iPad Game Review: Battle of the Bulge For iPad Review
Reviewed by Tom Slayton
Battle of the Bulge is an operational-level wargame based on the landmark battle of World War II.
Wargaming on the iPad has been largely absent since its launch nearly 3-years ago. Oh, there have been plenty of strategy games, many of which are based on historical events, but none of them have sought to duplicate the complexity of true wargaming (PC or tabletop). This is probably a good thing as the market for that type of game has always been narrowly focused. This is not to say, however, that wargames have no place on the iPad. What was missing (and badly needed) was a new type of wargame; one that was deeply reliant on stats, counters, and die rolls, but hid all of it away from the user. Enter: Battle of the Bulge (BoB) from Shenandoah Studios. BoB is everything a true wargamer could want, but it is also completely accessible to the rest of us. The entire game takes place on a single map. There is no campaign, resource collection, or infrastructure building; and there are no cutscenes, 3D battles, or RPG elements. But (here's the important part) it's fun, and it's beautiful (more on this later).
When you launch the game, you are given the choice of single-player, pass & play, or asynchronous play via Game Center. The AI is incredibly strong, and, unfortunately, cannot be dumbed-down. You can, however, select two different personalities, which really helps to keep things fresh and increases replayability. You are only allowed to move units from one territory each turn, so plan ahead! No, this is not historically accurate, but it is ALWAYS advisable to choose playability over accuracy in a game like this, and having to make these hard choices on every turn really helps you find the game within the game. That is, you will never stare at BoB and wonder when it will get fun, or which components represent the critical decision elements. As I said previously, there is a lot that goes on beneath the hood of your iPad with every move, and this brings an almost organic feel to BoB. Yes, there is only one full scenario. No, it never feels scripted or repetitious. In fact, the designers have openly remarked that some of the more effective strategies have absolutely no basis in history. Tap a territory to select it, tap again to select a unit, and tap a third time to select a destination. Objectives are clearly defined at the beginning of each turn. Artillery and air support are handled automatically, and are made apparent to the player through clearly defined attack bonuses and areas of restricted mobility. Everything you need, and nothing you don't. Clean, elegant, polished, intuitive, and precise; these are just some of the adjectives that came to mind as I played.
If you've spent much time playing strategy games, you have probably noticed how most designers make opposing armies graphically different but functionally similar (if not identical). This is because it is mind-blisteringly difficult to balance a game when opposing units are dissimilar. This is one of the more impressive things about BoB; opposing armies are not balanced and their objectives are completely different. Throw in significant terrain issues and you've got a programming nightmare. Somehow, though (possibly with a little help from the history books), Shenandoah Studios managed to pull-off a game that is not only fun, but balanced perfectly on a razor's edge. I dare you to find an unintended exploit or a repeatable path to victory.
Battle of the Bulge is a wonder to look at. With full retina support on the new and newer iPads, BoB looks simply stunning. Even fully zoomed-in, the game map is crisp as a corn pie, and scrolls like silk. Shenandoah didn't stop at the game map, though. The menus and information screen look fantastic. Fiercely organized, and easily understood without reading a manual or even suffering through a tutorial (play the tutorial, though!). Battle of the Bulge looks as good as it plays; and that's saying a lot.
The sound effects of Battle of the Bulge are as polished as the rest of the game. While on the game map, you will hear the icy wind blow as you plot your moves. Once you commit, and battle is joined, you will hear a brief burst of weaponry and a few seconds of rousing music while the combat resolves. This is the perfect amount of music and gunfire for a game like this. Too much, and you can't concentrate; too little and you feel like you're playing a spreadsheet.
In-App Purchases (IAPs)
Battle of the Bulge contains no IAPs, although I would welcome the chance to purchase additional scenarios if they were made available.
Battle of the Bulge is a landmark iPad game. It's deep without feeling complex, and fun without feeling light. Further, it's beautiful, both visually and aurally, and so intuitive that you don't need a tutorial to learn the interface. If you're at all into turn-based gaming, give this one a try. If you're not, give this one a try, anyway.
Day 1 of the Battle:
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 5 - Beautiful, retina graphics. Sound: - 5 - A perfect balance of sound effects, music, and quiet. Controls: - 5 - This is the cleanest interface I've ever seen in a strategy game. Gameplay: - 5 - A wargame that's accessible enough to be fun for everybody without alienating the hardcore crowd. No mean feat.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Feel free to dive in and start tinkering; the interface is dead simple to figure out. Bastogne is key, as are rivers; ignore them at your peril. Spend time learning about the various units. The importance of understanding your enemy cannot be overstated. Start with the smaller scenario; play it a few times through before moving on to the main game.