This review has been updated to include the game's new variant mode available for purchase as DLC.
Reiner Knizia's The Confrontation (RKTC) for iPad is a digital conversion of the boardgame of the same name (minus the costly and entirely superfluous Lord of the Rings tie-in). While it has been out for over 3 months, each time I set out to review it, the game received a significant update so I returned to it in order to incorporate those changes into the review. I'm glad I did because almost all of the game's shortcomings have been addressed since its release; particularly those involving the interface. In its current state, RKTC feels slick, polished, and is intuitive to play.
Gameplay involves moving single armies across the diamond shaped board in an effort to occupy the far tip of the diamond with your most important, yet most fragile army: The Prince. All of the units have vastly different strengths and special abilities, which can be enhanced during battle by a set of strategic cards lined up at the bottom of the screen. Each army is unique, thanks to differing strengths and special abilities. For example, the Minotaur instantly defeats any army that it fights in the maze (game square), goblins instantly defeat any army they attack (although they are weak on defense), and some units are especially powerful against certain other units. By the way, neither you nor your opponent can see the details of the opposing armies until they battle them. After that, they are still not revealed; it is up to you to keep track of what you know. If this sounds a bit like Stratego, it is, but gameplay goes much deeper than the boardgame you remember from your childhood thanks to the unit special abilities and strategic cards that are played during each battle. Of course, some cards are much more useful than others, which is why they are removed from play after use. This forces you to wring your hands and ponder before each battle, especially those battles that involve completely unknown armies. Should you use your most powerful card or would it be wasted? Is your opponent bluffing with that single unit pressing deeply into your territory, or is it his/her most powerful army?
While I am a longtime fan of Dr. Knizia's game design prowess, I have often found some of his games to be somewhat inaccessible to the uninitiated. I'm happy to report that RKTC does not approach this level of complexity, yet it is still deeply satisfying to play. First of all, both the victory condition and the basic strategy are easy to wrap your brain around, and a few battles is all it takes gain an understanding of what is required to win. Clearly, Offworld Games is aware of this as the tutorial is quick, efficient, and sends you out on your own at exactly the right time. What I like most about this game, however, is its unlimited replayability. There are no scenarios, no campaign, and only a single map. While this may sound like a negative observation, I mean it as a compliment. Even a comprehensive list of scenarios and lengthy campaign will eventually be played-out, leaving you feeling like you've beaten the game. However, the single expertly designed game board and sheer multitude of gameplay strategies means that you will be coming back to RKTC for a long, long time.
OK, for those of you who are looking for the new content review, here it is... For a one-time purchase of $5.99, owners of the original game can unlock a second game mode known only as Variant Mode. While the original game mode was wonderfully asymmetrical (stronger, more brutish Shadow armies; and weaker, more Nimble light armies), this version is very closely balanced. According to Offworld Games, the armies of the Light have been made stronger while the armies of Shadow have been retooled to require more tactical play. This change opens up a new victory condition for Shadow players; to mirror the Light's goal by guiding their Doombringer to the enemy capital. This may seem like a small change, but it changes the gameplay to make it feel completely new. For those who enjoy the original, the purchase of the DLC should be a no-brainer; especially considering its pedigree.
In my original review, I griped about the lack of asynchronous multiplayer (the game has always offered simultaneous realtime multiplayer). After spending a few months with the game, I'm going to retract that complaint. The Confrontation is a very fast-paced game (by boardgame standards) that requires you to mentally keep track of your opponent's armies as you play. Unless you were to take physical notes, it just doesn't lend itself well to extended play sessions, which is likely why the feature was never included as a multiplayer option.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 5 - Beautiful board game adaptation with smooth animations and retina graphics. Sound: - 4 - The music is very good, although not particularly memorable, and the sound effects are thankfully subdued. Controls: - 5 - It may have taken them a few patches to get here, but the current interface is excellent. Gameplay: - 5 - Highly replayable love-child of a card battler, Stratego, and checkers.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Tapping on your units will reveal both their strength and special ability. Familiarize yourself with each before each move. Do the same with the opposing armies so as not to place yourself in an needlessly vulnerable position. When playing against the AI, don't bluff! Make an effort to keep track of enemy units that have been revealed. Attacking blind is never a good move unless you have an advantage of some kind.