Driving mobile strategy games to new heights
Shenandoah Studios burst onto the scene last year with Battle of the Bulge, a title that set a new standard for strategy games on the iPad. The follow up, Drive on Moscow, is now out, and the big question is whether it can live up to the billing of its illustrious predecessor.
It runs on the same mechanical lines as its antecedent, but the scenario is different. This covers the German attempts to take the Russian capital in late 1941; a pivotal action that some historians believe determined the outcome of the conflict on the eastern front.
The interface is grandly styled but easy to use. The map is divided into adjoining areas, and you move units by tapping them and selecting a destination. If the target area contains enemy troops, you’re given battle odds and if you commit, the fight plays out. But you’ll often do better to try and isolate the enemy by cutting their supply routes.
But the apparent simplicity of getting into the game belies a deep pool of strategic depth beneath. There are always too many things to do, too many options to consider in terms of picking off weak enemy positions, outflanking stronger ones, and claiming victory hexes.
Delay anything and the enemy can respond, plug gaps in their lines, or launch a counterattack. Planning and prioritisation are everything. But looming over your deliberations is the shadow of variable turn length: you’re never sure when operations will be bought to a close, denying you further maneuvers. It’s nervy, edge of the seat stuff.
Veterans of Battle of the Bulge will know that they got all this and more in the previous app. The designers, of course, are well aware of the need to provide a fresh challenge in this new scenario and they pulled it off with aplomb.
Where the Bulge was all about frantically scratching limited force pools together to cover ever-expanding supply lines, Drive on Moscow is a grander affair. It comes with four scenarios which cover the start and end of the German assaults, the Russian counteroffensive, and the whole campaign, respectively.
Each has its own distinct feel and tactical nuance to explore. But the overall impression is one of vast armies clashing over a vast space, just as it should be. You’ll rarely find yourself short of forces here, but getting troops of the requisite quality massed where you need them to be is another story.
To ensure the longevity of the game, all the scenarios are playable as either side, and there’s a choice of different AI styles to play against. I found them tough, capable opponents initially, but over time they become a little predictable. However, there’s enormous pleasure to be had from working through the tactical possibilities on offer before that happens.
And in any case, by the time you’ve invested enough in the app to reach that point, you’ll want to be playing against human opponents instead. The interface for starting asynchronous games is faultless, and human ingenuity should ensure replay value long after you’ve crushed the AI opponents into the dust of the Russian steppe.
Presentation is equally flawless, from the detailed map to the stylised unit icons that range across it. The landscape even changes color with the seasons from a dry brown to the shocking white of winter. Sound is cunningly used to enhance the atmosphere, with crackling radio and the distant sounds of diving Stukas accompanying your endless march through plains and forest.
Nothing is perfect. The interactive tutorial will quickly launch you into the game, but you’ll need to read the much longer rules included to grasp the intricacies of the strategy. There are occasional interface niggles where a battle box obscures units you want to move. It’s not a perfect representation of history, although an encyclopaedic level of historical information is included if you want to peruse it.
But this is nitpicking. Drive on Moscow is a triumph, a game as sweeping as the campaign it seeks to simulate. Shenandoah continue to single-handedly redefine the strategy genre on iOS, and you should get on board: the entry price looks steep but it’s worth every penny.