Sylvan Master: The Feng Shui 2 App

If you were one of the 3,400 Feng Shui 2 Kickstarter backers, or have since acquired it from one of several fine purveyors of gaming pdfs, you may have noticed these strange square symbols on a few pages in the core rulebook. Those are QR codes. They are typically used to connect real-world object, signs, brochures, etc. to digital content. You use one of several apps on your mobile device to scan the code and get directed to a web page. A QR code in a catalog might take you to an order page, or a campaign brochure might take you a page to learn more about the candidate.

So, where will the Feng Shui 2 QR codes take me?

I’m glad you asked. If you are using an iOS device and the Sylvan Master app is installed, the code will launch the app and load the fight scene with the GMC’s data ready to go. Of course, you want to enter the heroes for your series ahead of time. Once that is done, you don’t need to enter any data for adventures published by Atlas Games. And you don’t have to navigate through the app while your game is in session. Just scan and hit “roll init.”

If you are not on an iOS device, or the app isn’t installed, the QR code will take you a nice web page that tells you about Sylvan Master and how to get the app.

How are you saving me time, if I have to leave the app, open a scanning tool, to be taken back into the app?

The app has a built in scanner. Look for the QR code/magnifying glass icon in the toolbar. The first time you will be prompted to give Sylvan Master permission to access the device’s camera. Once that is done, you can scan the QR codes right from the app. Of course, you can use any other QR code scanner you want to, if that is more convenient.

I can’t scan a QR code when I am reading Feng Shui 2 as a pdf on my device.

Good point. That is why we also made the QR code hyperlinks. Simply tap one in a pdf reader on your device and it will work just like the scanner.

OK, sounds neat. When will I be able to give it a try?

At this point the app is feature complete and in beta testing. I’ve got a good group of testers, which means that they are finding bugs and giving me lots of ideas for improvements. I am on target to put Sylvan Master up for sale on the app store before the Feng Shui 2 books start shipping. However, given the vagaries of getting app store approval and printing/shipping, both schedules are difficult to pin down. This is software, after all, so I am in good company if I answer with the proverbial “soon.”

Arkham Horror Toolkit

I remember that first game of Arkham Horror. It was at Origins, probably 2010. The game master scheduled it for the first slot of the day. I ‘m an early riser and I was surprised to find that this game had a full table.

The game was a blast. I remember being baffled at the way, in a shuffled deck, each card could be worse than the one before it. The guy sitting next to me didn’t understand what he was getting into and got a little upset about the game conspiring against us. I remember at one point, openly praying to the “powers that be” for a kitten card. I couldn’t imagine what could be worse than we had already seen, and I knew that was a bad sign.

I remember at one point, openly praying to the “powers that be” for a kitten card.


That demo game worked. I spent a lot of money on Arkham Horror at the con and then struggled to find a way to pack it for the flight home. Now, I only get a chance to play a couple of times every year, but it is always a good time.

This past weekend, as I was setting up all the little pieces and cards around the board, I thought, “there must be an app for this.” And sure enough, I found Arkham Horror Toolkit


If you have played Arkham Horror, you know that it is a complex game with lots of pieces. There are sheets for the good guys, sheets for the bad guys, different tokens and more piles of cards than there are Ancient Ones to battle. The Arkham Horror Toolkit doesn’t attempt to tackle everything, instead it picks four things to tackle:

  • Dice Roller
  • Investigators
  • Location Deck
  • Maps

Limiting what you are going to tackle to a few things is a wise choice in a mobile app. However, I am not sure those are the four things I would have chosen.

User Interface

The user interface looks gorgeous and is straightforward; things behave pretty much like you expect. When you start the app, you see a splash screen, accompanied by some creepy music. This quickly, and smoothly, transitions into menu for the four sections of the application.

Die Roller

The die roller looks sharp and works well for a digital die roller. You can tap the die icon in the lower left corner to add dice. You can tap the upper left corner, where it says “Normal” to select blessed and cursed if you are in one of those states. Once you have the right number of dice on the screen, you can shake the phone to roll the dice. When the phone is still for a second, the number of successes is displayed in the upper right corner, and lock symbol appears preventing an accidental shake from changing the results. Clicking the red x clears the screen, making you ready for the next roll.

This UI leads to lots of clicks to execute a die roll. From an investigator sheet, we needed two clicks to get to the die roller, one click per dies (7 or more isn’t uncommon in a combat roll), shake, click x to reset, then two clicks back to the investigator sheet. That is 12 clicks and a shake for a fairly normal combat roll. A better design might put a grid of numbers on the die screen so the user can select how many dice to roll. A single click back to your investigator sheet would also be helpful.


The investigator’s sheet captures a lot of information on a single screen. You can see and edit your current sanity and stamina, as well as your skills, money, and clue tokens. Clicking on any of these will allow you to edit the values. Clicking on your character’s picture in the top left corner will take you a second screen with the textual information on your character: special abilities, possessions, background, etc. This works really well. It is intuitive and easy to manage.

Location Deck

As I mentioned earlier in this review, there are lots of decks of cards involved in the game. Arkham Horror Toolkit provides all the location decks in a single screen. The screen lists of the locations on the boards. Arrows at the top of the screen let you navigate to “Other Worlds” locations, or focus on particular boards, which can be helpful if you are using expansions. I wish the swipe gesture worked to change boards/other world location lists, but that is a minor quibble.

Clicking on location shows you a card for that location which you can read and act on. In the game, location cards have encounters for several neighboring locations on the board. The digital cards are better, they only have the encounter information for the location you selected. Another click on the icon at the bottom of the screen returns you to the list of locations. This works really smoothly and is a nice way to get to the cards.

Some of the reviews in the app store indicate that the cards are not random enough. Others indicate that they are too random, because the same cards keep coming up. In the app does not shuffled and draw the cards sequentially like a deck of cards. Instead, each card has the same chance of appearing each time. This is fine though, because the rules actually say that you are supposed to shuffle the locations decks before each draw (page 8, second sentence under “No Gate”), giving each card an equal chance on each draw. So, the app is doing the right thing, while I suspect many of us are not in our normal play.


The map screen is the final major element of the toolkit. This section lets you view an image of the main board and any expansion boards you have purchased. You can use pinch gestures to zoom in and out of the maps, and arrows at the top of the screen let you switch between maps. As with locations, you can’t swipe between maps. You can use the map to draw location cards by double tapping on a location.

Other Features

In App Purchasing: The Arkham Horror Toolkit allows for in app purchasing of the expansions. The expansions range from $0.99 to $2.99. This gets you any maps, location cards and investigators that come with that expansion. You can turn expansions that you have on and off in the settings panel. When you select an expansion, the location cards seem to be mixed into the regular location cards. This forces you to mix the other cards from the expansion (mythos, item, etc) into those decks in the physical game. I would have preferred an option to play with the special rules that focus on the additional elements of the expansion.

Settings: The setting panel is straight forward. It allows you to turn sound and shadows on and off, and select which expansions you want to play with.

IPad: Of course, the app works on the iPad, but it looks and functions exactly like it does on the iPhone. It doesn’t lay out the UI any differently to take advantage of the increased screen real estate.

Usefulness & Value

We tried the Arkham Horror Toolkit during a four-hour game. Two players used it to manage their investigator sheets. We quickly gave up on the die roller. I suspect that many people will question its randomness, but that wasn’t an issue for us. (As an aside, some day I am going to write a blog post about why digital rollers are more random than you think and physical dice are less.) It was simply too many clicks to navigate roller to make a roll. It was easier and more satisfying to just roll physical dice.

We also got tired of switching back and forth between location cards and the investigator sheet, so we brought out an iPad for the location cards. The iPad was tied to the same Apple ID as one of the iPhones, so we didn’t have to purchase the app again. This worked really well. Managing the location cards in the app was simpler than continually shuffling and managing the location cards, and removed some of the clutter from the board.

One player commented that it was harder to coordinate actions when they couldn’t see how many clue tokens the players using their phones had. However, everybody seemed to agree that the players using their phones were having an easier time managing their investigators, and it was probably worth the trade off.

We found two of the four pieces valuable, the investigator sheets and the location cards. It is even better if you have an extra device for managing the cards. The maps and die roller both looked outstanding, but didn’t really contribute to our game. We couldn’t really figure out what to do with the map. Instead, what we really wanted in the app was mythos cards. Especially if the app helped step the user through the steps of the mythos phase. I find that we always forget something.

For $2.99, that’s a pretty good value. I’d be willing to pay more to have the mythos cards. That would be helpful and remove even more clutter from around the board.


The Arkham Horror Toolkit simplifies parts of this complex board game and is a good value for $2.99. However, it falls a little short because half of the app doesn’t really help during play and it missed some opportunities to simplify the mythos turn portion of the game.

iCrit: Make Critical Hits Even More Fun

Platform: iPhone/iPad
Price: $1.00 
Rating: 4-Stars Systems: Pathfinder, OGL 3.5

I have been a fan of Paizo’s Game Mastery cards for a while now. Their treasure cards are great, especially when playing with new and younger players. For new players a sheet of cards in a binder makes it easy for them to keep track of what they have and what it does. For the video game set, the tactile reward of getting a card is engaging in the same way that achievements are.

The fun my group had with the treasure cards opened my mind to the possibilities offered by Paizo’s Critical Hit Deck. This a deck of 52 cards. Each card contains 4 critical hit results, one for each of slashing, piercing, bludgeoning and magic damage. When you confirm a critical hit, you simple draw a card and apply the appropriate bonus. This is a fun way to make every critical hit different and more exciting.

Given the simple fun provided by the physical Critical Hit Deck, I expected iCrit to be pretty good. I wasn’t disappointed.


You don’t expect much from an app that simulates drawing from a deck of cards, but still I was pleasantly surprised by simple UI for iCrit. When you start the app, you see a screen that is very easy to understand. There are 4 blank areas labeled: bludgeoning, piercing, slashing, and magic. When you confirm a critical hit, just touch the appropriate symbol on the left and the special result of your critical hit is displayed next to it. You then apply the result and move on with your combat. Couldn’t be easier.


I had expected that I would touch the screen or swipe and get a whole new card, but the apps interface is even better. When I draw a card, I see results for 4 damage types, 3 of which I don’t need. Part of the fun on these effects is the surprise of getting something new. So, I like that this UI only shows me one result at a time. I also like that it will keep old results up for review, at least until I use that damage type again.

There are sounds effects that play when you touch the damage type symbols. Each is different, and fun. Critical hits don’t happen often enough that they get annoying.

The help screen is straightforward, containing the same basic information as the instruction cards in the deck.

Sample Critical Hit Card
Screen After 2 Critical Hits
Starting Screen


Critical hits are one of the most fun parts of Pathfinder. Nothing gets people out of their chairs in excitement like a critical hit at the right time. Two bucks to make that even more fun and interesting? Yes, please!

If you are using other apps, on the same device, I could see it getting tedious switching to iCrit to get the special effect. I think the best usage would be for 1 or 2 players to keep it up on their phones, ready for use. However, I suspect with a little practice, the 4 clicks to get a critical result can be done efficiently so as not to interfere with the moment.


iCrit is an excellent app. It does a simple thing, really well. It is probably even better than the deck of cards that inspired it, if for no other reason than it is cheaper and just as easy to use. I’m having fun with it, and I think you will too.