I have my little pots of paints lined up in front of me. A cup of water sits on the side, and newspaper covers my desk. I reach my hand into a box and pull out the first of dozens of small, metal miniatures. This little fellow is shaped like a soldier from the Napoleonic era, so I get heavy with the blue paint and a hour or so later I have the first of my new brigade standing to the side and rapidly drying. I reach into the box and pull out the second miniature.
That’s part of the appeal of tabletop wargaming – the ability to personally paint up my little armies of miniatures and then array them out in all their glory over a table to recreate my favourite battles through history. Videogame wargames rip that side of the experience away, but the benefits of being able to set up a game in a few seconds (as opposed to the hour it can take to set up a tabletop battlefield), and the fact you don’t need to spend weeks painting up a new army before you can use it, provides more than enough compensation.
Battle Academy 2, the sequel to the excellent original, is a genuine attempt to recreate the table top wargame in a digital format. Battles take place across maps that look like a tabletop battlefield looks, complete with model buildings and foliage, and units that, while animated, have an aesthetic that calls to mind my collection of miniatures that are in a box in an attic somewhere.
But the digital platform allows Battle Academy 2 to also enable some strategies that are difficult to abstract into a traditional table top battlefield. It’s possible to set up ambushes by hiding units in thick grass or houses, for instance, where in a typical tabletop wargame once a unit’s on the battlefield it becomes difficult to hide from your opponent’s view. This means that, even as Battle Academy 2 behaves like a traditional tabletop wargame in its mechanics, it allows for even greater depths of strategy. Digital progress!
The game is absolutely perfect for competitive multiplayer, in other words. Thanks to Slitherine’s classic play-by-email online play it’s easy to set up a match with someone, take a turn whenever you have a moment, and then watch the battle unfold over the period of a couple of weeks. There’s plenty of maps to play across, and the range of units and strategies that that variety and the terrain enables is impressive stuff. A good strategy game should test a player’s grasp of military strategy, and Battle Academy 2 does a perfectly adequate job of giving players enough room to prepare flanking maneuvers or the good old hammer and anvil strategy. I’m not the biggest fan of multiplayer-focused games, but I do make an exception when strategy games are as good as this one, because there’s only so much AI-baiting that I can handle before I crave a more substantial opponent.
That’s not to say that Battle Academy 2 isn’t challenging in single player, because it is. Taking place during World War 2, players get to participate in the almighty clash between the might of Germany and Russia on the eastern front. Because battles between these two nations were rarely an even match up historically (the Germans started out steamrolling the Russians, only for that to be completely flipped around after Stalin rallied the troops on the walls of Moscow), objectives in Battle Academy 2 are more specific, and require players to overcome numerous disadvantages in order to take over specific key objectives as the battles going on elsewhere along the line are being decisively won. Slitherine is a specialist in wargames, and its inherent knowledge for the history of the era has given Battle Academy 2 an authenticity that will appeal to the grognards of old.
What’s most impressive about Battle Academy 2 is that while it does require clever military strategy and an understanding of how tanks, artillery and infantry work best together on the battlefield, it’s also an incredibly accessible game. The interface is clean and easy to work with, and the basic statistics of each unit are easy to understand and interpret. Then, when you graduate though the training process and beat down the easier AI opponents, you’re able to start delving into the deeper statistics and reading up on real military strategies so you can start taking to the online multiplayer with confidence.
I loved the first Battle Academy, and while the sequel doesn’t do much more than adding new maps and scenarios, that’s more than enough. Slitherine already has the premier wargames on the iPad, and now it has one more.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld