Being a longtime Grognard who still enjoys the old map and counter experience, I have always looked for ways in which I can enhance this experience by using my iPad or tablet. In the last year my dreams have been increasingly fulfilled with the release of various titles that either scratch this itch or have left me thinking that tablet wargaming is still a pipedream.
Wars and Battles, a recent release by the French company Kermorio, fills a void that is missing from tablet gaming. Wars and Battles is a “Portal” in which a gamer will be able to play key campaigns throughout history, with planned titles that include Napoleonic battles to the more recent Arab-Israeli War of 1973. I wondered how one game engine could do all of this, so I was able to give the first title in the collection Normandy-1944 a spin, and I was pleased with what I saw.
In Normandy-1944 a player has the choice of playing out the battles of the entire invasion of Normandy Campaign as either the Allies or the Germans. You have the option of playing 18 small campaigns or 11 advanced scenarios in Normandy-1944, or for a real challenge you can play the entire battle in 2 massive scenarios that throw in a few “what-if” factors to challenge you.
What I initially liked about this game is that instead of pushing around abstract forces on a map, players are given the actual units, with realistic characteristics (over 100) to move around the map. This appealed to that old gamer in me and it showed me that some historical rigor went into the design of this game. The game features 7 different types of units (armor, infantry, artillery, mechanized infantry, ships, aircraft, and leaders) who have the same distinctive characteristics as their real life counterparts did. Players can also choose from a 3D or 2D map, so you can have little tanks, planes and soldiers on your map, or have what I perfer, the 2D counters that look like the games I play the old fashioned way.
The map is also very well done and Normandy-1944 features 9 different types of terrain. Once in-game the interface allows you to tap on a unit (or a stack of two units) to select it. Once selected you can move that unit up to its movement allowance and if it's adjacent to an enemy unit (or in range for artillery) you can give attack orders. This is where the game shines; once you select a unit to attack you are given the combat odds and a screen that can allow you to select units (air, naval, or artillery) to support your attack. This really gives you the feel of an operational commander; allocating your resources for key attacks.
You see the part of the map that is used in the game you select
As we all know, a flashy shell sometimes hides a poor game play engine. I can say that while I do not know very much detail about the engine, it seems to work well in this game. The interface from the "portal" screen on down is easy to navigate, and you can quickly select the theater you wish to fight in. Once in a spesific battle you can choose to play any of the advanced or large battle scenarios. The smaller campaigns have to be played in order, so if you win the Bloody Omaha scenario, you can then go on to the next mission. Once unlocked, you can go right to that mission in the future. The game also allows you to save up to twenty games with an autosave feature.
Naval gunfire.. enough said...
There is a lot of this game that is under the hood that players will either become familiar with over time or by reading the information found on the developer’s website. Such as supply which is a major factor in the game and how action points work. I was able to get into and win a game or two without reading up on the system; however it did help as the smaller battles got harder as I advanced. Each turn a side is given a certain number of action points in which they can use to move or order their units to attack. I usually had to pass before I ran out of these points; however I am sure that action points play a role in the larger games. Once you pass it is the enemies turn to move or attack. This is one drawback that found when playing the game, the lack of a detailed rule book. While the game is very enjoyable, I do not know the action point cost of certain units, or how being cut off affects my units until they are isolated. I also do not know how units become replenished during the game, but I can see their ratings change if I have them sit still for a turn. I hope that in the future the developer adds this missing feature and shows off some of the well developed engine this game runs on. I will recommend that a player should read the pre-battle brief and the tips as they pop on the screen, they will teach you the rules as you play.
Weapons details in case you wanted to know
One other question players consider when purchasing a new game is how tough will the AI be. I have to agree that if a game lacks a challenge you are not likely to play it very much. From my time in the game thus far I can say that AI is very aggressive and it looks to cut off units or moves forces to key areas to support an attack. The AI also does something that I have noticed lacking other games; it tries to take back objectives you have captured since you earn victory points for them each turn. With this aggression you can also cut off your enemy and shift your attack to where the enemy is weak. In the game there is no way to lower or increase the skill of the AI or to set the game on an easy or tough mode. Also, the game has the “fog of war” where you cannot see your entire enemy's force; this too cannot be turned on or off. Some of the games I have played have been tough affairs where I have had to try the mission again using different tactics.
Pre-brief, I would suggest reading it!
While the game can time-out and base victory based on points, I have found that I was the loser in these instances (I have played mostly Allies so that should figure) and I have a better chance to win the game by destroying the enemy's force in its entirety. You can also win and automatic victory by capturing all the objectives at any time, but the tough AI did not allow me to do this very often. I also have realized that support elements such as artillery seem to work better when used on their own, rather as a support in an attack; perhaps this would make a good engine for a Great War game (hint hint).
The game tracks your progress as you play
One aspect that I was not able to test in the advanced copy is the multi-player version of the game. Which if done like other iPad games are done turn by turn with players saving their latest turn to a server, so you can play a turn and come back to play the next at your leisure.
For $6.99 you get the Campaign in each battle of Wars and Battles portal. In Normandy 44, you can play more than 15 scenarios in Campaign mode. Then, when the next battles will be released, you will be able to play the Campaign of each battle. In other words, for $6.99 you get 7 campaigns amounting to more than 70 scenarios. Advanced and Battle scenarios can be unlocked via in-app purchase. So Normandy-1944 will cost you $9.99 for all 31 scenarios, the next title “October War 1973” will cost $6.99 for the full unlock. I feel you get a good product for the cost and it is great that the developer lets you buy only a small portion of scenarios if you do not like the topic.
Guns and Smokes....
The publisher has informed me that they plan to release a new title every two months with “October War 1973” coming available in January 2015. Future titles feature battles such as, Gettysburg-1863, Kharkov-1943, Austerlitz-1805, Market Garden-1944, and The Korean War-1950-1953. This is a lot of content in the pipeline and the publisher states that different aspects of the games engine will be turned on or off depending upon the period, where issues like unit facing, game scale, anti-tank missiles, and the potency of air power, etc will change with each title. Overall if the future content keeps to schedule and if it has the same quality as the first installment, I can see this Wars and Battles becoming a huge hit.
I would have to give this game a solid 4 out of 5 rating. The lack of a comprehensive rules book prevents this from becoming the great game it probably is, a real hex and counter wargame on the iPad. Other bugs such as dead units that stay on the map were minor occurrences in game play and I hope will be corrected in future patches. Along with the lack of rules preventing this game from scoring higher is the unknown of how the multi-player game will work. Having played other multi-player games on my iPad I know a bad multi-player engine can kill the best of games. I also hope that the bi-monthly release schedule will be maintained because I am excited for the proposed titles that are planned.
Actual units with their combat stats
So, if you are a casual to hard core gamer who longs for the days when they pushed cardboard around on a map, your prayers have been answered and Wars and Battles is the experience you have waited so long for.
Wars and Battles will be available in the App Store 27 November 2014 and you can find it by clicking here.
4 out of 5