This review is written by our friend Eric Pankoke from RustySabre.com. He’s currently a two game stint with us, but hopefully we’ll see more down the line. Please visit his site: RustySabre.com if you want more of his reviews!
The goal of Strongholds is simple: wipe out your enemy.
Strongholds ($0.99 – On Sale)
Strongholds takes a unique approach to the turn based strategy genre to create a compelling if not somewhat simplistic war game for your iPhone or iPod Touch. Stylish graphics and a simple interface make the game easy to get into, and customizable playing conditions add longevity to the mix. If you’re looking for long, deep campaigns then Strongholds won’t feed your hunger, but it sure makes a nice snack.
The game actually looks pretty slick. The menus have a nice Hollywood techno appearance to them. Once you get into the game the top two thirds of the screen is taken up by your and your opponent’s camps, which are rendered with well drawn 2D images. There is little going on save the animation of each player’s flag blowing in the wind and the ripples of water in the moat separating the two camps – simple but effective visuals. The bottom third of the display either shows your cards or the backs of your opponent’s cards, depending on whose turn it is. While you can get a larger view of your cards, it’s actually pretty easy to tell what each card is about in the small view. The only thing lacking visually is a good way to tell what each building is. I suppose after time you’ll have it memorized, but I still forget every once in a while.
The sound effects again adhere to the “simple but good” policy, and I do like the modem like sound at the beginning when the game is loading. There is no music, which is the main down side to the aesthetic portion of the game.
The game is quite simple to control. You can double click on a card to play it, or click once on a card to zoom in. Once a card is zoomed you can click the Play button to use it, the Discard button to get rid of it, or anywhere else to put the card back in your collection. That’s pretty much all there is to the controls. A pop out menu on the side will take you back to the menu if you want to exit your current game. The main problem I had with the controls was that the double click move to play a card didn’t always seem responsive, instead triggering a single click and zooming in on the card I had selected. No big deal, but sometimes I just wanted to play a card without looking at it in detail.
The basic idea is that each side has a stronghold, and you must either build yours up to a certain number of points, or take your opponent’s down to zero. There is added challenge in the fact that each stronghold also has a perimeter value, and often attacks will only affect the stronghold itself if the perimeter is down to zero. I believe I’ve managed to take down the enemy stronghold once – it’s much easier to build your own up to the target value. So how do you go about this?
Each camp has three buildings – an armory, a factory and barracks. The armory produces weapons, the factory produces “composites” (not really sure what those are), and the barracks produces mercs. These are your resources with which you’ll build yourself up and conquer your enemy. Each building has a number associated with it, and the higher the number the more resources that building will produce each round. Resources can go negative as the result of the actions of a card, but not as the result of the cost of playing a card. If you don’t have enough resources to play a particular card in your hand, the card will be grayed out.
You start the game with six cards, and you will always have six cards in your hand. Each card has a resource cost, and affects one or more of your items, your opponent’s items, or both. Typical effects might be something like “increase your stronghold by 2 points” or “take 5 mercs away from your opponent”. The reality is that most cards affect more than one thing, but part of the joy of playing is discovering all the different card possibilities. The strategy lies in deciding at any given moment which card makes the most sense to use. You must do something each round, so if you flat out can’t play any cards or you just don’t want to, you’ll have to discard one. That’s when you have to decided if it’s really worth what amounts to skipping a round. One thing you have to keep in mind is that while some cards you play might initially hurt your own numbers, they might benefit you in the long run.
There are easy and normal modes, but you also have the opportunity to play a custom game. A custom game lets you set how strong your stronghold must be in order to win (a minimum of 60 points is allowed). You can also specify how strong your stronghold and perimeters are, as well as how many resources each of your buildings initially produces. If you’re a score freak then there is one big down side to custom games – your score won’t be recorded in any score tables. For easy and normal modes the game does allow for both local (your device only) and global scoreboards, and your score will only be recorded on global scoreboards if you agree to it and have an internet connection.
The game play itself is pretty solid, in my opinion. I could see an advanced version of the game supporting something like building upgrades, but this would have to be an option, as it might make the base game too complicated. Graphically it would be nice to have better images for the barracks and armory. The factory is easy to distinguish, but I tend to get the other two confused, especially since the resource icons don’t really look like anything that represent weapons or mercs. As always, I’d also love to see some music. There are very few games I’ve seen that couldn’t be enhanced with a good background track.
Strongholds is a pretty good pick up and play game, which is unusual for strategy games. It has more complexity than your average Dice Wars clone, but doesn’t have the longevity of a campaign in a game like Advance Wars. While it might not appeal to the most hardcore strategy fan, anyone else that enjoys the genre should appreciate it. It might even suck in some casual gamers who have always wondered what people see in war games. I personally think it’s one of the better “quick campaign” strategy games I’ve played on my iPod Touch.