I know what you are thinking: the title of this article is hyperbole of the most unforgivable kind. Just do me a favour and give me a chance to explain.
Wargroove is the latest game developed and published by Chucklefish: the now legendary publisher of the smash hit farm-em-up Stardew Valley and sci fi side scroller, Starbound. The London based publishing and development house have been consistently chucking out winners since the start of the indie revolution, beginning their meteoric rise with Risk Of Rain: a devilishly difficult roguelike.
The things their games seem to have in common are a focus on brilliant, stripped down mechanics and a high quality pixel art style, both of which suit me down to the ground.
I spotted Wargroove on one of my frequent and mindless trawls through the steam store. The art style immediately caught my eye and I felt utter joy in my heart as I saw an armoured dog leading an army into battle on a 2D battlefield. I was hooked even before I bought it. This feeling only intensified as I was greeted by an anime-like intro cutscene which I just sat and watched. In recent years, Blizzard has been lauded for their amazing cutscenes, and rightly so, but it is nice to see a smaller developer going for the same sort of thing.
The game brings many franchises to mind: Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, The Battle For Wesnoth. These three are stalwarts in the turn-based strategy genre and in a sense Wargroove actually is all these amazing titles that reached their zenith years ago. It is a kind of rebirth of turn based tactics games, embodying the things that made them great; like smaller maps, tighter mechanics and the ability for players to make maps and customise everything, then they repackaged it into something fresh and beautiful, clearly created by people who know and love the genre.
The gameplay is simple: you take control of one of 12 heroes, 3 for each of the four distinct factions and vie for control of a tactical map broken up into squares. There are a profusion of unit types; from lowly foot soldiers to trebuchets, ships and dragons, all which add tools to your toolbox when trying to outfox your enemy. The interesting thing to note is that each faction, while aesthetically unique, can only produce the same units.
This means that the game is easier to balance, with the only asymmetry being with the leader you choose, which puts it in good stead for the Esports scene which has energetically sprung up around the game. From what I have played, the “quick play” option in online multiplayer indeed returns a game quickly, which is fantastic. You can also set up your own game with a whole host of different options to face off against your opponent. I can only hope the devs follow this ease of use up with more features to support competitive play.
The campaign is fully formed and engaging: you follow Mercia, queen of Cherrystone, who is thrust into the driving seat after her father is assassinated by the undead Felheim faction. It plays much like the older games mentioned above: sections of dialogue interspersed with thematic battles which introduce weird and wonderful mechanics to keep you on your toes. The game also provides “puzzle” and “arcade” modes that will significantly aid replayability. There is plenty of humour in the campaign, alongside the broader themes of adventure and war. It’s safe to say Wargroove doesn’t take itself too seriously.
To me, this game is like chess but better. You take your playing pieces and are able to dynamically fight and counter your opponents strategies as you build units and try to out compete the opponent financially by capturing towns. The amazing “crit” system ensures the need for deep thought when positioning your troops, as they only reach their full potential when meeting criteria specific to each unit. I have found myself staring over a defensive line at my opponent, waiting for one of us to blink, only to find myself outmaneuvered somewhere else and forced to flee. You feel the tactics and back and forth of a good wargame just oozing out of this title.
This game makes me feel like I am at the start of something new and interesting. This is a feeling we gamers crave; back in 2015, Rocket League hit the market and started a sports-game revolution all of its own. The reason it was able to do this is because it firmly placed itself into that genre, but did the same things as other sports games (use of physics, a ball with goals and a global game timer) repackaged into something new and fresh, the process by which those older, tried and tested elements, could create something satisfying and new. As of the writing of this article, the highest prize pool for a Rocket League tournament was over 1 million dollars.
Wargroove, I feel, is doing the same thing to turn based strategy games. There is a huge demographic of gamers who are starved for this type of game and feel the urge to watch talented people play it against each other; to follow their favourite player and hopefully start that journey themselves. The strategy gamer in on the comeback.
This game delivers on so many levels but it is important to discuss its drawbacks. Chiefly that most people will really be put off by how slow the game can feel when you are in the thick of the action. Every game requires you to really think about how you set up your forces and is almost a cold war where each person is trying to push and maneuver to find an edge. In fact, once the fighting begins, you often know what the result is going to be only a few turns afterwards. To me, this is ideal, and speaks to a wargame that works, but for others it might ring dull.
In conclusion, I do not think it is too soon to tell that this beautiful little game is going to make waves in the realm of strategy well into 2019 and I cannot wait to play in my first tournament.
Wargroove is out now on Windows, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. It is priced at around 15-20 dollars.
P.S. Wagons Are Bad – Brought to you by the Anti Wagon League.