War, the Game – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Low price; easy to learn; simple game mechanics
Failed Basic: Shallow game play; no “fog of war”; no multi-player mode
War, the Game is a low-cost, fun little time-waster of a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game. The primary issue with many RTS games is that they generally emphasize the “real time” aspect of game play over the “strategy” part. That is to say, because of the pace of the game, the player is driven to merely pushing the mouse button faster than his opponent (be it an AI or another human) to build and move units without being able to stop and think; when that happens the game becomes mere a “clickfest” with the winner being whomever is faster on the button and not necessarily the best strategist. Many RTS games avoid this problem by allowing the player to stop the action and still issue orders to units, such as the Close Combat games. Others do it by separating the strategic elements of the game from the real-time battles, like in the Total War series. War, the Game uses a third option to avoid being a “clickfest.” It does that by setting the pace of the game just right: slow enough that the player may think about which units to build and where to build them with limited resources, yet fast enough that the player must still be quick to move units and engage the enemy.
War, the Game is played on a great-looking globe of the Earth. The player can zoom in and out and move around the world quickly and easily using just the mouse and the mouse-wheel. The User Interface (UI) is simplicity itself. All actions in the game can be done with the mouse, using either the wheel or various long or short clicks with the mouse buttons. The game may also be played on a Personal Computer using a standard X-Box console game controller. Sadly, there is no multi-player mode in the game, but the AI is robust and challenging.
Cities are irregularly shaped blobs on the landscape and are the resource producers of the game. Each city generates a certain amount of income at a certain rate. They also generally hold the barracks that train infantry and armor brigades; they have the factories that produce aircraft, and ports that build ships. This makes the cities the key military terrain of the game, with each mission’s goals relating to the capturing or holding of cities.
There are seven standard kinds of units available: infantry, armor, fighters, bombers, aircraft carriers, war fleets and transport fleets. Also available is one special weapon: tactical nuclear missiles. Each combat unit has a clearly defined, yet simple, icon (infantry is a square of marching soldiers; armor is a single tank, etc.) with each side having a distinct color for its units. There is no confusion about the types or nationalities of the units.
There is no research and development in the game. The unit types that the player starts with stay the same throughout and both sides have exactly the same types, so there are no quality differences between one army and another. All the combat units (except tactical nukes) have exactly the same combat value, so one armored unit is equal to one infantry unit, but each type of unit also as some advantages and disadvantages. For example, infantry are cheap, they are the only units that can captures cities, and they have double the combat strength when defending in a city, but they are also very slow moving. Armor is more expensive and moves much faster than infantry but can’t conquer cities. Fighters and bombers cost a lot more money than any land-based unit but can only be damaged by other air units. Also, air units can enter and leave a battle, whereas infantry and tanks, once they enter a battle, must fight it out to complete victory or total destruction. Tactical nukes cost about five times as much as an infantry unit, but when used can completely wipe out multiple infantry units in one shot; only infantry is affected by nuclear detonations. What this means for the player is that building and assembling units into the biggest armies is the key to victory. However, to avoid atomic destruction, the player must also stay reasonably spread out. In short, the player must move dispersed and fight concentrated.
The game is divided into a number of scenarios of varying complexity in which the player is the supreme military commander of one side, while the AI controls the other. Each scenario requires that the player take the military forces available and fulfill a set of objectives. The scenarios can run from the very simple to complex wars. The introductory battle, for example, pits just two US infantry and one US armor unit against one infantry and one armored unit from Iraq. At the other end of the game’s complexity scale are China versus Taiwan or Germany versus France, with many units involved.
More than anything, War, the Game reminds me of the classic big-box wargames of the ’70s and ’80s—games like Risk, Axis and Allies, and Fortress: America—in that the rules are not mind-numbingly hard and there is no “fog of war,” but those games were a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon with your buddies. While having those advantages, War, the Game, also has the same drawbacks: with nothing hidden, there is no way to surprise your enemy, but, of course, neither can your opponent surprise you. Clever strategy and tactics take a backseat to generating numbers of units and fighting pure battles of attrition. At some point in the game a tipping point is reached where one side simply has such an overwhelming preponderance of resources that continued resistance is futile.
For a mere $4.99 USD, War, the Game is a nice little game, if you have a few minutes to burn and don’t want to think too deeply. However, if you’re looking for a game with in-depth strategy then you should look elsewhere.
Armchair General Score: 88%
About the Author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee. He has degrees in Education, History and Political Science. He cut his war-gaming teeth on Squad Leader and Victory Games’ Fleet Series. He bought his first PC in 1990, a Wang PC-240, specifically to play SSI’s The Battles of Napoleon (much to the annoyance of his wife). He continues to use all his education to play more games and annoy his family.