The mobile gamer can look back at 2018 with an affectionate and misty eye, secure in the knowledge that gaming on mobile devices gets more diverse, sophisticated and polished with each year. In this respect, 2019 also is shaping up to be a banner year on this front.
Roughly speaking, the most exciting upcoming games can be split into three groups: the name-brand megahits-in-waiting, boardgame adaptations, and indie projects. Read on to see what the who’s who of mobile gaming are cooking up for this year’s treats.
Cultist Simulator (Roguelike/Card Game)
This hit indie sensation is making the move to mobile in Spring 2019 as a premium priced game. Cultist Simulator mixes roguelike & card mechanics into a dark rpg adventure where you’re on a quest to unearth hidden mysterious of the occult. You can found your own cult, making meaningful decisions at every turn. Combining cards allows the story and your cult to grow, embodying the finest reaches of Lovecraftian tradition. If you die, your followers will attempt to carry on your work.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite (GPS/Location)
Not many have managed to successfully capitalise on the Pokemon Go phenomenon since it release in 2016. Maybe its because Niantic’s catch-em-all offering had a bit of a rocky start. Still, the potential for a decent ‘gamified’ walking experience is still there, and now Niantic are having a second try with another famous IP – Harry Potter. Taking all the lessons they’ve learned from Pokemon Go and their own game, Ingress, the developer hopes to make Wizard’s Unite the game Harry Potter fans deserve. You play the role of a new member of the Statute of Secrecy Task Force, whose job it is to go out into the world and clean up a calamity that’s causing magical beings and objects to proliferate the Muggle world, putting everything at risk. If you’ve played the Pokémon game you can imagine the type of activities you’ll be doing, and where you’ll be doing them.
Again, no firm release date yet but we’d be very surprised if this misses the 2019 calendar year.
DOTA Auto Chess (Strategy)
You may have noticed that the Artefact entry has gone: with player numbers for that game plummeting, we’re not convinced that it’ll be coming to mobile unless Valve prove to be quite stubborn/committed to seeing this game through the long-game. They’d have to seriously revisit their monetisation strategy, however. Another DOTA-related product that you might be interested in though is the hugely popular DOTA 2 mod, DOTA Auto Chess. It doesn’t actually look or feel like chess, but it’s proving to be a very popular mode amongst DOTA fans. Drafting and a tight, tactical economy are central to a mainly hands-off experience where you pick your heroes, place them on a board, and watch them fight. It’s a very strategic experience, and your choices matter at nearly every stage of a game. You can read more about our thoughts here, but this could prove incredibly popular on mobile, given its low interface needs and high skill ceiling.
A 2019 release for this one is even less certain than COD Mobile below, with pre-registration only being available in China right now. It might technically get a release in some form this year, but we’re not sure if that’ll include Europe & North America.
Dire Wolf Digital (Board Game)
This isn’t the name of a game, but the name of a company that announced this year they’re making a bucket-load of digital board game adaptations. Because we only have the announcement text to go on, we’ve decided to keep the new games all in one place until we know more. The games Direwolf are bringing to digital (which afawk also includes mobile devices) are:
- Mage Knights – It’s worth noting this is the first step in a bigger agreement with WizKids, so it’s likely we’ll be seeing more announcements this year.
- Wings of Glory – A popular table-top aerial skirmish game.
- Raiders of the North Sea – An excellent worker placement game themed around the 8th and 9th century viking raids (pictured).
- Yellow & Yangtze – a Reiner Knizia tile placement game of civilization building.
- Sagrada – A dice drafting game about creating works of art.
- Root – the recent Kickstarter sensation about asymmetrical warfare in the woods.
We’re not sure which project is due to appear first – possible WizKids & Mage Knights, given the importance that project has within the announcement? We’ll update as we learn more.
Call of Duty Mobile (Shooter/Battle Royale)
Announced at GDC 2019, this latest Call of Duty-on-mobile spin-off is the latest in a long series of mobile adaptations of the hugely popular FPS franchise. This latest attempt appears to be following in the vein of games like Fortnite & ARK – offering a fully 3D, fully-developed version of the main franchise that can run on phones and tablets. From what we know so far, it’s going to be a kind of ‘greatest hits’ compilation of modes, maps, characters etc… and may even feature a Battle Royale mode (putting it in direct competition with Fortnite, which is popular on mobile as well as desktop). We’ve not had official confirmation its coming this year, but pre-registration is open and we’d be surprised if Activision allow too long a lead time on this.
Mario Kart Tour (Racing)
It’s been practically a year since this title was first announced and outlined with few concrete details added between now and then. Nintendo’s mobile offerings have run the gamut, from the premium Mario Run, the Miitomo social & style app everyone tried and forgot about, to the successful and generally great Fire Emblem: Warriors. Mario Kart is a treasured and classic franchise, even amongst Nintendo offerings, so that reputation guarantees some level of careful handling. It remains an open question whether the game will be a premium or freemium model, but the launch date is still projected to be March.
Diablo Immortal (Action RPG)
Diablo Immortal will draw some side-eye and mockery, having been already made notorious because of its horribly mistimed announcement. (Yes, we have phones, but read the room, Activision-Blizzard). Even more puzzlingly, the game is being created in partnership with NetEase, a Chinese developer whose resume already includes ‘Eternal Realm’ (无尽神域) itself essentially a Diablo clone. Weird stuff: the official license merging with a pretender to the throne to make a hybrid project together. Concerns about endless grind or re-skinning of Eternal Realm are well-founded, but while most of us will be as judge-y as possible we’ll also probably still give the final product a try. Good action RPGs live or die by loot, character progression and above all, delicate-yet-accurate controls, so it will be interesting to see if Diablo Immortal will be a good game as well as the inevitable cash cow.
Five Tribes (Boardgame)
Five Tribes, oldie but goodie, will make its digital debut this year. Days of Wonder has been updating and digitising its catalogue at a steady pace and with fantastic results. Five Tribes central mechanic is just like mancala. Pick a space and drop the meeples one by one along the path. Dead simple, but if you think it makes the game easy, you’d be dead wrong. The Five Tribes each possess unique scoring criteria and effects, and the turn-order bid means timing depends on correctly valuing the current layout. Many simple bits add up to make a nigh-perfect game.
Scythe: Digital Edition (Boardgame)
In another history, the Great War also ruined Europe and annihilated a generation, but its nations and technologies faced the blight and devastation quite differently. With large mechs, steampunk agricultural combines and faux-Eurasian player nations, Scythe gives each player a unique entity to steer to victory. Engine building games are always efficiency races, conversion puzzles, but Scythe’s unique setting, eye-catching miniatures and indirect player confrontation quickly made a it a fan favorite amongst the gaming community. Its rollout on Steam has been smooth experience, with decent AI and a robust tutorial. The assets and UI will translate well to mobile and what used to cost near three figures will be available to most anyone for a fraction of the price.
Terraforming Mars (Boardgame)
Terraforming Mars sounds like a noble goal for all of humanity. In reality, the game is a push-and-pull competition for corporations to garner by prestige by…terraforming Mars. Three categories: oxygen, temperature and ocean coverage dictate the endgame, but to get there, players will reshape the red planet into a bright blue hope. It’s a Euro though-and-though: precisely balanced, intricately co-dependent and inevitably point-based. But the close match between theme and mechanic makes this game deeply satisfying and intuitive to learn and explain, and the action selection mechanic is uniquely innovative and inspired. Just when I think boardgame design is tapped out, something truly exceptional rises to the top.
This one has been incubating forever but should be worth it when it finally gets here. Ed McMillen (of Binding of Isaac fame) has been teasing this cat-breeding simulator for ages. The game has been described as a mix of Tamagotchi, Pokemon and the Sims, with its signature art style courtesy of McMillen. All bets for a playful wild game about the weirdness, sweetness, malice and all-around havoc of cat-raising seem to be right on the money. The ideas are there, the premise is promising, the only question remaining is when it will get here.
Overland (Finji) (TBS/Survival)
Overland is tactical turn-based survival meets cross-country road trip (from hell). Each waypoint is a battle, a flashpoint conflict over some minor life-extending objective. Its overland map and procedural generation seem reminiscent of FTL (or its follow-up Into the Beach) but the setting here is familiar people struggling with post-apocalyptic daily hardship. Water, medicine, gas, weapons: the items are banal but vital. The game uses minimalism and scarcity to great effect, sketching characters and strategic scenarios alike with the barest elements.
Impossible Bottles (Rhythm/Action)
Various robots move about in their bottles and raging about like a bull in a china shop. Each level presents one of these Impossible Bottles for the player to fix by manipulating the environment and repairing the situation, or at the very least soothing its sole occupant. A scientist built these robots as part of a perpetual motion machine for unlimited energy, but they don’t quite work as is. The secret to fixing everything is music, or in gameplay terms: rhythm. One-touch gameplay and lush, fantastic art, with a slated mid-year release.
Nowhere Prophet (Card Game)
Nowhere Prophet: this one is a doozy and a little secretive. The dark horse of this race, if you will. In the game, post-apocalyptic leaders trek across a scabrous landscape to gather supporters and supplies, occasionally clashing with foes or environmental dangers. This card game has grid-based combat as well procedurally generated encounters. It’s a card-battler roguelike, essentially, with a unique setting and what seems to be a robust battle system.
Heaven’s Vault (Interactive Fiction)
Inkle (of 80 Days interactive fiction fame) has been teasing their mechanically ambitious Heaven’s Vault for some time now. An archaeologist-slash-xenolinguist explores the dusty remains of an alien civilization on an unknown planet, with a vivid backdrop of sienna sand and celestial blue. There’s some pretty nifty procedural tricks behind the code-breaking and translation, and while its approach to storytelling is a little less handcrafted, it has the potential to have even more surprises and replayability than the globe-trotting 80 Days.
Other Missing Games From 2018
As a reminder, here is a quick list of some other games we were expecting last year, but never turned up:
- Void Tyrant (card game/RPG)
- Bad North (RTS)
- Exodus: Proxima Centauri (Boardgame)
- Dungeon Warfare 2 (Tower Defence)
- Epic Card Game (Card Game)
- Lord of the Rings Living Card Game (Card Game)
- Monster Slayers (Card Game)
- EVE: War of Ascension (MMO)
Best 2019 Mobile Releases So far
There’s already been some excellent releases this year, and not all of them were expected/on this list. If you haven’t already, check these games out:
Seen any other games coming out this year you’re excited about? Let us know in the comments.