I have a really simple test for evaluating an iPhone game: Does it make my evening commute seem short?
I live in upper Manhattan — 160 blocks up from Business Insider's offices. It's a 45 minute trip, including 25 minutes on the subway and another 10 or so waiting on the platform. The morning trip into the office is always quick. I use the time to read books, long form articles, and catch up on the news. But those distractions don't work on my evening commute. After a full day of work, my brain is too tired to read.
So I play iPhone games. Some of them are so immersive — so good at reducing 25 minutes into a blur — that I will catch myself wishing my commute were even longer.
Here's a list of games that can accelerate time into warp speed.
The Greatest iPhone Game Ever Made:
Block Fortress. This is a hybrid between a classic tower defense game and a first-person shooter. You build a fortress in a 3D world. Then, when you're ready, you hit a button and drop into the 3D world as a soldier that can run around your fortress fending off waves of invaders. It's equal parts action and strategy. I played this one for at least two months. I only stopped because I was neglecting other important aspects of my life.
The Almost Greatest iPhone Games Ever Made:
Infinity Blade III. You are a knight or a lady knight that fights other knights and huge monsters. There's a complex story that you won't understand, but the cut scenes are beautiful. What's addictive about it is that as you progress, you get gold coins that allow you to buy more powerful weapons and cool pieces of armor. There isn't much strategy or skill involved, but the sense of triumph you feel after finally bringing down a particularly huge ugly monster is very satisfying. When a new Infinity Blade comes out, I play it for at least a month. I beat the last one maybe 10 times, because I still hadn't gotten all the coolest upgrades yet.
Sid Meier's Pirates! You start this game as the captain of a small ship in the Caribbean. Where you go from there is up to you. You can follow the story line, in which you seek revenge for a crime against your family. You can court a governor's daughter. You can build your wealth as a privateer for a nation-state. The games' simulated world feels open and full of ports.
Civilization Revolution. Civilization II is the greatest computer game ever made, and Civilization Revolution is the closest thing to it on the iPhone.
Not Quite The Greatest Games Ever Made, But Still Really Time Warp-y:
Plague Inc. You attempt to create the perfect disease: one that is dangerous enough to wipe out the entire human race, but not so dangerous that it kills its victims before they can spread it.
Epoch 2. There are very few good pure action games on the iPhone. This is one of them. I would rank it higher, but it's a little too geared toward requiring in-ap purchases.