Tank Battles North Africa – iOS Game Review
Passed Inspection: Suitable graphics, passable AI, good interface, challenging missions, great price
Failed Basic: Simplistic historical detail, locked missions
Hunted Cow Studio and Hexwar.com’s first tactical iPad wargame was Tank Battle 1944. Although simplistic with questionable mechanics, that game garnered significant popularity due to the many challenging scenarios offered. Their second game, Civil War 1863 (Click to read Armchair General review), added more realistic features without losing that “one more turn” attraction of the first product. Will the return to World War II in Tank Battles North Africa maintain this progress?
Sand and Tracks
Graphics for this game are utilitarian with a dollop of nice detail. The top-down view of the terrain shows a great deal of sand with a few oases and pillboxes breaking up the monotony. Palm trees and scrub allow some cover but are barely distinguishable from each other. New to this game are desert buildings, beaches, barbed wire and minefields. The buildings differ in size and height, providing cover and affecting line of sight. Barbed wire is shown as strings of X-like marks that end movement for a unit’s turn and can’t be destroyed. Minefields have small “Achtung!” signs. Another new feature is the supply depots, which have a strength factor to destroy in order to gain achievements on Apple Games Center but no offensive power. Ridges and wadis are quite visible and block fire. The feel of the desert in the game reminds one of the classic movies, Five Graves to Cairo or Sahara.
Units probably represent companies with strength shown from one to ten. Infantry icons are rather humdrum with regular outfits represented by four figures and specialists such as bazooka teams as two men. The famous Long Range Desert Group gives the British an occasional edge. Additions to infantry icons are white chevrons for rookie units and gold chevrons for veteran outfits. Measuring combat results is simply a matter of diminishing strength numbers.
Vehicles and large manned weapons such as howitzers and anti-tank guns are much more exciting graphically. The Allies have 22 unit types including several marks of the British Crusader and American Sherman tanks. Funky Allied vehicles include the British 2pdr portee and the American M3 Gun Motor Carriage. Jeeps, some with pintle-mounted machine guns, provide recon ability, albeit usually short-lived. The Germans have 18 units including versions of the Marder, Stug and Panzer IV, with the Tiger making an entrance. Odd inclusions are Panzers I and II, neither of which was a frontline vehicle in the desert; since victory conditions are often loss percentages, putting large numbers of obsolete vehicles in the force pool skews play. However, having the 88 anti-tank gun in position as back-up makes up for any inadequate armor on obsolete vehicles.
Although small, each unit graphic is accurately and clearly detailed. For instance, the sponson-mounted main gun of the M3 Lee can be seen. The six values per unit are presented in the “Help” section (range, attack vs. armored, attack vs. others, defensive strength, speed, and move-and-shoot effectiveness expressed as a percentage). Animation for these vehicles is great with turrets traversing, tracks and sand clouds appearing during movement, and planes zooming across the field. Sounds include explosions, rat-a-tat of machine guns, rumble of engines, pings of bullets bouncing off armor and the “Unh” of infantry units being eliminated. Each side also has aircraft, such as the Stuka, P-47 and Hurricane.
Attention to Orders!
This game’s action takes place during and after the Allied landings in North Africa. The base package includes a five-scenario tutorial campaign and two eight-scenario campaigns, one British and one American. The two eight-scenario add-on campaigns bring in German units. No Italians or Vichy French in these scenarios, but perhaps there will be future campaigns set earlier in the war that will bring them in.
Each scenario has three levels of difficulty. Points are awarded for finishing each scenario, with more points awarded for the more difficult levels. Good performers receive two or three medals that are pinned on the scenario’s icon.
When a unit is selected by a left tap, reachable hexes are outlined in white, an orange hex-border marks line of sight and targets are in orange hexes. Unlike the earlier game where players either moved or shot, Tank Battle North Africa allows “shoot” or “move and shoot” but not “shoot and move.” Firing is improved with the new “flank shot.” If a vehicle or artillery piece is hit in its rear 180-degree-arc, damage is increased. Mechanized infantry is introduced, with troops being loaded and unloaded from trucks and halftracks. The penalties for this enhanced mobility are more troop vulnerability when loaded and it takes an entire turn to load or unload.
Paying attention to each scenario’s objectives is the key to success. Objectives early in the campaigns are simple: attack or defend points and don’t be annihilated. Difficulty ramps up later with orders to capture or defend points within a set amount of turns or wipe out the enemy without losing a certain percent of friendly forces. Later scenarios have tiered objectives such as holding areas for a certain time or taking them within a set time, then fall back and hold another point for a given number of turns without losing a certain percentage of units. These missions are extremely difficult at the standard level and excruciating on the hard level. Players may want to start doing these from easy to hard in order to get a feel for the mission. Reinforcements—including devastating air strikes—arrive at certain triggers for both sides, but player reinforcements seem to enter far from the fighting and, with no stacking, traffic jams caused by small gaps in wire and minefields slow movement.
These difficult missions require strategies beyond shooting all possible targets. Range attenuation is figured into damage, so artillery should be used frequently and enemy field pieces should be priority targets. Line of sight can be increased by moving atop hills and plateau ridges. Attacks by vehicles should make use of blocking terrain such as ridges, vegetation and buildings. Flanking shots can be optimized; units turn to face the last direction they were fired upon. Hence, one attacker can fire at the rear of an enemy, causing it to turn facing, and then another attacker can come around to hit the new target aspect—almost a guaranteed kill.
Infantry should move from house to house or through vegetation or by hugging ridges and hills. Battered units should be pulled back and used either to hold rear areas or finish off weak units. When on the defense, players may make limited sorties from the main defense line but pull back quickly. Attackers should create a defensive perimeter when objectives are taken, as losing a taken hex loses the scenario. The AI is crafty and enters all over the board with large numbers of good units.
The large number of scenarios, levels of difficulty and urge to improve on play assure a good level of replay and hot seat play is included. The Apple Game Center has a list of players to challenge while giving players several benchmarks to achieve.
Nits can be picked with this game. Why don’t the British have the Bren Gun Carrier? If troops can be hauled about, why can’t some towed artillery pieces use trucks? If flank attacks are important, why can’t players change vehicle facing? Why weren’t leaders included, as in the Civil War game?
These points are not that crucial. Tank Battles North Africa is a challenging, simple and exciting game. Any gamer with an iPad should have it.
Tank Battles North Africa requires iOS 5 or higher.
Armchair General Rating: 86%
(Note to gearheads: ACG‘s partner site Achtung Panzer! has been updating its information, based on additional research and some new data that’s become available. If German armor is your thing, click on the link to check it out.—Editor)
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online and Gamesquad.