Advance Wars is a casual, turn based strategy on a grid with a lot of depth. I had dismissed the game for far too long based on screen shots alone. It looked too cartoon and happy for me,children or teenagers running their own army of adults, sending them to their deaths while competing against hardened military masters. Beyond that, there is a great strategy game with huge longevity and a diverse array of characters with different abilities. Its a thinker’s game and one that is suitable for all ages with carefully laid out tutorials that do an excellent job of showing you while you still play.
You command an army with the goal of capturing the enemy’s base while defending your own. Along the way you will capture cities that will give you money for each turn you hold them. With that money you can produce units in factories, airports and seaports.
First one commander takes their turn, moving each unit and then ends a turn. The next commander then takes their turn. Normal battles have only one commander, but other battles can pit you against two or three. Other times you have a second commander with you.
There is a vast array of units you can command with their strengths, weaknesses, movements range and attack range. Infantry moves slow, is weak, but can climb over mountains, cross rivers and capture cities. Tanks of several sizes can destroy other vehicles, but are weak against aircraft. Anti-aircraft guns are great against aircraft and infantry, but weak against tanks. Jeeps can travel far distances to scout, but they are week.
Cannons are medium range against non airborne foes, but have no short range defense. Rockets do the same thing with a longer range limited movement and no short range defense. Missiles can attack airborne enemies at long range, but nothing against ground units. Battleships have a long distance attack against terrestrial foes. The balance to long range attackers is you can attack or move unless a special skill permits it.
There are submarines that can stay underwater and hidden at the cost of fuel, but are only good for destroying battleships, carriers and submarines. In the sky, you have attack choppers for anti ground combat, fighter jets for destroying anything airborne and bombers that will decimate any terrestrial units nearby.
Then you have all sorts of carrier vehicles. I find with carriers its best to drop off their contents at the end of the turn, because if they’re destroyed, the contents go with them. Cruisers on water can hold helicopters, attack submarines and air vehicles with proficiency. Carrier choppers that can transport two infantry. Cargo ships can take two vehicles across water. APCs that can cover one infantry and provide ammunition and fuel to allies next to it, but have no attack functionality.
Another way the game balances itself is the need for ammunition and fuel. Planes run out and drop from the sky. An entrenched cannon will run out of ammunition so you’ll either need to provide a APC next to it or have it go to the nearest city, base or factory. This becomes a real issue with standoffs and longer battles. Even moving a unit and changing your mind and sending them back will cost fuel.
For the most part, units need to be next to one another to engage in battle. During each battle, the enemy will counterattack so there is always a risk of taking damage, but the game will show you a damage percentage you will inflict. The attacker always has the upper hand, so its best to attack first unless the enemy is stronger. So if a mech unit attacks a small tank, they can do heavy damage, but if a tank attacks a mech unit they almost get wiped out.
Each unit has ten points of health.If one of your units is damaged, you can land it on a city or base and it will recover two health points per turn. You can also merge two damaged units to make one stronger one, but I would rather wait to be healed in a city.
Terrain tiles have tactical advantages or weaknesses. A unit in a city, base, factory, port or mountain will have a greater defense. Rivers, planes and roads will offer the weakest defense. When a map has fog of war, a unit planted in a forest stays hidden unless the opposition is next to it. Hiding naval vessels in shoals works the same way.
Capturing cities, bases, factories and ports takes two full turns from an infantry. Abandoning the area before you’ve captured it means you’ll have to start again. This allows the defense to fight back or the attacker can forget capturing and just press on toward the base. Its a risk and reward style. Play it safe, capture cities, earning your money or push forward for that speed bonus.
As you play a meter will build up and when its full you can use your special power. For the starting commander Andy, all units recieve two health restored. Commander Sammi’s infantry can move and capture at double the speed. Commander Max’s vehicles will get a tremendous attack boost.
While the tutorial does teach you a lot over the course of several battles, it lets you off the leash after the start. So you are playing battle after battle with new elements to learn at the start. This style of tutorial kept me interested to go deeper into the game. The first two skirmishes spoon feed you so there are no mistakes.
During field training, it briefs you on the story. You are the Orange Star army and your nemesis is the Blue Moon headed by a grizzled Olaf and his sniper goon Grit. These are two of many commanders, each with their own skills on the battlefield. Grit has longer range than anyone else and he has a skill to go even further for a single turn. Olaf can turn an area into a winter wonderland where his troops can go further while yours are hindered by the snow.
After each battle you receive a ranking based on your speed, power and technique. This is great for replay value especially on the skirmishes. During the campaign, once you’ve won a battle there is no going back unless you start over or complete the whole thing to which you start over.
The campaign you are required to play as certain commanders, but for the most part you have your choice of commanders that you’ve unlocked. During the skirmishes you can select the commander you want and this gives the game infinite replay value. It also keeps your top ten scores for each map. Advance Wars is a marvel of a game.
During the campaign you will face against many opposing commanders, but you will end up uniting the world against an alien force. Its also a good moral message, that rather than being some army on a conquest, you are a defender and liberator.
The game gives you a lot of details if you want to look into them. Things like terrain’s defense, attack range of a unit, damage of a unit. Its most helpful for seeing if your units will be safe from a long range attack. Its a little too much for me, but anyone looking for it, the information is right there.
There is a sheer scope and size to Advance Wars that makes it an enormous game. Every battle feels like a healthy size with only one difficulty level it makes you earn them. The campaign has branching paths with different battles to give you incentive to play again and again.