“An online strategy game with a focus on automation”
bot.land is a free (and ad-free) game where you design robots to fight other robots. The design takes the form of drag-and-drop code blocks, similar to Scratch and other kid-oriented programming environments. The game is multiplayer and allows you to compete against AIs or other players.
Who is it for:
The game is for anyone who can think abstractly enough to code virtual robots (perhaps 8 or 9 and older) and who enjoys battling virtual robots. The coding is not complex but would be frustrating for younger kids.
Many older kids and adults would enjoy this as well.
What Kids Like:
My kids are motivated by the idea of building a robot army that crushes the opposition, motivated enough to figure out how to do the necessary coding.
What Parents Like:
I like that there is a bottom-up way to teach programming concepts. That is, rather than watching a lecture and then doing an exercise, bot.land presents open scenarios and it’s up to the player to figure out the best way to win.
What is it The Battle of Polytopia (or simply, “Polytopia”) is a free (ad-free as well) turn-based mobile strategy game.
Who is it for
Winning the game requires some strategic thinking and there is some very mild cartoon violence (about as much violence as in a game of chess) so I would put the lower limit around 7 years old. It’s fun for adults as well, so no upper limit on age.
If you or your child is a fan of Age of Empires, Civilization, or similar resource-management, leveling-up, strategic conquest kinds of games, this is the same but simplified, optimized, and minimized so that you can play on a small screen.
What Kids Like
The game is very addictive. The gameplay is very well-balanced so “just getting by” is possible with some effort but really winning can be tough.
The graphics are very appealing.
What Parents Like
I like that it’s free, with no ads. Too many games (even many paid ones) are full of ads. Polytopia makes revenue by charging for the online multiplayer option or for letting a player buy a tribe that is unavailable in the free version. The game clearly states that the multiplayer option requires spending “real money” so kids won’t be tricked into thinking that they can get it via credits earned in-game.
You can still play “hot-seat” multiplayer games for free, handing the device back and forth in a way that feels like playing chess.
And the game is just fun, very well-polished and balanced in a way few other mobile games are.
Being free and ad-free, I have none of the usual complaints about the apps I let my children use. The theme is of conquest, so there is the suggestion of violence, but not more than you have in chess or checkers, or even tic-tac -toe.
The only real complaint is that in fitting a complex game into a simple mobile-friendly interface, the developers packed a lot of detail into the little isometric tiles. You sometimes have to look very closely to see where your players are.
Who Made it / History
Polytopia was made by a Swedish developer and released in 2016.
The Battle of Polytopia, formerly known as Super Tribes, is a turn-based world-building strategy game developed by Midjiwan AB. The player leads one of fourteen Tribes to conquer a square-shaped world by capturing Cities. Cities earn Stars that can be used to research Technology, train Units to engage in Combat, and develop the surrounding Terrain to gain Population. Be warned, however: the more Cities that are added to the empire, the higher the cost of technological research… and the greater the area that must be protected from the endless onslaught of the other tribes!
You may play in Single player, where the goal of the game is either to gain the highest possible score in 30 turns (Perfection), or to destroy all opposing tribes (Domination).
Alternatively, you could engage in a local multiplayer “Pass & Play” with your friends, or connect with them online and play games from the comfort of your homes!
Finn Caspian is a free, weekly podcast about the adventures of a boy and his friends in outer space. They work with (and against) robots and aliens on board spaceships and strange other worlds.
The podcasts are usually 20-25 minutes long, with about 15 minutes of storytelling and the rest devoted to going through reader mail, much of which are space-related jokes.
There are a few seasons of the show online now, each with 15-20 episodes.
Who is it for
The show seems aimed at ages 5 to 10 but there is enough going on that kids a bit younger or a bit older could enjoy it as well.
What Kids Like
The kids like the adventure stories, which are humorous and suspenseful, most ending on a cliff-hanger that is resolved the next week.
The narrator, Jonathan Messinger has a virtual sidekick/cohost in the form of a robot, BeeBop, who is snarky and a bit rude (in a kid-friendly way) and the kids love that character.
What Parents Like
We like that our kids can listen to a story without zoning out in front of a screen. It hearkens back to the days of radio dramas when kids had to make up the pictures in their imaginations, in an active rather than passive way.
The stories are clever and one of the themes of the series is that it is stuffed full of references to existing children’s books, so we can play ‘spot the reference’ along with the kids.
It’s been essential listening on long car rides and I’ve been reading to them less frequently at bedtime, instead playing two episodes of Finn Caspian.
And it’s free! With no ads!
What the Critics Think
I haven’t seen any critics’ reviews of the show, but it gets ~4.5 stars on all of the streaming services that carry it.
Jonathan Messinger is a good writer but not a polished voice actor and some of the delivery sounds amateurish. His elocution has improved over the course of the series, however.
The voice of the character of BeeBop is created with a ‘roboticize’ voice filter that can get annoying after a while.
Who Made it
Finn Caspian is written and performed by Jonathan Messinger, author of Hiding Out, former web editor of Time Out Chicago Kids.
Every week we try out at least 5 different apps, either on an Android phone or the iPad. They are all free except for the rare occasion when we decide that the paid version will be worth it (e.g. in the case of Plants vs. Zombies). The apps are free usually because they have ads, and often the ads are so frequent and interrupt gameplay so inconveniently that we delete the app altogether. Some apps are free because they are promoting a product, such as all the Lego games. But I was surprised to see that the Spaceflight Simulator app was entirely free. The developer decided to use the mobile version as a free trial, hoping that those who like it will spend money on the Steam or console versions. I hope this monetization model succeeds. Mobile is the obvious place to casually try things with minimal commitment.
The game itself is a stripped-down Kerbal Space Program clone, in which you build rockets out of various components, try to get the rocket into orbit, and ultimately reach other planets. It’s fun for adults and kids but is an absolute sensation with our 7-year-old, who has only ever gotten into orbit once, yet still has a blast just building and testing.
One problem we have with many of the free mobile games (apart from the ads) is how so many of them rely on violence and aggression to play the game. Spaceflight Simulator does have explosions, but they are the negative consequence of poor building, not the objective. Instead of trying to blow up other people’s virtual property, in this game you inadvertently blow up your own creation. So the child still gets the little thrill of seeing a crash, but not the reinforcement equating violence with success.
The interface is very simple and plain. Anyone who wants the garishness of games such as Candy Crush will be disappointed.
The game is great way to teach physics and basic engineering, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for STEM/STEAM-type apps.