We like to categorize things and put round-shaped objects into round-shapes holes. Its what lets us build a catalogue of all the species on the planet but it is not necessarily a useful habit when it comes to trying to make sense of companies such as HexWar Games.
The company is primarily known for its mobile strategy titles and for games that skirt that line between grognardware and mass-market strategy games. Tank Battle: 1944 is the latest PC/Mac game from HexWar Games and is a port of their mobile title of the same name. While they are primarily known for their iOS and Mac titles, they've recently branched out into the PC market on Steam with Tank Battle: 1944 being their first game to use their new PC/Mac engine. But fear not intrepid strategy gamer, this isn't your typical translation of a mobile game to the desktop. HexWar has spent some time to make sure that this game meets the expectations of the desk-bound gamer and isn't just a quick port.
It looks safe but I have my doubts.
Tank Battle: 1944 uses a similar engine to the one that has powered HexWar's games from the wars of Hannibal to their sci-fi offering. All units from tanks to artillery are given ten strength points and as they are attacked this value decreases causing a subsequent decrease in the combat capabilities of the unit. It works well for a body of halberdiers but doesn't seem to make a lot of sense for vehicles unless you view it as a measure of combat effectiveness and not combat strength. Units in the game are rated for Defence (front and flank for vehicles) and their main weapon system has attack ratings, based on range, for soft and armoured targets. There is a fair bit of granularity available even with these coarse measurements but this isn't a title by Roger Keating or Ian Trout by any stretch.
Combat results are effected by cover, unit quality (Raw, Veteran or Elite), movement, cover (full or partial) and Hull Down status. You also get a combat bonus for flank attacks. Units in the game move to face their attackers so staggering your attacks to reposition your target can help generate flank attacks. The game has a Combat Intelligence display that will summarize all of these factors for you and give you an approximation of the possible results from any possible attack. This can be disabled if you want to have less information about the game or don't like the screen clutter.
Does the Combat Analysis dialog provide cover?
Tank Battles is less concerned with the specific mechanics of a 7,5 cm Kw.K. 40 L/43 against sloped front armour than it is with the application of mechanized and foot troops in terrain against an opponent. So while they give an approximation of the combat value of the Panzer IVH's main gun the game is really about finding your enemy and then using terrain and movement to inflict the most damage. There are also obvious trade-offs between real-world statistics and game balance. The M10 GMC and the Tiger are not as effective in this game as they were on actual battlefields and units like US infantry in M3s don't appear to unload their .50 cal guns to bring to battle with them.
The scenarios in this game, which take place between US and German forces in France and Germany in 1944, are often generic in nature and sometimes seem a bit cramped as the game hasn't had the high-definition remodeling that titles like Ancient Battle Rome and Tank Battle: Pacific have had. There is also no option to zoom in or out of the maps but this isn't really a problem given the size of the scenarios on offer. The lack of updated graphics does mean that the tanks and vehicles are significantly larger than many of the buildings in the game and this visual incongruity can be a bit distracting from time to time. This scale issue also contributes to make the maps seem a bit cluttered.
I can never remember where I parked my Pz IVH.
Unlike the iOS version of the game, this iteration includes all of the DLC immediately unlocked providing players with 8 campaigns that include 92 different scenarios. An additional scenario is also available if you sign up for the HexWar newsletter. Many of the scenarios are played in a 13 x 13 hex space which means that you are often upon the enemy quickly and that there isn't the wide space to manoeuvre that other games in the same period and at the same scale offer. The fog of war in the game ensures that you have to probe forward to find the enemy and even with the small map sizes you are often surprised by hidden AT guns or a squadron on Panzers.
There is a lot of game for you to play through but the immediate concern is that the scenarios developed for mobile and it's typically bite-sized gameplay experience won't translate well for the desktop gamer who often has more time to spend analyzing a situation and hypothesizing solutions. The campaigns are also built and played from a single perspective so you can't, for instance, play the Bastogne campaign as the Germans and then go back and replay it as the Americans. Multiplayer is limited to pass-and-play games and there isn't a PBEM or network options.
Happily, for a game that started on the iPad, HexWar have included keyboard controls for most of the functions in the game and also the ability to modify those commands to fit your own preferences. Terrain modifiers and weapon details are available in-game via separate screens but not while playing a scenario. Luckily there aren't a lot of different terrain modifiers so this doesn't have as much of an impact as it would if you were playing Panzer Corps or a game from the Campaign Series.
This screen makes me unreasonably happy
Ultimately your opinion of the game will depend on what sort of game you want to play or if you can adapt to the 'lite' nature of a lot of the scenarios in the game. Tank Battle: 1944 translates very well from its mobile incarnation and the addition of things like keyboard controls, trackpad scrolling make the game a true desktop strategy game. Tank Battle: 1944 offers a significant amount of content and aside from the introductory scenarios most of the campaigns, while generic in nature, are challenging and players will make to make the most of terrain, LOS and Fog of War to succeed.
Having played this title when it was originally released on the iPad, I prefer this new version considerably more. The game plays smoother with the addition of keyboard shortcuts and the amount of content available provides upwards of 100 hours of gameplay without having to play the same scenario twice. Tank Battle: 1944 is a challenging game that, while not the most realistic strategy title, provides gamers with a series of interesting set-piece battles that look 'light' but do have real depth.