Multiplayer Game of the Year 2013

By Owen Faraday 17 Dec 2013 0
It takes two. It takes two.

Our Multiplayer Game of the Year is a game that very nearly never existed, but for a happy accident.

Philadelphia's Shenandoah Studios had always intended to follow up last year's iPad wargaming masterpiece Battle of the Bulge with WWII African theatre game El Alamein, but by this summer the development process had slowed down on that game. “There’s... been some challenges in development,” Shenandoah's Brad Cummings told me back in August. “There’s a reason the Germans lost the Battle of El Alamein.”

Jerry-mandering. Jerry-mandering.

Unhappy with the way the game played from the Axis side, Shenandoah decided to move El Alamein to the back burner. But they were also loath to go all of 2013 with no new release. They decided, to our benefit, to forge ahead with a game they knew they could balance and launch before the end of the year: the Eastern Front game Drive on Moscow, built around Germany's Operation Typhoon to take the Russian capital and the ensuing Soviet counterattack.

Though I didn't agree, some critics of Battle of the Bulge felt that that game's scale was so intimate as to feel like a brainteaser more than a wargame. Nobody can lay that criticism upon its direct sequel Drive on Moscow, whose enormous map and scattered objectives make it a dynamic rolling brawl that never plays the same way twice.

The game's AI is usually competent though insufficiently zealous in guarding its supply lines -- its mask slips occasionally and reveals, Westworld-like, the lines of code pretending to be a general. Against a human opponent though, Moscow is a white-knuckle duel. It's not any one factor that makes it so, it's the whole cocktail of the game's matchmaking algorithm, the scenario design, and the elegantly calibrated victory point thresholds that mean almost every game I'm a part of is perennially balanced on the knife edge of failure or triumph. Sure I've delivered (and been on the receiving end of) some haymakers, but most multiplayer campaigns of Moscow I've seen are tightly contested affairs.

I could tell you a dozen war stories: of my failed eleventh-hour assault into Poldolsk, or the time I was saved by a daring cavalry advance that cut off six panzer divisions, or when I was caught off-guard by a Soviet sally out of Kursk. Drive on Moscow is fond of creating situations that are difficult to describe without employing one of the most over-used and exsanguinated words of our time: epic.

Runner-up: Frozen Synapse

Honourable Mention: Agricola, Battle for Hill 218, PathogenStone Age: The Board Game, Eclipse, Sky Gamblers: Cold War

To see all the games recognized in the Pocket Tactics Best of 2013 Awards, visit the awards index page.
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