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iPad Game Review: WW2: Sandbox. Strategy & Tactics Review
      #47231 - 10/29/14 06:34 PM

As close as you're going to get to Hearts of Iron or Axis and Allies on a mobile device. Although you're unlikely to stumble across it on the App Store thanks to its ridiculously awkward and unintuitive title, WW2: Sandbox. Strategy and Tactics is the closest thing I've found to recreating a single-player experience of the PC gaming classic Hearts of Iron or the board game classic Axis and Allies on a handheld device.



Gameplay

Similar in presentation to Risk, WW2: Sandbox puts you in charge of one of 28 World War II combatants on a board divided into approximately 500 different provinces. Each country will also have a mostly unique set of game objectives, making for nearly endless replayability. WW2: Sandbox is not a historical wargame in that combatants will begin each game with a mostly reasonable chance of success (assuming you know what you are doing) in spite of their actual state during the war. It is this aspect that gives WW2: Sandbox its sandboxyness. Also, in the interest of streamlining gameplay, there are only 4 basic unit types (infantry, armor, aircraft, and artillery). However, one of the most enjoyable aspects of WW2: Sandbox is its research tree, which gives you the chance to pump the effectiveness of your units. Of course, there is never enough money to buy every upgrade, so difficult choices must be made. All of the units have the signature rock/paper/scissors sort of quality that prevents the stacking of a single powerful unit type in games like this. There are also economic, production, and scientific research trees in which to invest, which significantly multiply your potential strategic choices. The end result is the satisfying feeling that there is no single best upgrade path for every scenario, which makes for endless tinkering and exploring of new options.



If you enjoy strategy games but have always found true wargames to be a hazy mystery thanks to tricky things like supply, terrain, and morale; rest assured that WW2: Sandbox is very accessible, thanks to its use of clearly defined provinces, limited unit choices, and its direct and succinct gameplay. A simple play through the tutorial will teach you both the interface and a basic understanding of how to win, which is essentially attacking enemy units with the correct unit types of your own (again, think: rock/paper/scissors), maintaining key defensible positions, and anticipating your enemy's path of retreat. Of course, on a grand scale, you'll also be managing your economic output and R&D, but all of this is presented in a very easily understood way. Lastly, each game feels like a living breathing thing in that spontaneous events will occur randomly such as coups, civil wars, etc.
As good as WW2: Sandbox is, it's important to point out that it is entirely a single-player experience, which limits its lifespan significantly. Although I suspect that adding an online multiplayer component to a game like this would not be trivial, it would certainly be appreciated by many.



Graphics

The map of WW2: Sandbox is nice enough looking, and features a crinkled paper graphical style. The unit icons are static but sharply drawn, and their flags wave crisply on the game board, which keeps everything from looking dry and lifeless as you play.

Sound

The soundtrack is the typical rousing affair you find in most wargames. The quality is good, though, and I found myself keeping it enabled longer than I usually do. The sound effects are also well-done, but in all games of this type consist mostly of short bursts of gunfire, etc during movement and combat.

In-App Purchases (IAPs)

I can't tell you how refreshing it is to play a game that is completely free of IAPs. Although most games that offer them are quite strident in their assertions that they are completely "optional" (picture Austin Powers' Doctor Evil doing air quotes when you say it), I can never shake the feeling that gameplay has been subtly tuned to leave you perpetually just a bit short of what you need. WW2: Sandbox eschews IAPs completely, instead opting for a premium pricing model. This means you can spend $10 once and play forever instead of perpetually renting your game by way of IAPs.

Conclusion

If Risk is too simplistic but most wargames are too inaccessible, WW2: Sandbox. Strategy & Tactics may be just the thing for you; especially if you are a fan of Hearts of Iron or Axis & Allies. With nearly infinite variations in gameplay, you can take comfort in knowing that you will never run out of new experiences.



Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics: - 3.5 - Decent graphics but not much eye candy here.
Sound: - 3 - Slightly better than average wargame music and sound effects
Controls: - 5 - Surprisingly easy to understand and navigate for a wargame.
Gameplay: - 4 - Scratches that "Grand Strategy" itch like nothing else on the App Store, but needs multiplayer.

Playing Hints and Tips:

Because the map cannot be viewed in its entirety on a single screen, it is important that you do not disable the ability to watch AI turns as you won't have any idea what happened. This is especially important for new players. Playing through the tutorial is crucial for new players to avoid feeling overwhelmed on turn: 1.

App Facts:

Developer: Herocraft
Release Date: September 30, 2014
Price: $9.99 with no IAPs
Buy App: WW2: Sandbox. Strategy & Tactics

Reviewed by Tom Slayton








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