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SummaryNot for serious wargamers, but still a fun "beer & pretzels" game.
The GoodThe back story for the game is somewhat reminiscent of Star Wars -- the Vasgalan Empire has "diplomatically" taken over the planet of Folvos, and has begun to move occupation forces in. A faction of the Folvos army, resentful of the occupation, mounts a rebellion against the Vasgalan forces. The rebellion begins as the game begins, and you can select which side you want to lead into battle. There is enough detail to keep it interesting, and it manages to follow a logical progression from scenario to scenario.
The graphics and music/sound are top-notch. Each unit type is meticulously rendered in 3-D, and comes complete with its own sights and sounds as it moves, fires, and takes damage. The level of detail is quite impressive (an area often lacking in more serious turn-based wargames) -- recon units have spinning satellite dishes, movement over sand kicks up dust clouds, units that have taken damage begin to show it (which is handy, since you are able to tell at a glance which units you need to pull off the front lines... the ones with blackened armor and smoke belching out the turrets).
Also enjoyable is the element of surprise in many scenarios. You begin each scenario with one or more Primary Objectives, to be accomplished for victory (no victory levels here, you either win or lose). As the scenarios progress, sometimes there are "cut scenes" where additional plot elements appear and give you Secondary Objectives. Often, these Secondary Objectives will provide some form of advantage for your forces in the fight, while not being required for overall victory. As an example, a few turns into a scenario playing as the rebel side, two jets from the Folvos Army appear on the map. They are damaged and low on fuel, but the pilots say they will join the rebellion if they are able to repair and resupply at the airfield. This gives you a Secondary Objective of securing the airfield within 4 turns. Succeed, and two fighter jets join the fight on your side; fail, and you are left to continue without air support.
One other feature that I really enjoy (and other wargames could take note of) is the way that supply is handled. Whereas supply normally comes from a "supply unit" that you must keep within so many unblocked hexes of your units, or a static "supply depot" where you must return for additional supply... in War on Folvos, you have supply units that act just like regular combat units. Now, they are not as powerful as your front-line tanks and infantry. However, they are quick and can attack or defend themselves. Thus, in a pinch, it becomes less likely that your supply unit will get cut off or overrun. In fact, you can even use it as a part of an offensive if you have a nearly-destroyed enemy unit within range. Repairing damage and reloading ammunition can happen within any of the 6 hexes surrounding a supply unit (some scenarios have military bases that function in the same way). It becomes an interesting tactical decision as to the best way to position your supply trucks, while at the same time providing you a good deal of flexibility for getting damaged units repaired.
Actions are very simple -- each unit gets two "action points" per turn. You can use an action point to move, attack, repair, or reload. Normally you would move and attack; however, it is also handy for getting one final shot off before pulling back to repair. Movement range is determined by the unit type; some units are faster on certain terrain types, while others (mostly tracked units) are slower overall but can negotiate different terrain types without problems. One other interesting game element related to action points is how artillery is handled. Artillery units can make ranged attacks (normal combat units must be in adjacent hexes to attack), which makes them dangerous enough. However, a unit that is hit by an artillery attack becomes stunned on its next turn, and loses one action point. (This is not cumulative, multiple artillery attacks still leave a surviving unit with one action point.) It therefore becomes very important to keep an eye on artillery units both offensively and defensively.
There are a lot of other little details about the interface and game mechanics that I like too... but I feel as though I've gone on long enough already!
The BadAs mentioned in the one-line summary, this is not a hardcore wargame for serious wargamers. If you prefer intricate statistics and detailed OOBs, you will probably want to take a pass on this game. Notable "missing" wargame mechanics include:
- Zone of Control: Units have more or less free reign of the battlefield; movement is restricted only by terrain or other units (only one unit of the same type -- ground or air -- can occupy a hex). This is somewhat frustrating, since it makes forming a battle line difficult, though with a little practice you can adapt your tactics.
- Defensive Fire / Counterattack: Only one side's units are active during their turn. Defending units do not return fire when fired upon; it therefore becomes possible to surround a unit and completely wipe it out without having a shot fired in return. A defending unit still has a bit of an advantage since an attacker (without a ranged attack) will likely have to use one of its two action points to move next to the defender, therefore leaving only one available for attack and then being open to the defender's two action points on the following turn.
- Unit Skill and Morale: Units are basically cookie-cutter copies of one another; all units of the same type have more or less the same capabilities. Additionally, you can leave units on the front lines all day long or send them into certain death, and they will fight to the last man. Morale could be considered to be abstracted somewhat into the "damage" that a unit takes (normally requiring a unit to drop back from the front lines to repair), but there are no retreats or routs to speak of.
- Terrain: There are not a lot of different terrain types in the game, though the types that are there function how you might expect (e.g. you get a defensive bonus in the woods). Some maps have areas that are clearly identifiable as cliffs or plateaus; early on, I positioned my very-slow-moving artillery units on one of these plateaus overlooking an enemy base, planning to rain fire and destruction down from above. What I found, however, is that the "cliff" terrain type (that demarcates the plateau from the lower ground) functions as a complete block -- you cannot move or attack over it. As long as you keep this in mind, you can work around it. However, it took me quite a few more turns to get my slowpoke artillery units back down and around, and it ended up costing me the battle.
- Reinforcements: Except for some surprise Secondary Objectives or other scripted events that occur in some scenarios, you are basically limited to the units you start off with... once they're gone, they're gone for good. While this forces you to keep your supply trucks close at hand and pull damaged units back out of combat to repair, I find it a bit frustrating in a game of this scale. Again, knowing about this ahead of time lets you plan around it. Also seems that as long as you finish a scenario with at least one surviving unit, you begin the next one at full strength.
- GUI: The interface is fine, for the most part, though there are not enough shortcut keys for my liking (e.g. when asked a question with Yes and No reply buttons, you have to click on either one with the mouse; you cannot simply press the "Y" or "N" keys). This, coupled with sometimes very small "click" areas, makes using the mouse a bit of a challenge. More than once I have accidentally ordered a unit to move because I mis-clicked and ended up on the map instead.
- Unit Voice Responses: Taking a page from RTS games, nearly every unit type makes some sort of response when you click on it to select it. This is okay at first, but by the thousandth time you've heard "Ready to Respond!" or "Lead On!", it gets old. There are separate volume settings for sound effects and music, it would have been nice to have a third option to mute the vocal acknowledgements. (Admittedly, this is pretty nit-picky and largely a matter of personal preference.)
- No Multi-Player or Scenarios: This game is single player only, and has only one campaign that you can play through from either side. (I have not yet played through both, so I am not sure if the scenarios are the same or different for each side.) The computer AI is not the brightest and is somewhat predictable, so you would likely find replayability to be a bit lacking.
Finally, there are some obvious spelling and grammatical mistakes in various parts of the storyline narrative. These do not take away from the story or the game much at all, and it is pretty much forgivable since the game developers do not appear to be native English speakers.
The Bottom LineOverall, this is a fun "light" wargame that will give you some enjoyment as long as you don't expect too much. While it is not perfect, it is simple enough to get the mechanics down quickly and have some fun. The Sci-Fi land war setting is a nice change of pace from the run-of-the-mill "outer space" combat normally found, and provides some interesting unit types to work with.
This is a shareware game by indie developers; they offer a demo that lets you play one side of the campaign and a tutorial. The full game is, as of this writing, US $10 and I feel that it is worthwhile. (Even if for no other reason than to support indie wargame developers!)
If you liked Panzer General, you'll probably like this game if you can work around the quirks. I've been having a lot of fun with it.