When people think of multiplayer gaming experiences nowadays most envision players sitting alone, staring at a screen, and maybe (just maybe) communicating with other players from across the world using a microphone or chat window.
Of course this isn't how it's always been. In the days before multitudes of multiplayer games took advantage of the internet, playing games with other people was social experience. People would gather around a TV or game board and interact with each other; both in the game world as well as reality. This layered interaction - with its ability to have player actions outside of the game create meaningful consequences on the world inside the game - adds a richness and complexity that is unmatched in most online games. Of course, this isn't to say that the ability to hop into matches with anyone that is immediately ready, willing, and able to throw down through the power of the internet doesn't have its own set of advantages, but rather that there is still inherent value in local multiplayer.
Luckily, there seem to be a number of game developers out there who agree with that sentiment. 2013 was a surprisingly good year for me in terms of enjoying local multiplayer experiences on iOS. With a slew of great board game ports, as well as more unique experiences best enjoyed with good game-playing company, I spent most of this year either scoping out the latest Playdek releases or digging into the back catalogue of overlooked awesomeness from years' past. Because of this, I decided to make a list of my favorite titles that scratched my local multiplayer itch the best. Although all these games may not be from 2013, here's what I had the most local fun with throughout the year:
Kingdom Builder is a quick-and-dirty worker-placement game, at least in its iOS form. Players have to build their kingdoms based on terrain cards, and random elements like scoring cards and the modular board design can help keep it feeling fresh. Kingdom Builder is good for local play mainly because it is a port of a board game, and it is a relatively quick play. I know its a bit of an older game, but it's has been made more playable within the past year and is worth revisiting.
Dino Hunt Dice is a quick, simple, excellent dice game and a quality port to iOS. This game makes my list primarily because it takes less than five minutes to teach anyone to play, making it a go-to game that is super-friendly to newcomers. Its push-your-luck mechanic becomes even more fun as more people join in. (note: this game is a variant of Zombie Dice, which is also great, simple fun).
Penny Arcade the Game: Gamers vs. Evil is a card-drafting game similar to Dominion or Ascension. Its goofy humor and simple, speedy gameplay makes it a solid choice among groups - particularly fans of Gabe and Tycho's webcomic antics.
Zombies!!! is a fairly straightforward board game with a zombie theme. It rates this high on my list though because of both its solid gameplay and sheer replayability. With a modular game board and several different gametypes, there are a ton of different ways to experience Zombies!!!, even when played a bunch with the same group.
Pandemic is a cooperative board game tasking players to save the world from a global outbreak. Each player takes control of a specialist as they move around the globe conducting research and trying to discover cures. This game almost necessitates local play, as the amount of teamwork and collaboration it demands is astounding. When all of your team's discussions and strategic thinking pays off in victory, there's no feeling quite like it.
PWN is a fast-paced real-time strategy game that pits players against each other in cyber space. Since its release PWN has been updated to include online multiplayer, but I much prefer playing this title in close proximity to my foes. With multiple characters and loads of abilities, the game feels conceptually like a great kart racer or fighting game (even though it is a completely different genre), which we all know are best enjoyed with all players in the same room.
Agricola, the popular farming-themed worker-placement board game, made its way to iOS this year and it is the only way I play it. It is definitely very complicated, and not the easiest game to wrap your mind around even after learning all of the rules, but it's a beautifully detailed game that can fill a nice, long gaming session. It's particularly good for groups as the game's competitive tension doesn't come directly from players working against each other, but rather from the limited resources.
Lords of Waterdeep is another worker-placement game like Agricola, but it ranks higher in my book for two reasons: simpler gameplay and Dungeons & Dragons lore. Players each take the role of one of the Lords of Waterdeep and manipulate heroes into doing their bidding. Its not-too-simple, not-too-complicated mechanics drew me in and the D&D trappings served as an ideal backdrop for gathering around a table and playing a few rounds on several occasions this year.
Tiny Games is something that surprised me this year, mainly because it's not really a game as much as it is a game generator. The best way to describe it would be like the concierge system in the music app Songza, except instead of picking songs it picks games. The app will ask where players are and what they are doing to tailor a game experience just for them, which is perfect for groups looking for a game to play despite not having anything in mind.
Spaceteam is the ultimate local multiplayer experience on iOS. Even though it didn't come out this year I'd be completely remiss if I left this off my list, and almost even more so if I didn't have it as number 1. The Star Trek bridge-like conceit basically just asks players to yell weird stuff at each other, making it a bizarre but extremely accessible local multiplayer game. It truly encapsulates what is great about playing games in a shared space by asking players to create their own communication mechanics and systems to maximize success. Either that or everyone can just scream at each other. Both ways are fun, making Spaceteam the best local multiplayer game I've played all year. [Editor's Note: Heck yeah Spaceteam!]
So there you have it. These are the games I've had the most fun with in groups. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments.