PC and consoles. At PAX East they announced their ambition to take the iOS world by storm with the release  of XCOM: Enemy Unknown this summer. With much less fanfare comes Haunted Hollow, a sleepy, unassuming little turn-based strategy title. Behind its chibi-monsters and freemium veneer, Haunted Hollow [$0.99] is a digital board game that successfully marries the accessible strategy pedigree of its creators with the realities of iOS (pricing and playtime).

Your Victorian mansion sits atop a rise overlooking a small village. Heir of untold funds from wealthy ancestors you spend your time creating monsters to scare the villagers below. But what is that, another mad scientist on the neighboring bluff? In Haunted Hollow you are competing with a fellow monster maker to be the first to haunt every home in the village. To do this you will need to build up your mansion room by room and then summon monsters to do your bidding. Monsters like ghosts focus on scaring homes while those like the werewolf are used to fight other monsters.

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You also have special monsters that take on more of a support role. All actions are fueled by scare points which you receive a handful of each turn, and you can earn more by scaring entire neighborhoods (groups of 2-3 houses) in the village. You must also watch out for the mob, which will appear when too many villagers are scared, as they will attack your monsters and burn haunted houses to the ground. Eventually, through planning and treachery, one player will be the last haunter standing.

The main appeal of Haunted Hollow is its simple gameplay. The game is as straightforward as described above (with a few unmentioned wrinkles) and has a well done tutorial to walk you through your first game. You can also get help at any time by hitting the “?” icon and clicking an element on the game screen. It really is meant to ease you into the entire experience. Haunted Hollow also features a series of challenges that act as puzzles but are also a further tutorial to some of the game’s higher concepts. If you have never played a turn-based strategy game before, this is a great place to start. It offers free admission and a smooth slope down into the game.

Despite its cute exterior and accessible nature, Haunted Hollow is a game for all ages. Your choices will determine  your success, there is no random element to the game. There are different paths to victory from using fighters to slow down your opponent or rushing in with a large amount of scarer monsters. There are options to play a fairly weak AI opponent and a series of in-game puzzles which are great for learning and experimentation, but the real fun is in playing with others. You can do this through Game Center or on one device around in the comfort of your living room. The online gameplay is asynchronous so you can send over your turn and get on with your day. This title really should include the notice “Friends Required.”

But wait, it is free, so what about IAPs? Well, they are certainly part of the game but not in the way that you think. There is no energy bar to recharge or timers to wait on, IAPs are simply more content. This is the the IAP model done right. You start with a hand-full of monsters and items. For a dollar here and there you can pick up additions or at a better price you can buy things in bundles. With new monsters you can start to customize your play style and your mansion. Victorian and Mad Science mansion are somewhat balanced, while Lost Temple and Gothic styles favor scarers and fighters respectively. Within these categories you can pick which monsters will be on your team. The additional content is only there to expand your options and is a great user-friendly way to present IAPs.

With Haunted Hollow, Firaxis have created a perfect Frankenstein, having transplanted a fun, strategic, digital board game into the body of a casual, cutesy freemium app. It is a not a perfect game and the lack of a really strong solo experience is a serious oversight. The accessible art style may even backfire, causing it to be ignored by those who should be its core fans. Do not be dissuaded by the exterior and pass up the chance to experience this little nugget of turn-based joy.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Magnalon

    No mention of the season pass that nets you all the content for $8? It's cheaper than buying it piecemeal, and is much better than most games that underhandedly sell you individual content for $30+.

    • Ax23000

      I like this a lot, 8$ feels like a reasonable price.

  • KenGriffeyIII

    For a game that basically requires multiplayer play I have a hell of a time getting a game going on Game Center. I send my friend an invite - he has no option to accept. He sends me an invite - same problem.

    • Paul Beasi

      The other player doesn't get the invite until after you've played through your first turn. It's completely async.

      • KenGriffeyIII

        Yeah I did that though and it's still not working. Like I used all my points or whatever and got to where it says "Waiting on Opponent". He gets the game center invite but when he opens the game itself it's not there.

      • Paul Beasi

        Huh, strange. You have to click Launch and go into gamecenter, but if it's not showing up there that's a problem. The only multiplayer problem I had was that sometimes it gets stuck on Waiting On Opponent when it's your turn and you have to exit the game and go back in to see the last play and take your next turn. Clearly some issues to work out.

  • WNxPegasus

    It is no loading on iPad crashes all the time but iPhone is good please fix :) for iPad

  • Josh Dombro

    I understand that this game was made by huge companies in 2K and Firaxis, and that they sponsored practically every mobile gaming website for a week or so, but how many different looks do we need at this game? Nothing against your review, Brad, but it's the 5th time TouchArcade has featured the game since March... I love reading TA, but would rather see your takes on some new games, rather than the sames ones over and over.

    Just my two cents, hope someone hears it.

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      Come on dude. I don't even remember if they advertised with us or not but advertising has no relation in any way to what we cover. I know you know better than that.

      If you look we haven't covered it any more than any other game, large or small. A quick mention when it released and another when it returned after being pulled, a preview and a review, and talked about on the podcast along with a bunch of other games. Pretty standard stuff.

      • Josh Dombro

        Whoa, wasn't accusing you of any favoritism because of the ads, I was just noting that there's been a lot of coverage on this game and there have been ads on a lot of sites (I can't say for sure whether this was one of them or not, and it doesn't really matter). I would argue this is much more because there are big names behind it than the actual quality of the game (which has been viewed as pretty good, but not great in most reviews I've seen). Again, I understand this. I was just saying that a lot of what I look for on TA is a fun, different look at a game I've seen, or better yet, one I haven't heard of.

        I was ready to try this game after a pretty extensive preview, and I did. That was enough for me. That's my only point, I'm not trying to tell you how to run your site, just expressing my preferences. I appreciate that you took the time to respond to me, hope you didn't take it the wrong way. Keep up the good work guys.

      • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

        Ah ok I thought you were saying something different. I still say it was a pretty normal amount of coverage for a game like this, but I can understand not wanting to keep reading about a game you tried and didn't like.

  • http://www.facebook.com/santiago.salcedo.39 Santiago Salcedo

    no ipt support. :(

  • http://www.jugarfriv.org/ friv

    Good post! thank you.

  • gmattergames

    Even though app store says its compatible, can't past title on 1st gen iPad, even after reboot, running 5.1. any other 1st gen users able to run this?

  • Fletchi18

    Anyone else having serious problems with this crashing quite often on iPhone?

Haunted Hollow Reviewed by Brad Cummings on . Rating: 4