Developer: New Insect Overlords LLC
Price: $2.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.1

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★★
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Who knew that pirates were so smart? Crossbones is a fast-paced card-matching game with a piratical theme. If you’ve ever played Set before, you’ll instantly understand how to play. If not, well, it might take a bit to understand how everything works. Regardless, once you learn how the game works, it’s a fun (if challenging!) exercise.

There are thirteen cards on the field that you can use at any given time—nine cards that are shared by you and your opponents, and four in your hand. In order to earn points, you have to make matches of three cards; shaking the iPhone gives you a new hand in case you’re stumped.

This is where is gets difficult to explain. Each card has four attributes: suit (cups, knives, or bottles), color (blue, red, or green), number (one, two, or three) and stripes (vertical, horizontal, or none). It makes more sense visually; see the screenshots to get a better idea. A valid “match” requires three cards where each attribute is either all the same or all different. For example, three cards with matching color and suit but differing number and stripes would be a valid match. On the other hand, a set of three cards where one is red and two are blue wouldn’t be a match, because their colors are neither completely similar nor completely dissimilar. Don’t worry; there’s an ingame tutorial to help you!

It takes a while to get the hang of recognizing matches, but once you do, Crossbones is a fun game. You can practice solo, but the real fun is in playing others; Crossbones lets you pit your skills against one to three other players. The computer AI’s are pirates, with names ranging from Anne Bonny to Barbarossa, and you have to race to find matches before they can. There are three difficulty settings, so you can start out slowly, but by the time you hit hard mode, your opponents are snapping up matches before you can scan the field. There’s also the (brutally difficult) Memory Challenge mode, in which a random row of the board decides to hide itself every few seconds, and there’s an online multiplayer, too. The multiplayer works with local games, but I’ve yet to find anyone hanging out in the Crossbones online rooms. That kind of defeats the purpose of picking your own pirate-y name and avatar, since, well, you’ll never be able to show it off.

As far as criticism goes, the difficulty level will turn away many gamers. There’s a fair learning curve, and on Hard, the opponents are (impossibly?) fast. I learned how to play Set (its real-life card game counterpart) years ago, so I could blaze through Easy and Medium modes easily enough. Once I hit Hard, though, it seemed like the difficulty was just rammed through the roof. It’s nice to have a challenging game, but I wish that there had been an intermediary step.

The difficulty aside, Crossbones is a great game. The pirate theme is well done, and the visuals and sound effects are both great. The game keeps track of your best time and all of that fun stuff, and you can tell that a lot of time went into creating the app. This was one of my first purchases in the App Store, and I’m still playing it months later. That ought to be worth something, right? If you’d like to get your feet wet before buying, check out the lite version, or watch the vid below. (Ignore the price, though.)

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