Cute but clunky.

It seems like asynchronous strategy games have been getting more and more popular on iOS lately. It’s a trend I’m rather happy with since I happen to enjoy the sub-genre, but as with most surges in popularity, it has its drawbacks. Mostly, it’s that the glut of releases crowds the market, making it difficult to pick out the truly worthwhile examples. Sadly, Wizard Ops Tactics doesn’t stand out from that crowd.

The core concept behind Wizard Ops Tactics is to lead an elite team of wizards (think Navy Seals with bushy beards and magic) against a rival team in turn-based tactical combat. These wizened warriors come in a few different elemental flavors such as fire and air, and each has a specific list of spells they can use during a fight. Of course they start off kind of small-time, but after a few matches and levels they can become much more formidable. The matches themselves primarily involve obliterating the opposing team, but depending on the map, there are also alternative goals such as treasure capturing to mix things up.

Wizard Ops Tactics

I tend to have a soft spot for card-collecting elements and Wizard Ops Tactics certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front. Coins earned from various matches can be used to purchase booster packs with more wizards and magical items, or to level-up specific units and gear to increase effectiveness. The wizards themselves are also pretty fun to look at thanks to some clever visual design that emphasizes the “ops” theme, such as the Ice Wizard’s Splinter Cell-style night vision goggles.

Outside of the team management stuff I also found the fog of war effects add an interesting layer to the combat since it’s possible to get the drop on an opponent, or conversely get caught unaware. There’s a surprising amount of tension involved with not knowing where the other player is or what they’re up to, and the little tactical differences between the various levels (i.e. attack-shielding beach umbrellas, poisonous water, etc) make each match feel special.

That’s about where the complements end, however. My experience may or may not be unique, but simply playing a game with anyone has been a rather painful process. I might have just been unlucky with my random match-ups, but out of fourteen games (all with different opponents) I’ve only managed to get past the first turn once. Even the matches that other people started with me haven’t progressed. I suppose it’s also possible that the notification system is malfunctioning, but even trying to set up a game with my wife failed miserably.

Wizard Ops Tactics

On top of that particular headache, it’s just not particularly fun to play. Having to issue commands to each individual unit, but not seeing them play out until submitting the turn really slows down the action, which says something considering the game is turn-based. The interface itself is also pretty clunky, and based on the Cancel/Confirm button placement (as well as the awkward-looking ads) I’m assuming the developers didn’t take iPhone 5 screen dimensions into account.

I like the ideas behind Wizard Ops Tactics, and I really like the themes they’ve incorporated into the visual style, but that’s about it. As a turn-based strategy game it just feels awkward and clunky to play. And as an online-only strategy game it fails to manage basic matchmaking effectively.