Turn-based strategy games have a fond place among the memories of my misspent youth. I have enjoyed lobbing everything from bananas, in the QBASIC game Gorillas, to M.I.R.V.’s armed with nuclear warheads in the classic Scorched Earth. Mythical City Games, Inc has captured the essence of these gems of old and channeled it into their Battle Fleet series. Battle Fleet: Ground Assault marks the first entry in the series that leaves the seas and allows the player to engage in World War II-themed tank warfare.
Violence: Battle Fleet: Ground Assault depicts tank-based warfare. Each player’s turn consists of firing rounds of ammunition with the end goal of destroying the opposing side’s vehicles. There is no blood or gore, though human casualties are implied.
Positive themes: One could make a case that fighting against the World War II Axis powers is a virtuous endeavor. However, this may be undermined by the fact that one can choose to fight against the Allies.
I have never truly grasped the weight of the expression “a one-trick pony” when used as an insult. The implication is that if a game does only one thing well then it is an abject failure, and that seems patently false. There is a myriad of examples of one-trick pony games that have been wildly successful (ahem..Flappy Bird…ahem). In a way, Battle Fleet: Ground Assault is a one-trick pony and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
The objective of the game is quite simple: destroy the enemy tanks before they destroy yours. The player is tasked with moving tanks around a map and firing their guns towards the enemy vehicles in turn-based combat. Similar to other games in this genre, the player must calculate the direction and distance that each projectile travels and make adjustments between each shot in order to reach the intended target.
However, this simplicity masks a richer tactical experience once one accounts for the different elements in each map. Utilizing the terrain efficiently can make the difference between a Pyrrhic victory and a successful rout of the enemy forces. Accordingly, the player must account for differences in elevation, obstacles in the path of projectiles and tactical use of the fog-of-war to overcome their foe. Most maps also have special items spread throughout that grant special abilities like airstrikes and field repairs. Collecting these power-ups can make a tough battle much more manageable.
Each side normally spawns on opposite sides of the map and the player must traverse the terrain with their tanks to reveal the enemy vehicles. This approach must take into account the mobility of each type of tank as well as their firing range. Positioning one’s units in a favorable attack location that also limits the enemy’s ability to counterattack is essential to victory. Either side may also have stationary attack units called artillery which make up for their lack of mobility with increased firing range and visibility through the fog-of-war.
The game’s campaign mode challenges the player’s strategic abilities as well as their tactics. In this mode, the player must decide which battles to wage across the European theater of World War II. During each round of play, the game alternates between advancing on enemy controlled areas and defending player controlled zones. The campaign is won when the player controls every area on the map.
The invasion of certain zones requires a certain number of a non-combat unit called transports. These units must survive the assault or the player forfeits the area. On defense, the player must survive the enemy onslaught and make use of terrain advantages and kiting techniques to minimize the amount of damage done to their units. Additionally, the player must draw the enemy units within range of their own artillery to make short work of them.
The downside to being a one-trick pony is that the trick needs to be spectacular and well polished. Unfortunately, in this regard Battle Fleet: Ground Assault’s trick is sorely lacking. The games that rely on a single mechanic are usually intuitive and easy to approach. Battle Fleet: Ground Assault is neither. This shortcoming may have been overcome if there was an in-game tutorial but, apparently, Mythical City Games, Inc believes in teaching the player to swim by tossing them in the deep-end, and boy is it deep! Even after several hours of playing the game and reading through the wordy tips section on the game’s site, there are game prompts and visual elements that remain complete mysteries.
Additionally, the game has a few quirks which could either be bugs or strange design choices. For example, when launching an airstrike, the targeting circle can only be moved over a part of the screen if the map is fully zoomed out. One must first zoom in before targeting the outer edges of the map. Another odd quirk is the inability to rotate the view when viewing the 3D model of one of the player’s vehicles.
The game’s visuals are decent for an indie game; my only gripe in this regard is the campaign map. A higher resolution image would go a long way in making the presentation look more polished. The music is passable, but the lack of track variety combined with the lengthy skirmishes will make it wear thin rather quickly.
Overall, Battle Fleet: Ground Assault feels and plays like a great indie mobile game. Unfortunately, the game is being sold and marketed as a Steam release. The turn-based combat is challenging, yet rewarding. However, the counter-intuitive interface and the lack of a tutorial make it so only the most determined will make it past the first frustrating hours to discover the gem underneath.
Review code generously provided by Homerun PR
The Bottom Line
Die-hard turn-based game fans can find a rewarding experience if they are willing to put in the time and effort to learn the mechanics of Battle Fleet: Ground Assault. Casual gamers will find the learning curve daunting, especially given the lack of a tutorial. The game has a lot of unrealized potential, but in its current state, it is hard to recommend to a general audience.