Review: BattleRex Genghis Khan01 Sep 2015 0
One of the earliest reviews I penned for PT was the bluntly-titled Strategy: Rome in Flames. Strategy was indeed present, and Rome was well and truly in proverbial cinders. It was a wargame about mobility, with focus on fast skirmishing up and around the Adriatic to claim the boot for the Huns. Rexopax Software have returned with a follow-up in BattleRex: Genghis Khan, and that same emphasis on fast conquest fits well, but rides too lightly on theme and strategic layering to make a lasting mark.
BattleRex: Genghis Khan is a turn-based serving of light capture-and-hold territory control. Cranking up the Mongolian equine warmachine, players rumble from region to region, province to province, annexing and annihilating under the banner of the Borgijin clan. This is certainly Henry Cecil’s Wargame, with almost every unit mounted on horseback as history demands. It’s not a complex wargame, in keeping with Rexopax’s original Hun runner, utilising a simple rock-scissors-paper approach to unit strengths and weaknesses. Mounted archers, swordsmen and lancers are the three main unit classes, with sub-classes for variety. Archers range from light irregulars to heavier units, offering greater damage at the expense of movement range. The mounted swordsmen include the iconic dual-scimitar-wielding beserker. Lancers offer a good balance of range and power, including a knock-back effect to their attacks. The combat system works in being immediately understandable, yet doesn’t do anything to distinguish itself from any number of other entry-level wargames. There’s a veterancy element in winning combat, but beyond minor stat buffs like an attack increase, I found myself not particularly fazed by losing the battle-hardened. Instead, it was just a case of hiring fresh troops along the border and galloping westward.
The game favours multiple bands of roving skirmishers over big army groups on account of sheer map size. My experience was to punch into towards provincial centres at speed, then mop up the regional forces that came in to defend. This is a game that resists the notions of front lines; my raiders were usually deep into foreign provinces, fanned out across the wide map. Given the huge territories just crying out for a new overlord, forgetting a few raiding parties deep on the periphery is bound to happen and a unit cycle button and end of turn reminder does help keep the increasing army size in focus and on the move each turn.
The UI, though, typifies the issues surrounding BattleRex: Genghis Khan. Certainly the weakest element of the game, it's a visual transplant from the original Rome in Flames that doesn’t take advantage of the theme in any manner, and Genghis Khan feels like a bland expansion as a result. A few audio-visual flourishes like Mongol weave motifs or some period Tuvan music would have gone a long way towards selling the under-served theme.
The four scenarios in BattleRex: Genghis Khan span the length of the eponymous Temujin’s reign, running from his early consolidation of the Mongolian steppe, a push into China, and two campaigns that advance into Asia Minor to form the great Khanate. As was the case with Strategy: Rome in Flames, there’s a lot of game squashed into each scenario, with maps sporting seventy-strong inner-provinces ripe for the picking, but with little variation. Given the binary (war or not war?) diplomacy, I found it hard to stay engaged in the mid-to-late phases of a scenario as I trudged across the map with my levelled warriors. Not to say the AI doesn’t put up a decent fight -- it can be quite wily on the medium to hard difficulties, putting retreat to good use and not needlessly sacrificing units -- but the impetus beyond conquest for conquest’s sake is dulled when there’s little else to do.
Were that the diplomatic model had a few more levels to it. Alliances paid in gold or provinces in exchange for waging of war. If only the user interface made the game more appealing to drop in and out of.
I was forgiving of the visual dead calm in BattleRex’s predecessor Strategy: Rome in Flames because tactically it was a fresh, light experience. The same experience can be had here, and don't get me wrong, BattleRex: Genghis Khan is a tight piece of entry-level wargaming. I simply pine for something a little more developed on the surface, if the guts are ostensibly the same the second time around. Hardcore grognard fare can get away with a UI inspired by Windows 3.11 because there's inherent complexity, and a large amount of information needs to conveyed with minimal obfuscation. An approachable beer-and-pretzels wargame like this one needs to have an inviting user experience that makes it more rewarding to play in short sessions and less of a management chore. It’s a snappy diversion as is, but like the titular nomad-turned-emperor, I want more.