Thursday, September 29, 2011

Highly polished (free) turn based strategy game: The Battle for Wesnoth Review

It has been a long time since I have posted anything here.  A problem that I tend to have is that games that I feel very anxious about reviewing, in the fear that I am not doing them proper justice.  Battle for Wesnoth is a game I have been playing on and off for at least four years.  It is an excellent game, and I feel I finally wrote an excellent review of it.  Enjoy:

The Battle for Wesnoth is a free open-source fantasy turn based strategy game. Players take turns recruiting moving, and attacking units on a hexagonal map. The game allows you to play single player or multi-player with up to 9 players in the same game. You are also able to create your own units, maps, and campaigns. Although each unit can have several abilities, traits, defense values, and alignments, the game is still very easy to learn. Beating the harder campaigns will require some practice however.

Note: Click the images to see the enlargements, especially the ones on the left.

In Battle for Wesnoth you take control of an army and its leader(marked with a gold crown). The leader is usually a better than average unit that you are unable to recruit. The leader is able to build the rest of your army by standing on a keep and recruiting other units. You are able to recruit units until you run out of gold. The picture below shows a leader in his keep, with two flagged villages south of the river, and some unflagged villages north of the river.

Gold management is an important part of the game, especially in the campaigns. Every unit costs you 1 gold per level per turn unless it has the loyal trait. The only normal way to get gold is to move one of your units onto a village. Once you have flagged a village with your color, it will generate money for you each turn, until someone else moves a unit onto the village. While you can ignore gold once you are done recruiting for the level most campaign levels will let you carry over some gold from the previous level. Not having the gold in the next level might prevent you from recalling key troops and cost you the game.

Villages also are able to heal units for up to 8 hit points (or cure poison). This healing takes place at the beginning of a player's turn so if you see a wounded enemy unit move onto a village, try and take it out or it will eventually regenerate to full strength. Village control is very important, especially if you are playing as a faction without healers. The only other way to heal is to have a unit not move or act, and this will only restore 2 hit points.

The general object of the game is to defeat the opponent's leaders, although many of the campaign maps have alternate goals. You lose the game instantly if you lose your leader, or anyone else deemed important (usually marked with a silver crown). Although your instinct might be to keep them away from combat entirely, this will keep them at low levels and make them very vulnerable near the end of the campaign when units are more powerful and deal more damage.

The Battle for Wesnoth has over 200 different units you can control, split among the six playable factions and non-factioned monsters and critters. Typically you'll only be able to recruit base level units such as the elvish archer or spearman. You will have to level them up to be able to see the high level units.

As the units do battle with eachother, every participating unit will gain one experience per level of their opponent. There is an additional bonus of 8x the opponents' level for the unit that strikes the killing blow. When a unit levels up they are fully healed, and may be able to become a stronger more specialized unit. 
An example of the in-game help.

The elvish archer for example can become an elvish ranger or an elvish marksman. Both have more life and do more damage than an elvish archer, but the marksman has a bonus to hit enemy units, while the ranger is able to become invisible if it is in a forest and no enemy units are next to it. A good mix of units is essential to making a successful force. When you have the option to upgrade, be sure to click the links to the great in-game help so you can see both possible upgrades.

Units usually have an alignment: Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic. Chaotic units fight best at night, Lawful units fight best during the day. Neutral units are unaffected. If you are playing a chaotic army, versus a lawful one, you may want to give ground during the day and reclaim it at night, rather than being exterminated.

To make units a bit more unique, each living unit is assigned up to two traits on creation. Quick is an example trait, it allows the unit one extra move per turn, but reduces maximum hit points by 5%. Undead units usually only get the undead trait, making them immune to poison.

You can rename the units you recruit and as they become more powerful you may become a bit attached to them. Unfortunately, you cannot complete most wars without a few people dying. A good strategy is to always recruit a few base level units on each map. You can use them to screen your elite units so that you lose more base units than elite units.

A bowman attacking a thief.

Combat in Wesnoth can be a bit overwhelming, but is pretty simple once you realize a few things. First most units have multiple attacks modes. If you look at the picture to the right, the bowman can select to use his bow or his short sword to attack. Attacking with the short sword will cause the thief to counterattack if he is still alive. Attacking with the bow has the chance to do more damage and will prevent the thief's counterattack since the thief has no ranged weapon. Why wouldn't the bowman always use the bow? Well against a thief it would always do more damage, but you might not want to kill the thief to allow another unit to collect the experience bonus from the killing blow. Also, using a ranged attack against a Grand Mage would be a bad idea, as Grand Mages have very powerful magic attacks at range and weaker melee attacks.
Combat statistics.

In addition to attack modes, units have a defensive value based on the terrain they are in. This is resolved as a chance to be missed. So if you move a bowman into a village that shows 70% over it, that means that enemy units will only be able to hit the bowman 30% of the time. The final factor in combat is resistance, which can increase or decrease the damage a unit takes depending on the attack type. For example, skeletons take less damage from slashing weapons than they do from magic or blunt weapons. Luckily, the game will do the math for you and show you the percentage outcomes of your attacks if you click the Damage Calculations button in the combat screen.

Game Modes:
A list of units available for recall.

Campaign mode is the real draw to the game. They tell epic stories ranging from 3-30+ individual maps with cut-scenes and in map dialogues. It is important to pay attention to the objectives, as not all of them require you to defeat the enemy leaders. Some campaigns will allow you to collect items to further improve whatever unit steps on the item.

Once you are past the first stage of campaign mode, you will have access to the recall command allowing you to bring in any unit you have controlled in any previous stage for 20 gold. These units will keep all of the experience, upgrades, and items they have picked up. This is usually the only way to see the Level 4 and Level 5 units.

Multi-player lets you play with up to 8 other players. You can play on their servers, host your own game, join someone else's game, or play hot-seat on one computer. You can select your faction and leader and other than that it will be a normal game. Has the possibility to be a long game.

Skirmish You can go into multiplayer and play a map against computer players, but with only one map to play through you likely will not be able to advance your units enough to see high levels. Other than being able to choose your faction and leader and to try a new map, there is no reason to play this over the excellent campaigns.

An example Cut-scene.

The game comes with an extensive manual, with links between topics reminiscent of wikipedia. All of the information you need is readily available through hyperlinks, with a lot of nice background reading provided if you are interested.

The artwork and music is beautiful and helps build a sense of immersion in the game.

The Artificial Intelligence is very good without cheating. It will prioritize finishing off wounded units, killing your healers, and knocking out units right before you level them up. It is obnoxious, but the challenge makes winning that much better.

Many games advertise themselves as free, but have in game purchases or ads. This game has neither. Everything is actually free, which is very refreshing. (Except for the iphone version, which in fact costs money)


Although I love this game and I love being able to play games while I'm not in front of my computer I feel that the iOS version of this game does not work. In some maps you control 30 or more characters, and moving and attacking with them becomes a hassle when you have to tap repeatedly to do it. The tiny view of the large maps becomes an annoyance as well. Although things are likely not as bad on the iPad, I would say avoid purchasing this for iOS. It is much better played on another platform.

May lead to one more turn syndrome.

Although I really love playing the game and would like to make my own campaign, the markup language required to create your own campaigns is overwhelmingly complex to learn.

Final Thoughts:

If you at all interested in turn based strategy games than you should give The Battle of Wesnoth a try. It will not cost you anything (unless you ignore my advice) and you will find epic stories, great music, nice (if dated) graphics, engaging characters, and a ton of replay value. There is a ton of user generated content available for download through the program itself. Extra campaigns, new units, new maps, and a lot more. Again, there is no charge for any of this downloadable content. How many games can say that?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Clockwords: Prelude

Words games are very popular right now. Almost everyone I know plays or has played Words with Friends. Clockwords: Prelude has a similar word making theme with very active, even frantic gameplay.

Well done art in the comic book like intro.

The story starts up with you taking the role of an inventor in Victorian London. Your rival, a fiendish man with a top hat and a mustache, sends mechanized insects to attack your safe and steal your secrets. The art and music of the game are very well done, and make the game that much better.

After watching the intro, the game teaches you how to play. The game is simple to learn, but the later levels become quite complex. The insects that are approaching you can be destroyed by your new invention that converts words into ammunition. Each letter of the word will do one point of damage to the insects. The dark colored letters such as the D in doctored below are iron letters. Each iron letter will do 5 damage per dot underneath the letter. So the D is worth ten damage in this picture. Finally, each word can only be used once. If you attempt to use the same word twice, each letter will count for zero damage, but will still take the time to shoot. The delay of the wasted letters could cost you the game in a panic situation. Adding an "S" is different enough to avoid the penalty, but if you get too many letter "x"s or "z"s, it can be hard to keep placing them.

At the start of the level only one tank (or one special letter) is available, but once you use it you will have two tanks and the ability to use two special letters in a word. If you use all the special letters in the same word, you will unlock the next tank, allowing you to make larger and larger words. Although the bugs start off with low amounts of life, they take more and more effort to kill on each level.

Additionally, if they reach the safe and are killed on the way back, the secrets will drop where they do, allowing the next passing insect to pick it up instead of going all the way down to the safe. The machine will try to fire on the closest insect to the safe, or the insect carrying your secrets, but it will often hit a bug between it and its target, so the best bet is to try and stop the insects before they reach the safe.

After completing a level, whether you pass or fail, you might find some extra letters you can use. Letters are placed into storage until you enter The Boiler, shown below. The boiler screen allows you to manage the special letters that will appear during the game. Letters are given dots based on how hard they are to get into words. The letter A only has one dot (5 damage) while the letter Y has four dots(20 damage). You can place two of the same letter in the green tank where the G is to create a random letter of the next level. (So two Gs might make a M). The trick is to make sure you have a good variety of letters in the boiler to be able to always have something to play.

Once you manage to get two iron letters to level five, you can transmute them to make a level 1 special letter. There are two types of special letters, Jade and Brass. Jade letters make all of your letters do more damage, and Brass letters cause all of your Iron letters to explode, doing damage over a small range. In order to level up the special letters, you'll need to wait until you have two of the same letter and same material. A jade/bronze and an iron will give you a different lettered jade/bronze of the same level as the special.

As you progress you'll be scrambling to think of new words and encountering stronger and more numerous bugs. Although you'll have some trouble as you progress, by continuing to work at your collection in the boiler, you should eventually be able to get past the level giving you trouble. With forty levels, there is a lot of value for your money. Speaking of money, another strong point in Clockwords: Prelude's favor is that it is available to play for free here!

With all that in mind, you should check it out, especially if you like words games.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dungeon Raid

I actually found out about this game over a week ago and I have been attempting to bring this review to you since then, but this game is very addicting!  On to the review.

Dungeon raid is a puzzle RPG for iOS, but I have to stress, it is not like Puzzle Quest.  In a good way.  (I really liked Puzzle Quest, but the computer cheats.  End of sentence.)  Back to Dungeon raid, the basic game is a matching game, match at least three tiles and something happens.  To match you simply draw a line around the tiles.  As you can see above, diagonals are allowed, and you can even cross the line over itself on a diagonal if you need to.  Matching three tiles gives you the benefits of the tiles you clear, but every tile beyond the third one has a chance to give you an extra tile.  You can increase the percentage to 100% by leveling up in the game.

The catch is that after every match you make, any skulls on the screen attack you.  The skull in the screenshot has 3 numbers next to him from top to bottom that that is his attack, defense, and life.  The combined attack of all skulls on the screen minus your armor comes out of your life which is the red pot in the lower right.  

Here are the different types of tiles that you can match:
  • Skulls, matching three or more skulls does your base damage to it. (The number below the skull at the bottom of the screen or 4 in the screenshot)  Skulls are only cleared if you do enough damage to bring its life below zero.  When you clear a skull experience is added to the green bar at the bottom of the screen.
  • Swords, by themselves do nothing, but when matched with a skull they add the weapon damage to your attack for each sword in the match. (Weapon damage is the number below the sword at the bottom of the screen or 2 in the screenshot above)  So two skulls and two swords would hit both skulls for 8 damage following the numbers from the screenshot.
  • Potions, these restore your life when you match them.
  • Coins, which fill up the coin box in the lower left.  When the box is filled you can select one new piece of equipment, which will typically upgrade maximum armor, health, or weapon damage.
  • Shields, which replenish you armor to make you take less damage from monster attacks.  Any shields that you pick up when your armor is full start to fill up the blue upgrade bar at the bottom of the screen.  Once this is filled you are able to upgrade one piece of your equipment.  There are many different types of upgrades, including the possibility to upgrade any stat, add life stealing to your attacks, counterattacking the monsters, and more.
As you clear skulls and build experience, you'll level up which will let you pick skills to use.  The skills don't cost anything to use, but after they are used you need to wait for them to become ready for use again.  Picking the same skill multiple times during level ups will reduce the cool-down time by one turn.

The stats on the skulls slowly increase as you play so you need to try and get the most out of every turn or you will be overwhelmed.  The bonus tiles you get from the larger matches will add up quickly into more upgrades, levels, and equipment.

To make things interesting, every so often a super skull will appear with special powers.  These powers range from nice things like being worth tons of money but running away after a few turns, to bad things like freezing tiles so they can't be cleared, to really bad things like preventing damage to all other skulls until its dead, or turning one sword into a skull each round.

Killing these boss skulls can drop trophies which will let you unlock new classes and level up classes.  Classes add a lot of replay value to the game.  Each class has a specific perk and flaw that they start with, a special skill that only they can use, and a new race.  Each race has an ability, and a mortal enemy (One of the special skulls that gets additional powers).  As you advance the class's level, you unlock the ability to add in other class' perks, flaws, and skills.  

Skill choice screen.
The class select screen is shown on the left, and the perk select screen is on the right above here.  As you can see the rogue is level one right now, so I don't have the option to customize anything, but he does get +10% bonus gold chance that the default adventurer wouldn't get.  Unfortunately 3% of the shields that appear will be broken and worthless.  The starting race for the rogue class is very good, and you need to level the class to five to unlock the race to be used in a different class.  The last tab is the skill tab.  The skill showing in the tab is the classes' special skill, it will always appear on the first level up, and cannot be replaced with another skill.  You can unlock it for use in other classes by leveling the class to level 10.  You can also customize which skills appear in the game by dragging them up from the lower bar to replace the ones on the grid.  You gain this option every other level up in the class.

The game has four difficulty levels for you to go through as you become more skilled in the game.  It also has a very through tutorial mode right off of the main menu.  With ten classes, perks, and flaws, and a lot of skills, you can really play this game many different ways.  It is easy enough for a non-gamer to pick up and love, but the harder modes will provide a challenge unless you get a strategy down.

My current favorite strategy is to combine collection skills with Treasure Chamber.  Treasure chamber makes it so that any new tile that falls down is a coin until your next move.  Collection skills pick up all of one type of tile giving you credit for the tile and bonuses, but do not count as a move.  This can lead to getting multiple screens worth of all coins, lots of upgrades, and a good chance of surviving that next Assassin skull that drops down.
Those four skills combo very well.
Summary:  This is easily the best game I have played on my iPhone.  If you play games on your iPhone you should try it.  There is a lite version that you can play for free as well as the full version which costs $2.99.  If you get half as much play out of it as I have, it is worth several times the asking price.  Go get this!

Friday, February 18, 2011


There are an amazing amount of iPhone Games, but most don't end up on my phone.  Battleheart is the first new game (or app) to make it onto my phone in several months.  One of my friends recommended it to me, and I have to say, it is the best iPhone Game I've played this year! (so far) (sample size is also 1).  Without further ado:

Battleheart starts with a little intro on how to play and than its off to the first level with a knight and a healer. The game-play is fun and simple; drag a damage dealer to a monster to get them to attack, and drag a healer onto a party member to heal them.  When a melee monster is hit with a melee attack he will change targets to whoever hit him.  You can use this to keep them from killing off your magic users.  Ranged attackers are uncontrollable, so should generally be taken down first.

After the first level you can use the tavern to hire more party members up to a maximum party size of four.  As you go through the map, your characters gain gold and experience.  The art is very nice, with everything including the monsters looking fairly cute.  Each character also starts with a skill that you can activate by clicking on them and tapping the icon in the upper left corner of the screen. 

Every 5 levels you can assign them a new skill at the Academy.  The skill that the character starts with and the skill at level 25 are chosen for you but for every other skill point you can select one of two choices.  Usually, but not always this is a trade off between damage or support.  One of my favorite parts of the game is that once you make a skill choice, you are *NOT* stuck with it, you can change it at any time and without fee at the Academy.  I cannot stress enough what a welcome change of pace this is from Blizzard's draconian skill policies of the past.  (I'm looking at you Diablo II, World of Warcraft and all the imitators of both)  Moving on.

The money you get can be used to hire new characters at the tavern, buy equipment at the merchant, or upgrade equipment at the armory.  The armory is also where you equip your characters.  Each character can equip a weapon, armor and two accessories.  You can upgrade weapons or armor to the next best item of its class, but it is massively more expensive than buying it at the merchant or finding it after a map.  (You always find one item after each map.)  The only thing is the merchant sells a random mix of items that changes after every battle, so upgrades might be your best bet anyways.

The game has over 30 stages, in which monsters attack you in waves.  These are for the most part easy, until you get to the last 8 or so which are a huge step up in difficulty.  There are five boss fights, and these are anything but easy.  First they are immune to any support skills, they have area of effect attacks in addition to a punishing close range attack, and they all repeatedly call regular monsters in to back them up.

There are also arena stages where you can fight to win rare items.  In my experience this is a waste of time.  If you are having trouble beating a stage, replaying a normal stage will get you gold, experience, and an item.  An arena will only get you an item unless you clear it, and lasts much longer than a normal stage.

One thing I didn't like is that the later stages and the boss fights were very hectic.  (The only thing that comes to mind as a comparison was raiding in World of Warcraft, except you are playing all ten characters yourself.)  At times you need to be moving and using skills with all of your characters at the same time.  And while I found that you can use multiple fingers to do this, my hand makes a better door than a window.  I was a little frustrated with losing a stage due to not being able to input commands fast enough.  A Balder's Gate style combat system (real time but with the ability to pause to enter commands) would have been nice.

No achievement system is in the game yet, but real vampire hunters don't do it for the points.

Final Thoughts:
It took me about 12.5 hours to complete the game and almost all of it was enjoyable.  For four out of the five bosses I had to grind some levels in order to beat them.  Still, it is as I mentioned a lot of fun, and the large amount of characters give the game some replay.    It only costs $2.99, but is a good price for the amount of time it entertains.  Most console games are around 20-30 hours for 20 times the price.