The factors that contribute to making a board game great can often be lost porting it to a digital platform. Looking at the App Store it's easy to spot those who has made a smooth transition and those with original ideas that are a pleasure to play on iOS. What happens when you slap a popular theme on an a board game with a fervent following?
Operation Eradicate by Skejo Studios is a take on the cooperative board game Pandemic from Z-Man Games. In this occasion the epidemic is more of a zombie apocalypse scenario than a disease and you're in charge of controlling the infestation. The goal is to control zombie hordes around the world with a team of specialists in a limited amount of turns.
If you're familiar with the original Pandemic, the rules are very similar, with the main distinction of this being a single player game or turn-based via Game Center. Every character has four actions per turn and different abilities that make them unique. Set in a world map divided into key territories, there are four levels of infestation that will escalate if they aren't controlled promptly. The game increases its difficulty exponentially adding some random events to it, that bring nothing more than frustration and challenge to novice players.
With every player turn you're allowed to complete a four actions per specialist. These range from traveling to other cities, fighting hordes of zombies, drawing cards or use special abilities. The assault commander can kill three hordes at one city with just one action, the pilot can move your specialists around, the logistics coordinator can move resources, the engineer builds airfields at low cost and the research analyst launch a stabilisation effort with the support of four cities instead of five. You can choose from two to four of these specialists, tailoring your team to your own strategies. I found this increased the replay value but made things a little to complex for newcomers like me.
The goal of the game is to control each of the four regions of the map, combining resources in five cities plus an airfield. The zombie infestation continues after every turn and will end the game once it spreads eight times or complete the 24 turns.
Difficult to learn and challenging to play
As much as I want to love the game, it comes with some serious drawbacks. I initially tested the game prior release but it had already been submitted to Apple with some very obvious spelling mistakes and typos that haven't been corrected yet: do you know Bogata in Colombia? Me neither. And the difficulties localising this game to English language are very noticeable in the heavy game manual and text prompts in the game.
Some UI choices are also very questionable when it comes to touch screen devices. While the city icons and names are quite small on the world map, the actions are too small to be tapped comfortably. This is just too tiny. The lack of animations, camera moves and very basic menu items makes the whole thing very static. I can do with the theme and illustration style, but a lot of design decisions we're done thinking of desktop platforms and not mobile devices.
If you can cope with these aesthetic and linguistic issues, the gameplay mechanics are tweaked properly and can offer some quality strategy time. Operation Eradicate is challenging and frustrating at best but there are some many things that don't feel right that it's much easier to blame the game and not the gamer.
I recently had the opportunity to try Ticket to Ride for iOS. Without having played the original board game before, I was guided through a full mock game describing the most usual things that may happen. Operation Eradicate gives some instructions, but it feels so alien to me that it's difficult to remember what resources and stabilisation mean.
Overall Operation Eradicate is a disappointing experiment for me that doesn't translate all the board game fun it could on the retina display of the iPad. The learning curve is high and the random nature of the gameplay doesn't offer a clear indication of who is wining the game at any point. The updates have patched the game here and there, but I could expect much more from it.