New pretender to the World War 2 throne makes good

Video games based on World War 2 are perennially popular, and iOS is no exception. From implementations of venerable mechanics like World in War to complex simulations such as Battle of the Bulge there’s already a gamut of games available. But Herocraft think they can muscle into this crowded space with latest release Strategy & Tactics: World War 2.

At first glance it looks like any other map-based game. But while clearly connected to empire-building classics like Risk and Axis & Allies it has its own unique approach. You move units across a map, trying to conquer territories which in turn provide an income which you can spend on troops. In a neat twist, once you’ve bought a particular unit type it can’t be built again for several turns, meaning you must pre-plan your purchases carefully.

Different unit types are simple but effectively modelled, and all units have an operational index value which affects their performance in combat. It decreases when they move or fight and increases if they rest. The value of this index is hidden on enemy units, creating a nice balance of open information and uncertainty. The mechanics of actual combat are completely hidden from the player, keeping things smooth and simple.

Indeed, the game and its interface are generally pretty accessible. You can tap or drag units to their chosen destinations, and all the functions you need are easy to access from the main screen. Everything looks good, although the sound is dreadful with an awful, pompous martial soundtrack and virtually no other audio. There’s a short-but-effective tutorial campaign to instruct you on how to play.

Games are generally scenario based, each with its own map, starting units and victory conditions. Campaigns are just a series of linked scenarios, separated by rather duff cutscenes. You get one free short campaign to try but have to pay for a premium upgrade to get an additional three larger ones. Most of the included scenarios start from vaguely historical positions, but there’s no real simulation aspect beyond that, and with the full version you can also construct your own games.

Winning a campaign mission will unlock the next in the series. But in addition to a basic victory condition, there are often additional goals to try and meet in terms of speed or units eliminated. Success nets you points which are counted against an overall military style-rank, and there also also individual achievements to unlock.

Strategy & Tactics: World War II

Strategy & Tactics: World War 2 bills itself as a grand strategy game, which it most assuredly is not. There’s nothing like the depth of options or length of play you’d expect from that genre. It does, however, contain a pleasing amount of strategy for an empire-builder. Too many of these sorts of games are just attritional scraps for the most territory. And while some open and custom play modes in Strategy & Tactics: World War 2 fall into that trap, most of the scenarios do not.

What makes them more interesting is a combination of the map, starting units with their different abilities and varied victory conditions. It’s not always clear or obvious how to achieve a win, and the AI is good enough to beat you if you rush in without an understanding of the situation and a plan. And if you don’t find it sufficiently challenging once you get to grips with the game, there are hotseat or Wi-Fi modes to play against other people.

As well as the problems presented by specific scenarios, there’s plenty of common tactical conundrums to consider in the game. It’s all a question of trade-offs. Reinforcements slowly trickle in and take time to reach the front lines, but you’re always wanting to push on and capture more territory. Smaller armies can be spread widely, but are vulnerable compared to larger but more cumbersome conglomerations of troops. Weak front lines can be tempting to attack, but large reserves make an effective deterrent. Answers are rarely obvious.

Strategy & Tactics: World War II

The whole package isn’t exactly deep, but it strikes a satisfying balance between the pleasures of power mongering and the toothsome delights of heavier strategy titles. That’s a fine line to walk effectively, and it’s that equilibrium which sets this game apart from the crowd. Eventually you’ll find there isn’t quite enough variety on offer to stop repetition setting in, but there’s a good amount of play to be had before you hit burnout.