Developed By: Playwood Rroject
Published By: Deck 13
Category: Adventure, Board Game, Role-Playing, Strategy
Release Date: 10.22.20
Composers: Simon Holm List
When you first at the screenshots for today’s game, Wartile for the Nintendo Switch, in the eShop, the crisp, detailed graphics on display are sure to be the first thing that catches your eye. I’ve been fooled by screenshots before, so it was a remarkable surprise when I booted the game up for the first time and the game looks almost exactly as good as promised – as long as you’re playing docked, that is. The background textures and miniature-styled character models are sharp and detailed, and just generally look pretty great on a TV. You lose a little bit of resolution when you’re playing undocked, but not enough to really complain about. Certainly, there are other games that lose much more when translated to the Switch’s handheld screen.
Vikings, in Miniature
The high concept of the game is that you’re playing a miniatures game, like Heroscape or Dungeons and Dragons, about a band of Vikings. The game plays out on boards comprised of hexagonal grids, and you move your units around the board collecting treasure, defeating enemies, and fulfilling various other objectives along the way. Actions are timer-based; a small circle around your miniatures’ bases acts as a timer, showing you when they can take another action. It’s actually pretty annoying outside of combat; you have to wait for the circle to fill again before you can move. Since you can only move like three tiles at a time, it creates an unnecessarily plodding pace to trying to explore a map.
Different units have different attack ranges. Most units need to be in base contact with another unit to attack, but spearmen can attack over one black tile, while archers have a range of several tiles. Archers are also the only unit that doesn’t auto-attack, which took me a while to figure out. You have to appoint a target for your archer before she attacks, which the tutorial doesn’t really tell you. Your units also have their own special abilities that you can activate that have short cooldowns. Defeating enemies and completing objectives earns you battle points, which you can use to play tactical cards from your hand.
Overall, combat feels pretty smooth. Many enemy units will move around during the fight in order to make use of the range of their attacks; archers and spearmen will constantly retreat from your melee units, forcing you to move your units around to keep up. It keeps the action feeling active and engaging, instead of just making you sit back and watch while the game plays itself. If things are moving too fast for you, you can slow down time while you catch up or just assess the situation.
Zombies and Vikings and Knights, Oh My!
The story is pretty neat, but not really the main attraction. After his father’s funeral, the leader of your war band is tasked with bringing a sacrifice to Eir, the Norse god of healing, to lift the plague affecting your village. They run into a rival Viking clan desecrating Eir’s tree and then some draugr (Viking zombies), and get caught up in intrigue between Viking clans, the King of the North, and the gods themselves. The story is told mostly via small text blurbs before and after missions. It’s not exactly the most captivating way to tell a tale; there isn’t much in the way of character development for your units, and the story blurbs are so light that it’s pretty hard to get invested in the narrative. Frankly, the storytelling elements almost feel like an afterthought, which leads us to the main problem with Wartile.
This game just has a lot of ideas that feel half-built. I mentioned before the way that timers disrupt the fluidity of exploration, and just talked about how the story feels like it was added at the last second. The tutorials don’t expand to tell you how units with new rules work – the first mission I used an archer, I spent the first two encounters trying to figure out how the heck I could get her to attack! That’s important info to have, guys! It’s one thing to let players explore a unit’s special abilities, but it’s another thing entirely not to tell us how their basic mechanics function. I also felt that the miniature game motif was underutilized as well; customizing units could have been more robust. Each unit only has a set weapon type and three unlockable abilities, and there’s no way to customize your appearance beyond simply changing equipment.
I have a hard time figuring out whether I liked this game or not; the visuals are great, and the combat system is engaging and frequently made for some interesting strategic gameplay. Unfortunately, there are just too many aspects of the game that feel undercooked, although the developers make up for it a little bit in breadth of content. The Switch release of Wartile comes with all of the DLC that has been released for the game on other platforms. You get an entire second campaign to play after you finish the original storyline, as well as some one-off missions to grab some extra loot and flex your tactical muscles. I’m not sure that I can wholeheartedly recommend Wartile, but If you like playing around with unique game systems, it’s absolutely worth a try.
Digital – $24.99
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The Switch Effect was graciously supplied a code for review purposes.