Yes, productivity apps are really important — finding the best email, calendar, and to-do list apps are essential. But games are important too, especially if you're trying to take some time off of work to spend with your family!
Here are five of my favorite time-wasting apps that you should download before heading off to the airport or bundling little Timmy into the old family station wagon (or SUV) to go to Grandma's house for Christmas.
There's a reason the original Candy Crush Saga game made King millions and millions of dollars... it's really freaking addicting. While the original game closes in on 1,000 levels, Soda is a worthy successor. Free the gummy bears! Pop the soda bottles! Yes, it's basically the same game as the old Candy Crush, but that's not a bad thing. If you loved the old one (even if you played and then gave up), download this free app — and try not to buy any of the in-game powerups with real money. The game even forces you to take a break every once in a while by running you out of lives that must refill themselves, thank goodness. A game or two takes just the right amount of time to fill a bathroom/get away from that Uncle break.
For only $4.00 (USD), with a $2.00 expansion pack, Monument Valley is one of the greatest games (iOS or not) ever made. It has utterly gorgeous visuals paired with an enchanting soundtrack. Simple and yet deviously complex, the player guides Ida, a silent princess, around an Escher-like world of mazes that will drive you nuts until you solve the puzzle and wonder to yourself why it took so long to figure out. This games is beatable in a few hours, but it's worth every penny.
Winner of a ton of game awards when it was released on the PC, Papers, Please really hits home on the iPad. This app costs $8.00 (USD), and it isn't for younger kids, because the game puts you in the place of a border guard in an Eastern European communist-bloc country checking documents. Sure, checking passport stamps and document seals sounds mind-numbingly boring, but the game — with its clever storyline and gut-check emotional challenges (do you bend the rules and risk your own family's lives?) — makes the mundane incredibly challenging. I highly recommend Papers, Please for mature gamers.
This is an awesome platform adventure game — $1.00 (USD) for a limited time — that has garnered numerous awards. Leo's Fortune follows a mustachioed furball around the world as he looks to reclaim his lost treasure. It has absolutely stunning visuals that seem too good for a mobile device, combined with clever gameplay, which make it a must-own for kids and adults alike.
Normally, I hate timer-based building games like Clash of Clans, but Plunder Pirates has won me over, and I've been playing it consistently for more than a month — without spending any money, because it's free with optional in-app purchases. Like a handful of other freemium games (Pocket Planes and Tiny Tower, for example), Plunder Pirates has found a nice balance between free-to-play and spending a little money to speed things along. Personally, I haven't spent any money, and I don't feel like I've missed anything.
In the game, you command your own SimCity-esque island, building up defenses and new buildings — you can also send your ship out into the world to explore and then attack other player's islands. There are numerous upgrades for individual buildings and close to a dozen different pirate characters that all have their own upgrade trees. The 3D graphics are incredible, especially on more recent iOS devices that support Apple's Metal API, and the current Christmas theme is adorable. Like many of these games, it does require an internet connection to play, so it won't work on an airplane unless you buy the in-flight Wi-Fi. Give it a try, and see if the pirate life is for you.
Do you have any favorite games that you can't stop telling your friends about? Let us know which iOS games you play in the discussion thread below.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.