App Reviewed on: iPhone 5
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Totems is a unique strategy game reminiscent of the classic board game, Risk. Presented with a blank map of divided territories, and equipped with animal totems, players must dominate their opponents by claiming the majority of the map. Aside from the beautiful presentation, the simple, yet strategic gameplay is what really makes this app addicting.
Players have the option to play the computer or a friend via Game Center, local wi-fi, or Bluetooth. When playing the computer, a map must be chosen (there are four to choose from) and opponents must be selected. Each map has a specific number of territories to conquer, which can be an indicator of how long or short that game may run. Each of the five computer opponents have a different difficulty level and playing style. For example, both the warrior and scout are easy, but the warrior is aggressive while the scout plays cautiously.
The gameplay is simple: players start with six random animal totems and may place one at a time on any territory to claim it. However, an opponent may conquer that same territory by placing a totem of the same animal adjacent to it. Each animal has eight totems that may be played, either from a player's collection or the pile of unclaimed totems. So, a maximum of eight territories may be claimed under the same symbol, yielding a total of 64 possible points if claimed by one player. Scoring is achieved by awarding one point for one territory. If adjacent territories are claimed by the same animal totem, then it's four points for two territories, nine points for three territories, etc. This is where strategy comes into play. For example, if seven territories are claimed by one player with a lion totem, another player with the eighth lion totem may place it on an adjacent, unclaimed territory to conquer all eight. After all territories have been claimed, the player with the most points wins.
There can be up to four players playing at the same time, which makes the game even more challenging. However, when playing online, players may have all the time they want to make a move. A push notification will be sent when it's a player's turn. This may be good for some players, but boring for others. It would be great if each player only had a certain amount of time to make their move before they forfeit their turn.
My one complaint with the game would be the controls. When playing on the iPhone and attempting to place a totem on a small territory, sometimes I placed it on the wrong one. My finger just blocks the view of exactly where I'm placing the totem. Even with pinch-to-zoom, it can be a bit difficult to precisely place a totem on small territories.
Totems is a simple game to learn, but very difficult to master, especially if playing at the highest difficulty levels. The graphics and sound give the game a unique style, different from any game of the same genre. It's addicting, a pleasure to play, and has earned a permanent spot on my device.