|Multiplayer:||Pass and Play|
|AI:||Yes, 3 levels|
|Universal App:||Yes (there is a single app which works on both iPhone and iPad in HD)|
|Purchase for iPhone:||Use link below to purchase universal app|
|Purchase for iPad:||
GD Star RatingCivil War,
Every so often, a section of the human race reaches a point of critical boredom and declares war on another part of the human race, who are often irritated that they didn’t think of it first. When the human race is not off fighting in actual wars, they fill up astonishing amounts of their time making or playing games about modern wars, future wars and good old wars from yesteryear. Civil War: The Battle Game is a recent offering from The Bitstreamers, that provides a stipped-down version of the wargame experience that – while competent and, at times, charming – is unlikely to be of much interest to non-Americans, casual gamers and those who prefer their war with a bit more panache.
In certain circles, the American Civil War is what is commonly referred to as a ‘sore subject’. I’m an Englishman, so literally any opinion I voice about it is going to be considered the start of a fight and may even result, as it did once on a Greyhound bus in Arkansas, with a well-meaning amateur historian informing me that America “kicked you limey scum out in 1776, we’d be happy to do it again”. I also don’t actually know a great deal about the war, except that Clark Gable was involved somehow.
With all this in mind, I’d like everyone to join me in pretending that The Bitstreamers’ game refers to a totally different, imaginary civil war in a country which is a bit like America. They’re probably fighting over who has the nicest uniform, eighties power ballads, or something.
Civil War: The Battle Game is a traditional light-weight, turn-based, hex strategy wargame where two armies square off with the aim of capturing key locations on the battlefield or simply wiping each other out. There’s not a great deal here that will come as a surprise to veterans of the genre. Not that that’s a bad thing, in the same way there’s very little to surprise veteran chess fans when a new chess app is released. Of course, there was that weird, weird blip last year from Battle Vs Chess, but that’s best not dealt with here.
For those of you that haven’t been exposed to the hexagonal strategy world, allow me explain what I mean by this. These games take place on a map covered in hexagons, known as a hex map. On these geometric battlefields great armies of counters do battle, each counter representative of a particular type of unit with its own array of statistics and each of which needs to be utilised correctly in order to combat the foe. Usually, dice are involved in the combat rolls to simulate the chance tides of war as the armies tussle over their victory conditions.
In this app, both sides have three unit types available: infantry, cavalry and artillery. Naturally, the cannon is slow moving, hard hitting and fragile; the horsies are fast and deadly; and the infantry are a bit rubbish. This appears to be a fairly accurate representation of what little I know about the forces involved in the Blue and Grey Civil War.
A player’s turn is split into two rounds, movement and combat. In the former, every unit in your army can move up to its movement point total, though this limit can be increased or decreased by terrain modifiers and the proximity to enemy units. Normally, you’re going to want to balance your movement phase concerns between providing a defensive screen for your artillery pieces – thus protecting them from the attentions of the enemy’s cavalry – and trying to do the same to the other army’s cannons. Positioning is critical here. Overreach and leave a lone unit unsupported by adjacent units and you’ve opened them up for a mobbing. Don’t hit aggressively enough and while you bashing away at their rank and file soldiers, they’re dropping cannon fire on your head from a distance.
After you’ve grossly overcommitted your men, it’s time to see how many of your soldiers you’ve gotten killed this turn. Combat is worked out in a relatively simple calculation that compares the offence attribute of the aggressor with the defence stat of their foe, plus or minus modifiers from morale, terrain and supporting units. Then, after you’ve run the numbers and feel sure that your full strength platoon can best one guy in a hole, you find yourself screwed by the vicissitudes of the randomiser.
From a design perspective, luck is one of the more interesting aspects of the wargame genre. Though strategy is very much the purpose of these games, even the most meticulous of plans will fall apart at the hands of the random number generator and it’s luck that elevates the genre above being a exercise in number crunching, lending the events of the battle a narrative. In Civil War, both sides spin a roulette wheel marked with modifiers ranging between -3 to +3. What’s especially nice about this randomisation mechanic is that each modifier is accompanied by an illustration of the chance event, which lends a personality to the combat. For example, a +1 bonus is conferred from beer to buoy the men’s spirits, while -3 penalty is inflicted when a poorly maintained handgun explodes in the ranks.
There’s a good deal of replayability here for the committed player with three available maps to battle across, each with slightly different objectives and game lengths. In ‘Brandy Station’, the armies have six turns to cause as much damage to their foes as possible, presumably to persuade them to reconsider their choice of costume – or ‘uniform’, as they say in the military. In the unpronounceable ‘Chickamauga’, the enemy must be repelled from a central area of the field before the twelve turn time limit. The final and longest of the scenarios is ‘Fredricksburg’, a gruelling eighteen turn marathon that sees the Blue army assault a town held by the Grey forces – victory goes to the army that can hold one particular hex by the games end. I’ve been working on a theory that this hex holds a vast grey dye warehouse and, as such, its destruction would be a devastating blow to the morale of the defenders.
When this was first released last summer it met with a lukewarm response amidst criticism of the artwork, user interface and the occasionally lunatic AI. Happily, The Bitstreamers have kept up their work on the app and intend to continue developing the project, with plans to introduce asynchronous multiplayer in the v2 update. As it stands, Civil War offers single player and pass-and-play modes, which – while satisfying for some armchair generals – may leave the hardcore strategists wanting to test their mettle against a wider array of opponents online.
Right now, thanks to the lack of an online component and a very disconnected pass and play experience, I’m worried that newcomers to the genre will grow bored pretty quickly as they watch the computer work though its turns, especially during the longer scenarios. In tabletop wargames, this down time can be spend analyzing the map and planning for your next assault, with frequent interruptions as you roll dice and hope your men don’t die. Here though, a lot of your valuable gaming time is spent watching the map jump around violently as the computer plays its moves.
Another oddity of Civil War lies in its art work. This is – by far and away – the weirdest thing about the game. The Bitstreamers have opted for a really cute pixel style, which I highly approve of. Unfortunately, during the Blue and Grey Civil War most of the battles seem to have taken place in brown places, with brown mud, brown buildings and brown trees, occasionally broken up by a patch of grass or two.. Individually, the art assets are very attractive, but when the whole screen is filled with the flat colours of pixel art and a dull palette, it’s difficult to feel excited.
Peculiarly, when Civil War was first released, it came with only the lower art style for the soldiers. We may never find out quite why the devs decided that adorable cartoon soldiers would be the soundest business decision for game primarily marketed to historical strategy fans, but I’m so happy they did. If a unit suffers a casualty, stars spin above their heads (!) So when I attack the Grey army’s cavalry and my guns explode – killing hundreds no doubt – I picture Yosemite Sam.
Of course, if you prefer the grim and frowning men, they’re on offer, but their dourness is not for me, I’m afraid. Other optional settings available include limited visibility and an online leaderboard to compare your games against others.
Civil War is a bit of an oddity to offer a verdict on. I have no doubt at all that it’s a very competent wargame, with a level of complexity well judged to a tablet audience. It’s just that despite the simplicity of the rules, I can’t see casual gamers putting up with the long wait between turns and bland pallette and… well… chances are, if you’re into wargames, you’ll have more fun playing Battle of the Bulge.