Is war supposed to make me so happy?
It is appropriate that the release of a game about an important historical event is also an important historical event for the iPad in itself. I had to sleep on my thoughts about Battle of the Bulge to make sure that I wasn’t overblowing my feelings about the game, or getting caught up in the hype about its launch. Battle of the Bulge represents the realization of the promise of wargaming on the iPad. All of the discussions about how great wargaming could be on the iPad were previously tied to Battle Academy. Battle Academy is a great game in its own right, but was primarily a tactical experience, and wasn’t built from the ground up for iPad. Battle of the Bulge has been billed as an iPad only experience, and it shows.
The hype for Battle of the Bulge is well-deserved. If you have ever enjoyed a wargame, physical or computerized, you will be happy to find the level of depth in Battle of the Bulge to be comparable to your previous experiences. This isn’t a game of Hearts of Iron, to be sure. You aren’t picking research paths, managing fronts in several countries, or plotting out individual bombing runs. Nor is it Battle Academy, the player isn’t concerned about the facing of their tanks or how fast a given target is moving. Battle of the Bulge (I hesitate to call it BoB) has a comfortable balance of tactical detail and strategic direction.
The game takes place on a single map, with both a short and long scenario to play through. Players can play as either the Axis or Allies, and choose between two AI generals per side to face off against, each with their own play style. The game map is divided into territories, and players shift their units across these territories in an attempt to meet their objectives. Only a single territory and the units therein can be activated per turn, and each day is divided into several turns. Typically a single day is enough to move the majority of one’s units. Terrain types and features play a big role in movement and defense, and the player’s objectives as an allied player are drastically different than the Axis objectives. Combat is simulated with virtual, invisible, dice rolls, but the player is given enough information to make sound choices. Supply routes are important to the game, and it is crucial to maintain a consistent and well-defended front so that the enemy cannot isolate your units. Isolated units operate below par, and after a couple of turns lose the ability to defend themselves.
Battle of the Bulge is steeped in historical context. So many unique conditions, bonuses, and events are based on the actual events of the battle. The result is to make the game much more than a game of Risk about pushing across a segmented map. The game has asymmetry to the balancing, but also in the objectives. For those unfamiliar with the history of the battle, the game features a convenient interactive history panel for each day of the battle. It feels like a miniature encyclopedia catered precisely to enhance your enjoyment of the game, even the little touches like expanding pictures reflect the polish put into the game’s historical presentation.
The rigidity of the game’s setting also allowed for the developers to design some fantastic AI for the player to butt heads against- reminiscent of the way AI was designed for the shooter, FEAR. When playing through the game’s shorter scenario, I saw an opportunity to push with my armored units to the River Meuse. The enemy AI immediately assed the path I was going to likely take and reinforced not one, but two map sections to hinder my advance. This thwarted my plans, but I was happy to be defeated by an AI that behaved as a human would have in that scenario. While I am more than happy to play against the game’s AI, it also features hotseat local multiplayer and online matches.
I was immediately taken aback by the game’s design. It is a great wargame, but the extent to which it is tailored to the iPad is striking. Each tap on a button or unit is visually and aurally confirmed, and everything is laid out in a way that optimizes the play experience. Zooming, expanding, and bringing up extra information all feel natural and let the player experience the actual game mechanics without hindrance.
Battle of the Bulge challenges players to think through their actions, and to play a game within the historical context of its setting. It wouldn’t make sense for the allies to act in a purely offensive manner, and the game makes it difficult for you to do so, but also explains exactly why that is the case. It also doesn’t make sense for the Axis to play a waiting, defensive game, and the victory conditions reflect that.
I would have been sold on Battle of the Bulge as a regular PC wargame, but the fact that it is an iPad only release and a brilliant one at that makes it all the sweeter as an iOS gamer. The developer has expressed interest in adding on to the game, or releasing more games in the same framework. While I am still busy with Battle of the Bulge, I can’t wait for more.
Battle of the Bulge is available on iPad for $9.99