Miniature Wargames & The Digital Frontier: An Early Access Preview of Wartile13 Apr 2017 0
Boardgames as a past-time are having a bit of a comeback right now, and so it's of no surprise that the digital landscape for boardgames is also improving. We're seeing more and more ports of existing physical games making their way to PC and Mobile, but we're also seeing more and more titles that aim to be truly 'Digital' boardgames in their own right.
You may remember Nick, one of our Pocket Tactics writers, stopping by to talk about Warbands: Bushido. I've played it myself, and it is very much the poster-child for what would happen if you took a table-top game and literally translated it, piece by piece, onto a computer. But how far can you push the concept of a digital boardgame before you start venturing back into videogame territory? Where can you take the idea of pushing figures around a board? Of collecting and customising a collection of figures?
Wartile, from Playwood Project, is trying to answer some of those questions.
Wartile is a real-time strategy game disguised as a turn-based skirmish wargame. It features Vikings, a hex-based grid map, and digital figures that you push about the map. The key defining characteristic here is that it all happens in real-time. It's not turn-based, it's not even 'WEGO' (something Grogs will be familiar with); you're literally moving your pieces around the map in real-time. Every time you move a piece, or every time it does something (like attack), the model goes into cool-down and can't be used again until that timer runs out. It's frantic, it's hectic it's... different.
The first thing that must be said about Wartile, is that it's gorgeous. Everything from the environments to the miniatures themselves have been rendered to a pretty high standard. The screenshots released prior to the Early Access made it look good, but it's rare you see a game come this close to that level of visual fidelity. Table-top wargaming is first and foremost an exercise of the imagination, but having something pretty to look at – a diorama, a well made bit of scenery or an expertly painted miniature – helps fuel that. Wartile's visual style and presentation definitely sparks the imagination and fuels a very real desire to jump right in.
The second thing that must be said about Wartile, is that it's kind of difficult. RNG – short for Random Number Generator – is a catch-all acronym for games that feature chance as a significant mechanic. This can apply to anything from a card-game (drawing a card, what cards you get in packs etc...) to skirmish based games that rely on success variables, like rolling to hit, rolling to wound etc... Wartile somehow manages to channel the best (and worst) of dice-based skirmish games. There's no actual dice, but every miniature as stats, one of which is 'Hit Chance'. Every time one of my minis takes swing, I can almost see in my minds eye those dice tumbling across the table. More often than not, it's a miss. More often than not, the AI opponent will score a hit. I think this is more a general problem with trying to emulate dice-based chance, rather than something Wartile is doing specifically wrong, but fighting through the last two solo missions on offer could be quite a slog.
Positioning is king in this game (actually, Archers are king, but that's another story). It can be all too easy to fall into the trap of putting your guys in front of the enemy and letting them wail at each other. Terrain, specifically height, can play an important part, and you'll want to pick the battleground you fight on. The tactical depth is both surprising and satisfying, although depending on the forces arrayed against you it can also be far too easy to have your choices taken away from you. To supplement your miniatures basic stats are action cards. Each unit has actions cards they unlock via levelling up, although you can only bring one of them with you into a match. You also have a general pool of cards you take with you. These can be anything from healing your guys (invaluable), to raining down lighting on a foe (amusing) – these cost a form of mana to cast. You start with a pool of mana, and then you only get more through fighting enemies.
It's a pretty standard system: the way the game is right now though, if you're taking anything other than the Healing card you're doing it wrong. There is a nice little feature where, if you fail a mission, upon restart you gain mana equal to the mana value of all the enemies you didn't manage to kill. So the earlier you fail, the better start you have the next time around.
While I am generally impressed with the game, the multiplayer is where I've had the most fun. With everyone currently on more or less equal terms in terms of gear and miniatures, it really comes down to the strategy and tactics of play. Much like how competitive Starcraft is vastly different from solo Starcraft, Wartile takes on a completely different form in this mode. The current format involves two players fighting over 'Relics' that randomly spawn on the board. To claim, you have to move one of your guys onto it, and hold it there for a certain amount of time. The enemy will either try to kill your miniature, or at least knock it off via a card ability. The first person to claim three relics wins.
Talking about cons is always difficult when you're in Early Access, mainly because the platform has yet to really develop a proper etiquette in terms of critical feedback. Still, it's something that's available for people to buy (£14.99 | $19.99) so in no particular order here's a short-break down of the limitations/drawbacks of the game at the time of publication (April 13th. 2017):
- Limited Pool in terms of Cards & Miniatures.
- Several UI areas still need work. The main menu itself feels a bit unfinished (which is fine), and the miniature customisation screen specifically offers no explanation as to how it works and how to decipher how good your acquired gear is (which is annoying).
- Limited solo content comprising of only 4 missions, two of them tutorials. You can replay them on harder difficulties and to get extra gear for your minis.
- You also get access to multiplayer, however it can sometimes be hard to get a match. We recommend you bring a friend.
- Feels a bit too difficult at the moment, or at least too prone to punishing swings in terms of dealing/taking damage. Harder difficulties exacerbates the issue.
I'm glad Wartile exists. I've definitely enjoyed my time with it so far, and I definitely want to keep at it a while longer to master it's own special brand of strategy. Having said that, it very much remains to be seen if this “real-time miniatures” thing will work in the long-term. So far it's proven a lot of fun in multiplayer but I can see that mode taking a rather specific route, much like how competitive level Starcraft, Command & Conquer et al became very different games versus the solo/casual play style. As for the rest of it, my only real concern is the RNG – there is already a harder difficulty mode implemented to provide people with a real challenge, but for the rest of us who just want to have some fun with miniatures, perhaps it could be a tad more forgiving.
Wartile entered Steam Early Access on March 17th, 2017. Current information puts the EA term at 6 – 9 months.