Ortus Arena would love to be listed as the next chess-like game, and it could be.
2 players face each other off on a hex grid, and to win, one must either kill 8 of the other's soldiers, or capture and hold five energy wells for a single turn. Energy wells are marked hexes on the board that gives action points to spend on following turns. Each movement and attack a soldier takes cost action points. Players can defend against their opponent's assault, given they have enough action points remaining from the previous turn. In short, one must always balance his actions carefully, making sure he has enough to defend himself on the next turn.
Ortus Arena plays like a chess game. Basic pieces attack and move, often to avoid stalemates. Each can also defend, but if you're out of action points, it's a one hit kill. Then are Elemental Warriors: fancier units with special abilities. The Earth Warrior, for example, sneaks around and charges opponents with powerful attacks and the only way to defeat them are with your own Earth Warrior, and in a hex line. In contrast, Water Warriors can either attack in a ring of hexes, or a straight line. Use these to expose a careless enemy who's grouped their soldiers together (facepalm moment?). Air Warriors travel in a straight line, as far as they can, for ZERO action points, and that comes in quite handy when setting up attacks or taking energy wells by surprise. Last but not least are the Fire Warriors. These must act always in pairs. Place two in a single hex line, or form a triangle with one of the opponent's soldiers in order to attack it. Here again, the attack costs ZERO points and can devastate the opponent's action pool.
Do you have enough action points to prevent an attack and still advance your position on the board?
That's the type of questions you'll be asking yourself plenty while playing Ortus Arena. In single-player mode, you'll find the AI is deceiving. It's either dumb or pretending to be. If you have enough action points to defend against its next attack, for example, it's likely it simply won't. So you have to lure it into attacking, and strike while it's low on resources. This makes for strategic gameplay, back and forth between grabbing wells and setting up assaults, sacrificing soldiers to make a final push toward victory.
Beating a level is satisfaction enough from a job well done.
Ortus Arena offers Solo, Campaign, and Global modes. Solo Play offers two different styles, one where you have basic units, and the other, the "master game," where you have access to all the Elemental Warriors.
Campaign mode is essentially an extended tutorial where you learn how to work with all the units. To the studio's credit, it's fun at first and mechanics stumped me more than a few times. Once you get the gist of how to beat the AI though, most of the matches become too simple and a matter of time until you win.
Global mode offers a chance to put your honed skills to use with other humans around the world. Sadly, the game has yet to pick up and I was the only one online searching for an opponent who doesn't exist yet.
A typical problem with indie games played online.
In the present state of the game, Ortus Arena may not make it online. There are numerous glitches and bugs that occur, along with some mechanic choices that may need to be evened out a bit. And the ability to undo a move would be controversial perhaps, but, in my opinion, nice.
The fundamental core of the game plays well, and would offer great fun in an online environment. I'm not sure it will stick, though, unless the developers offer more in the single player game. Increasing levels of difficulty available, as well as the ability to customize which units you will bring to the match, would be an enormous boon to replay value.
A map where you play with nothing but Air Warriors would be outlandishly fun.
There's still work to be done with Ortus Arena before it becomes a candidate amongst strategy aficionados. If the studio can continue to release updates for the game, refine the AI, provide additional maps, customize boards, add Warriors, and release a search function for online play, they they'd heighten the depth and enjoyability enough that Ortus Arena would reach greater heights, and eventually, it's full potential.
Ortus Arena is a great concept, but it needs more meat and marketing to flesh out its appeal to a wider audience. Too heavily does it rely on its unpopulated online mode, with a single player mode that is too easily defeated once you've been trained.