Review: Epic Little War Game15 Jun 2017 3
Review: Epic Little War Game
Released 13 Jun 2017
Epic Little War Game is the fourth in Rubicon's War Game series, each iteration a slight variation on the same ideas. This version is an expansion (as implied by the modifier 'epic') whose big addition is base-building. If you’ve played the previous games, you will be well familiar with the design
ELWG (pronounced, "elwig") isn't especially groundbreaking in the world of turn-based strategy. Each side gets a chance to move all of their units before the other side goes. You have a hex-based map with various elevations and terrain elements that do what you expect. Elevation gives you a longer line of sight (thanks to the curvature of the Earth. In your face, flat-earthers). Roads let you move faster. You have a variety of units with a rock-paper-scissors relationship. So what does ELWG do that's unique?
Aesthetically, the game takes clear influence from Advance Wars, with 'super-deformed' versions of otherwise fairly normal military units. It's disappointing that the units are so similar-looking at a distance, but with time you can pick up the subtle distinctions between different soldiers, tanks and choppers. ELWG twists the Advance Wars design formula with a gratuitous amount of gore that is initially amusing in a shocking way (whole brains flying out of skulls) but eventually becomes a bit tedious, what with dozens of soldiers dying the same way each map. Contrariwise, the explosions are magnificent, and never get old. I was a little disappointed with the realistic color palette used for the terrain which contrasts with the brightly-colored units and humorous tone (the interface is likewise unusually dark). I loved the sound choices, including the voiceover from the clueless general, the upbeat music, and the lemmings-esque confidence of the infantry. Overall, a great looking and sounding game.
Your tactics will hinge on the fact that units that are attacked on the opponent's turn get a counterattack—making mistakes dangerous and tough units capable of multiple strikes in a single turn. Also, the strength of a unit's attack is directly proportional to its health, making first strikes and fresh units both necessities. These rules make the body-count high and play aggressive, while at the same time the player must carefully consider which unit is the best choice to attack which.
While the rock-paper-scissors approach to unit balance is common, ELWG makes the well-appreciated move of making it crystal-clear which units are best against which—first in the unit info box when you build a unit, but also in combat. Use a bazooka against a sniper once and you never will again, as the counterattack blows your bazooka-neer's eyes out.
This iteration of the game adds base-building and resource-gathering. It’s a simplified version of what would be common in RTS games like Starcraft. You need coin from oil wells to build new units and buildings, and you need power to keep the buildings operating including turrets for defense. Different buildings produce different types of units. A Tech Center unlocks the second-tier units. Crippling your opponent’s production is of course a great way of choking off their army’s expansion.
The campaign does a great job of easing you into the game without leading you by the nose like so many other tutorials ('click on the tank to select it!' 'click on the ground to move!' 'Now go to the flag!' 'Great work, General!'). Instead, ELWG tells you what you need to know and lets the visual indicators tell you how to give your commands. You learn not only how to give commands, but why to make some choices instead of others. The escalating campaign missions add different units and strategies piece by piece and are not unchallenging or uninteresting even at the beginning. If you run out of maps, the game comes with dozens of maps of sizes from tiny two-player skirmishes to enormous six-player theaters, and more can be randomly generated. You can play online through Rubicon's own service, or play pass-and-play with up to six players.
If you are a fan of the series already, good news: Epic is a big expansion of the core mechanics and well worth your time. If you are a newcomer to Little War Game, this is the latest and greatest and a perfect entry point.