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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Review: Wargame: Red Dragon

The Wargame series of games by Eugen Systems as been around for a few years and has its origins in the 2010 game, R.U.S.E. The latest version of the Wargame series, Red Dragon, recently was released for PC (with expectation for an upcoming release to OSX and Linux).  The timeline focus of the Wargame series has been surrounding the Cold War era going hot, and Red Dragon continues this trend moving to the 1975-1991 time frame primarily in the East Asia region.

The expected cast of nations has returned to Red Dragon from the previous Wargame games, these forces consist of the expected NATO nations and Warsaw Pact nations, but also include new comers to the war, the Koreas, China, Japan, and the ANZAC.  Each nation has its own perks, available units, prototype units, and flavor that help to separate the forces more than a simple red faction vs blue faction.  The option for different coalitions for multiple nations exist as well to increase the selection of available choices the player has.

The core mechanics of the game are fairly unique to Red Dragon that most other Real-time Strategy (RTS) games do not possess.  Where as the "typical" RTS features resource management, base development, and macro/micro management, Red Dragon focuses quite heavily on a mechanic of "deck building" and unit micromanagement with very little resource or macro management influence.  Deck building comes from the concept that units are represented as cards or selections that you decide from before a game begins, these will be the only units that you have access to for the duration of that game and so a lot of strategy goes into the idea of building a deck and which units to bring.

The most unique feature of the Wargame series is the Deck Building or army list construction that allows players to customize their force to however they see fit.  Many players familiar with table-top games such as Flames of War, WarMachine, Warhammer, etc. will quickly understand the value of this core mechanic and view it as easily a major part of the game. Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the game is the list building and being faced with countless options on how to build different forces that I want to field. Just like building up an army in Flames of War, the deck building in Red Dragon allows you to select the coalition or nation, and then diving deeper to the unit force organization (Armored, Mech, Infantry, etc.) and from there one can select the era.  Each narrowing down of the selection of the force nets more and more bonuses to the force fielded.  Once the selection is complete as to the desired nation and organization, the actual building of the force begins. 

Similar to table top games, the options for unit selection are presented, allowing the commander to choose what they want to field in the force, but a maximum of 60 "points" can be spent where each slot a unit occupies takes up increasingly more points; so while the first few selections of infantry are 1 or 2 points, the fifth choice will cost upwards of 3 points or more.  These costs and available slots differ based upon the force organization selected, so a Armored deck will offer 7 tank slots instead of the standard 5, which each costing 1 point a piece, save for one. Each unit costs a set amount of resources that are accumulated over time during a game; line infantry cost less resources than special forces infantry and so can be deployed more often. In addition to resource cost there is a veterancy of the units to decide on, higher veterancy means that there will be less numbers to field but will fair better in combat, creating the question of quantity or quality as to which to select.  With the myriad of different units to choose from, a player can truly customize their forces to fit any play style and situation.

The battles between forces are conducted on a large map that can feature forests, mountains, plains, towns, rivers, and any terrain feature that you can expect in the East Asian theater of conflict. The two different game types available are an attrition/death-match variant where players battle out in attempts to exhaust the enemies' deck; and a domination/point-capture variant where tickets are accumulated based upon the value of the territories captured counting towards a total needed for victory. The player is given an initial amount of resources with with to deploy units from their decks before the game starts, these resources build up over time and are used to deploy new units as the game progresses. This initial force will dictate the players opening moves; be it land grabs for either capture territories or ideal defensible terrain, heavy pushes to establish a pincer on the enemy position, or any number of tactics that supports the initial deployment. 

One thing the player must manage is their ability to resupply their troops via trucks or helos, with a Forward Operating Base refilling those supply assets, and so deployment of a FoB is essential in areas that can easily be reached. Without these supplies, units in the field will deplete ammo, spare parts, and fuel and thus become unable to participate in combat. Each unit in the deck is a counter to another, and so the player must build a synergy of troops and other assets to counter their opponents' deployed forces; this can be through a combination of air, infantry, armor, etc. that eventually leads to seizing the initiative and being able to push the opponent back or allow them to capture needed zone. Battles can move lightning quick or stall out complete depending on the choices and deployments that a player makes versus their opponent(s), tactics, unit choice, and resource management are key to winning the game.

Where most players are familiar with managing at a macro or both macro and micro level, Red Dragon focuses primarily on the micromanagement level of control the placement, movement, and attacks of individual or small groups of units. Personally I view Red Dragon's game play as a refreshing change and quite a challenge to my style of game play, typically I prefer the more macro style but forcing myself into a micro style has its appeal when I have little else to manage.  Coming from a StarCraft background, micro has always been a weakness to me, the downside is StarCraft is both macro and micro, where I try to manage too much at once. Red Dragon allows me to focus on the micro element, dealing with the individual units and forming attacks and defenses rather than managing an economy and attacking at the same time.  At first I was apprehensive, but once I gave it a try, I really enjoyed myself and had a great time.  I find the game best when played with friends who you can count on as when more people are in a game, the more specialized a deck can be. That allows for a small group of friends to coordinate effectively with decks that support each other, creating effectively a much larger deck. 

This game has brought me to enjoy a different side of the Real Time Strategy universe and I can say that I am glad I gave it a chance. If you are a fan of the "Cold War Gone Hot" scenario, a RTS fan of any type, or a long time Wargame series player, then Red Dragon is certainly worth the purchase!

Wargame: Red Dragon can be purchased off the Steam store for the MSRP of $39.99

I look forward to creating a Let's Play series on YouTube of the single player campaign, and currently am posting multiplayer games on my channel.

Review copy of Wargame: Red Dragon was provided by Focus Home Interactive

Christopher Hecht is WWPD's online community manager, and leader of the 1st WWPD Panzer Division in World of Tanks.  In addition to playing both Flames of War and Bolt Action, he runs a YouTube channel under the handle of Darqueling that features many videos related to video games. 

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