Or rather, Space Marine Manager 2084

I tend to have a routine before I write a review. I’ll read the game’s description in the App Store, check out any previews online, and learn a bit about its prequel. With Rivals at War 2084,I simply looked at a couple screenshots, downloaded the game, and went on my way. I expected an action-packed shooter with team building elements. My ignorant assumption was wrong, and I’m far happier because of it.

Rivals at War 2084 isn’t a shooter in the slightest. It can be action-packed, but there’s absolutely no hands-on control during those sequences (except to change the camera), and they can all be skipped. All things considered, this should have been a huge disappointment for me.

But it’s not.

Rivals at War: 2084

Like its predecessor (a game I obviously never played), Rivals at War 2084 is essentially a card game. Players will be given a pack of cards that include characters, abilities, weapons, tactics, and a few other categories. From there, you’ll build a team of six soldiers, comprised of between one and six different classes. While there’s not much choice early on, you’ll quickly get a hold of more characters than you know what to do with. Choosing which classes to include in your team is one of the most important decisions of the game. Variety has its benefits, but stocking up on medics or snipers can quickly influence the flow of battle.

The other important aspect of team building is utilizing ability and weapon cards. Ability cards are one-time use items that will give a permanent stat boost to a compatible character. Weapons, armor, and helmets also give boosts, but can be unequipped, and will break over time. Ability cards need to be used wisely, but it’s simple to remove equipment and give it to a new teammate when making a roster change. These buffs, managing new cards’ stats, and tracking the “tours of duty” (number of matches remaining) on each card makes team management feel like a full time job. It’s the single most important part of Rivals at War 2084, but thankfully it’s a bunch of fun, as well.

Rivals at War: 2084

Every second of time and strategy you put into team management comes back into play during battles. It’s difficult to notice it at first since battles are completely hands-off, but there are tons of factors that come into play. If your squad has multiple medics, you may find yourself doing less damage, but you’ll likely be dying far less. If the entire team has speed increasing abilities, they may be zipping around too quickly for the opponents to hit. There are also one-time use tactics cards that can be activated before starting the match. Things like air strikes, improved accuracy, and force fields can be what draw the line between victory and defeat. Watching your team play to your specifications is an absolute joy and in hindsight, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Of course, because the battles aren’t interactive, you’re never required to actually watch them. While replays are a nice way to learn what works and what doesn’t, they can be skipped if you’re in a hurry. It’s hard to maximize the team’s potential without watching them play, but it’s an option.

Rivals at War: 2084

The game is separated into the “Star Map” mode and individual multiplayer modes. While the Star Map taps into quick play and the league-like campaigns, it often comes with special completion rewards and certain challenges. Players can get by not touching the Star Map after unlocking other modes, but it’s a great way to track your progress. All the online matches—even campaigns—are decided before the match actually starts, which is always somewhat disappointing, but understandable, given the nature of the game.

Rivals at War 2084 is not for those light on strategy. There’s a ton of depth in team building and in executing strategy. I’ll admit, it can be a bit disappointing when watching my team run around and not play the way I was hoping. That said, that’s usually just a sign I need to go back to the drawing board and make some changes to the roster. And seeing how those changes influence battle is just so much fun!