Last Friday I received a review copy of O'Reilly's new book, Best iPhone Apps by Josh Clark. A proper review of the book is forthcoming, but upon first glance (well, multiple glances, really) it's a great book - One-page reviews of 200 or so apps, organized into categories and laid out in an attractive, coffee table-style layout that's conducive to spending a few minutes or an hour or more with at a time. The reviews are generally short but sweet, and many apps are listed with a few alternative choices (in case you just hate Yelp! or Epicurious, and so on).

Thanks to Clark's book I've discovered my newest time-wasting friend, Galcon. Galcon is kind of like Risk meets an arcade game, and is available in both free (demo) and paid versions for iPhone OS as well as PC/Mac/Linux and Web-based versions for computer-based play. Equal parts strategy and action, Galcon's premise is simple: Take over the universe one planet at a time before your opponent(s) does. In the basic player-vs-computer mode, you and the CPU each start out with one planet entirely to yourself. Each of the remaining planets on the screen has a size and a number - the size represents that planet's capacity to produce ships and the number tells you how many ships are on the planet at the current time. You click to send a portion of your fleet to a particular planet, and if you send enough ships you make that planet your own (indicated by the planet changing color). The more planets you occupy, and the higher their rates of production, the more ships you'll have in your fleet.

Thing is, your opponent is doing the same thing at the same time as you are, and eventually you'll wind up at war with them. That leads to ships flying all over the screen and planets changing colors and numbers in rapid succession. You can control what percentage of your fleet to send from a particular planet on each attack by tapping a percentage meter in the corner of the screen, and you can select multiple planets for coordinated attacks, as well. Like I said, Risk meets arcade game (okay, I stole that line from the Galcon website).

Galcon's a great fit for the iPhone OS because it's quick to learn and play a round or two, but highly addictive. Each round is re-playable, too, as a quick re-mapping of the planets leads to new strategy and gameplay scenarios. The free demo version is limited to ten levels of human-vs-computer play (each level gets faster and harder), but the full paid version adds all sorts of goodies including online multiplayer play and twists like "Stealth Mode" in which you can't see your opponents ships flying towards various planets. And iPhone OS' multitouch capabilities suit Galcon's rapid fire, multiple point of attack game play well, too.

I grew totally obsessed with Galcon in short order, and am currently on a self-imposed, "Put the game down" break so I can get some work done. But it's great fun, if kind of maddening at the harder levels. Galcon Lite is a free download, and the full version is $2.99, via the Apple App Store. As mentioned, versions are also available for desktop and Web play on the Galcon.com website.


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