Review: Wars and Battles26 Nov 2014 0
You won't find too many wargame monikers quite as dull as "Wars and Battles". If French developers Kermorio ever tried their hand at baseball we'd get "Gloves and Caps" -- or maybe an FPS called "Persons and Shooting". I suspect that some children of Kermorio employees are named "Baby".
Ignore the insipid name -- Wars and Battles is an accessible wargame of moderate complexity with cagey scenarios and an intricately-modelled tabletop miniatures aesthetic. It's lovely to behold and equally lovely to play. Even in a year where the wargame pond has been well stocked with fine beasts (Battle Academy 2, Desert Fox, Commander: The Great War), Wars and Battles is a singular specimen.
Wars and Battles is an ambitious wargame. Quite possibly too ambitious. When you crack open the app today you get a WWII game, but you'll quickly notice open slots (labelled "2015") for campaigns set in Korea, the Yom Kippur War, Austerlitz, and the American Civil War. In case you remain in any doubt about what's up, the game's title screen features a skirmish line of 1940s infantry making R. Lee Ermey war-faces alongside some Three Kingdoms-era spearmen and a samurai.
So the promise of Wars and Battles is that it isn't just one wargame: it's a never-ending cavalcade of wargames set in every imaginable period of history, delivered to your Wars and Battles app just as quickly as Kermorio can dream them up. I'm skeptical of this to a degree that would make Richard Dawkins uncomfortable. Every few years we see a new wargame system that tries to represent strategic-level combat from multiple eras with the same rules--it's like the grognard's Theory of Everything--and it usually falls right on its face. We've seen it work with more limited systems like Commands and Colors, but never with historical eras as diverse as W&B hopes to connect. You just can't ever pull the camera back far enough for Zama to look like Okinawa.
But for the purpose of this review, we can only talk about the Wars and Battles that's here right now -- and that World War II wargame is pretty damned good. For the asking price, you get a campaign of 10 scenarios (playable from either the Axis or Allied side, so you could generously call that 20 scenarios) playable against a strong AI or async multiplayer, and single IAPs unlock a gaggle of advanced scenarios and a grand campaign -- all set in 1944 during the Allied invasion of France.
Who knows if Wars and Battles will eventually make for convincing simulations of Napoleonic infantry squares or Cantabrian circles? But it gives very good WWII.
You're pushing regimental-sized units around a hex-based map, trying to maintain a front line or break through the other guys'. In W&B, force concentration is the name of the game -- you can put as many as three units onto one hex, and friendly units adjacent to your enemy can join in on an assault, supported by nearby artillery and overhead fighter-bombers. Terrain, weather, unit quality, and supply are all factored into the engine. It's a thoughtful, easy-to-pick-up combat system that rewards dramatic maneuvers and inter-force cooperation the way a World War II game should. The scenario design is clever and the ramp-up in difficulty is gradual and exhilarating.
Graphically, this might be the best-looking wargame we've seen in 2014. It's strictly down to taste if Kermorio's animated unit models are more pleasing than Shenandoah's clean-lined icons, but there's no denying the vast amount of labour that's gone into the pieces. The UI is very thoughtful and once you're fluent with it, it's as good of a wargame interface as sported by any Shenandoah product or Unity of Command expansion. Formations are represented on the map by detailed and fully animated units that are presented alongside facts and figures, authentic unit badges, and potted histories.
A lot of that stuff is just historical fluff with little gameplay impact but I'm completely fine with that. The game's badges and models and illustrations ensure that you'll never confuse the Mustang-equipped 100th Fighter Wing with the Thunderbolt-equipped 303rd FW -- although they're no more different from one another than a couple of lesser Baldwin brothers, gameplay-wise. Some of our favourite wargames are guilty of fetishizing minor differences in military gear, but Kermorio resist that temptation in favour of a more sober operational-level wargame about the big picture of a battle.
It absolutely works -- the emphasis here is on tactical prudence and big-picture thinking, not the MPG fuel economy of individual panzers. In general, the combat results feel more deterministic and less dice-driven than the ones in say, Battle of the Bulge. If you bring a three-to-one ratio of attackers to defenders, you're probably going to win that fight. The hard questions start coming when you're trying to figure out where you can afford to concentrate that much force. The scenarios generate a lot of tough calls and the fighting feels very good. The combat engine probably under-values the importance of terrain, but now I'm just nit-picking.
There is a great love for history on display here, plus a level of polish that is still atypical among core mobile games. It's not (yet) as big of a sandbox as Panzer Corps or as lavishly detailed as a Shenandoah offering, but Wars and Battles is a top-notch wargame of rare quality. If Kermorio can deliver a few more WWII scenarios as good as this next year, we'll agree to forget all these wacky ideas about doing pike & shot warfare in the same combat system.
Wars & Battles was played on an iPad Air for this review.