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Buying and selling hotels is great fun! Seriously!

The other day, I took a chance on an iPad game that didn't seem like my cup of tea, but the user opinions were through the roof. Don't let your initial reaction deter you from getting this game. Now!

I'm constantly browsing the new releases, most popular lists, and iPhone/iPad-focused Web sites for hidden gems. The other day, I took a chance on an iPad game that didn't seem like my cup of tea, but the user opinions were through the roof.

Hotel Mogul HD ($6.99, iPhone version here) looked to me like a casual game that would quickly become boring. Even after scrolling through the screenshots and reading the description, I still wasn't sold. The game revolves around a young entrepreneur named Lynette who owns a large and successful real estate company with her husband. When her conniving husband cheats on her with her "best friend" and forces her out of her family business, she decides to exact revenge by using her business savvy to raise enough money to buy the company out from under her husband and send him to jail.

So it's about buying and selling hotels with some drama on the side? I still wasn't sold; it just didn't sound like fun.

Once I launched the game and got started, I quickly changed my mind. A well-made tutorial brings you through the first few levels of the game showing you how to use each feature and slowly adding more buildings and money-making techniques as you complete each objective. The levels are very easy at first (build two campgrounds, for example), but become more challenging quickly. As the game moves past the initial tutorial stage, you'll learn that to get a perfect 3-star rating for a level, you'll need to complete objectives for each resort in a set period of time. You'll also be shown the full map, which winds through several environments where you'll build beach hotels, including sandy desert oases and even snowy mountain resorts, as you get further into the game.

Hotel Mogul
As you wind your way around the map, you'll be able to build your resorts in several different settings. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Originally a PC game, the point and click interface in Hotel Mogul translates extremely well to the iPad. The tutorial does a great job of pointing out how to use all the buttons in the interface including how to buy materials to build and upgrade hotels; how to use Attractions (like museums, fountains, and amusement parks) to raise the value of your hotels; and how to buy more workers so you can build and upgrade more buildings simultaneously to get the money rolling in faster.

Hotel Mogul
Early on, the tutorial tells you exactly how to get started buying properties and building hotels. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

As you progress through levels, the challenges get harder, requiring you to raise money to buy occupied properties and place specific hotels in scenic locations. Adding a statue or amusement park raises the income bonus on your hotels and buying "service" buildings like the Real Estate Agency or the Construction Mill let you buy and sell at modified prices and fix hotels in need of repair, respectively. With a challenging time limit on your objectives to get a gold-star rating, you'll quickly realize that juggling the upgrades, materials, and objectives require a lot of quick decisions and efficient time management, and before you know it (if you're like me), you'll have blown a considerable amount of time playing a real estate game.

Hotel Mogul
Even after a few stages, you'll be challenged with building and upgrading several motels, requiring good time and resource management. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Overall, Hotel Mogul is probably one of the most challenging and engrossing games I've played on the iPad so far, with smooth graphics, an easy-to-follow tutorial, and tons of levels to play through. When you add in several different types of hotels, commercial buildings, and service buildings to experiment with, Hotel Mogul is great for anyone looking for a challenging time waster. At the very least, you can bet I will look more closely at games that aren't immediately attractive, because Hotel Mogul is a true hidden gem for the iPad.