Many a gamemaker has tried their hand at creating throwback, turn-based strategy games. After all, there’s a certain joy in playing something that’s packed with nostalgic-looking, pixelated characters—especially when the action involves tons of strategic battle moves and absolutely none of today’s typical high-definition mess.
Some of those gamemakers have done their job well. But few have done it with as much rewarding flair as the gang at Chucklefish with the new game Wargroove.
Wargroove’s single-player campaign is pretty straightforward. In the far-off fantasy realm of Cherrystone, something horrible has happened: A powerful commander from the land of Felheim—a place of vampires and skeletal warriors—has slipped into the kingdom’s castle and killed the king. And his young daughter Mercia, who’s quickly crowned queen, must now take charge.
This youthful royal is relatively inexperienced. So while learning (along with you) about how battle works in this fantastic world of knights and dragons, Mercia sets out to find new allies in distant lands, as she intends to take the fight to the baddies on her doorstep.
At its core, the game’s mechanics and strategy play initially seem about as simple as this uncomplicated tale. When faced with opponents, you move, turn by turn, on a grid-based field, to capture nearby villages and defend your positions. The villages supply income, and that wealth then generates a single troop per turn. After that, it’s essentially a game of chess: Which troops do you create? How do you fortify and protect your forces while taking out opposing troops and wearing down your opponent’s strengths.
After you get to playing a bit, though, you start to realize that Wargroove offers a huge variety of choices. And these decisions can make the field command much deeper and more challenging then it first looked.
Each unit you command, for example, is strong or weak against certain opposing forces, and they are less effective when wounded. Terrain such as forests, mountains and lakes confer specialized bonuses. Villages can share some of their strength to heal warriors, but their weakened defenses become easier for foes to breach.
Troop-wise, you’ll commence your campaign with standard soldiers, such as swordsmen, pikemen and rangers. Each battle type has a certain built-in formula that can help it unleash a critical hit. A pikeman will deliver a crit-hit if standing in formation next to another pikeman, for instance. The arrow-slinging rangers go crit if they haven’t moved in the previous turn, while knights deliver their biggest punch when riding up to attack from six spaces away.
And as the game progresses, you discover more usable units, including everything from dogs and transport balloons to cannon-blasting ships and fire-breathing dragons—each with their own unique battle-aiding functions. Players can also unlock a variety of commanders who come packing a special “groove” ability that can turn the tide of battle. But those power boosts can only be used after the commanders wade into enough on-field skirmishes.
I should also note that battle challenges get more and more difficult as you go. You might’ve broken out your meanest and fiercest dragons, but opposing enemy forces streaming your way almost always make you feel slightly overwhelmed. Fortunately for those younger commanders still gaining their battle legs, there are control system sliders that allow you to dial back the impact of an opponent’s punch or raise the recharge rates of your boosts.
Wargroove’s designers packed other modes into their game, too. The Arcade mode, for instance, is a single-player affair that tosses you into a boisterous battle where you’ll face a succession of five tough opponents. A Multiplayer mode allows you to challenge local and online pals for a larger team skirmish. And if you’re so inclined, the in-game building tools even allow you to design your own maps, campaigns and story paths for your friends to work their way through.
Thankfully, none of those modes or battles are hiding anything that Mom might worry over. Quick and colorful unit clashes can result in someone being bested, but the fallen simply swirl away like a puff of smoke when defeated. And even when you find dragons, skeletons, harpies and vampires on the field, the tiny characters never bite, claw or spill a single drop of blood.
Which is quite nice of them when you think about it. That, however, is what this game is: Nice. Fun. And challenging.
If only all wars—and war games—were like that.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.