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WARTILE's Fresh Take on Tabletop War Isn't Ready Yet

WARTILE is a game that just went to Early Access and one which asks the question, “What if a tabletop strategy combat game was done on the computer with real-time fighting?” In a genre that's defined by its methodical turn-based nature, it's an interesting question (albeit one I don't know that many people were asking), primarily because it conceives of a way of doing tabletop minifig-focused battles that simply could not be done on a real tabletop.

Essentially the way it works in WARTILE is that you have a few Vikings under your control — one to a maximum of four in the current state of the game — and you move them about a hex-covered 3D battle map fighting enemies and achieving goals, which mostly consists of gathering items or taking/destroying target objective points. Every time you move one of your minifigs into a new hex, they have a short cooldown period (maybe 5 seconds) before they can move again.

As long they aren't being moved, your figures will make automatic attacks on enemies within range, focusing on either the first enemy to move to them, the enemy you select with your unit's special ability, or, if you're moving your own unit to be within range of an enemy, it seems to attack (it's hard to tell for sure) the enemy that your unit has the most advantage over.

That advantage is another big part of WARTILE; it's implemented when you flank/are flanked or based on your elevation as opposed to that of your opponent, and it makes a visceral difference to the amount of damage you can give or that you receive.

In addition to these basic combat elements, you've got a few different classes of warriors to work with and against, and you can deck those out in a variety of stat-boosting gear options that you pick up through your battles. Units also have the aforementioned special ability cards, one each, and on top of those, you also take cards into battle, choosing a pool of five before you go into a fight and then randomly drawing two at a time to choose between (when one is used, another randomly replaces it, and they never run out). Using abilities is on a cooldown, while using the other cards costs special points, some of which you start each round out with and more of which are earned through kills and through doing things on the map.

Combine all of that together, and what you get is an engaging new way of doing tabletop combat that works pretty well, despite not being all that deep yet.

The real-time aspect keeps the pace frantic, forcing you to adapt your strategies very quickly to the current situation, the result of which in turn is that the consequences of each move are much harder to predict than in your typical turn-based strategy game.

That element of constant, fast change on the battlefield also allows you to jump out of bad situations quickly, though, and always being on your toes and not being able to plan out every move to get the best possible results causes WARTILE's fights to also be more high-energy than what you'd get in a turn-based title. This, I think, could either be a good or a bad thing depending on your tastes: For some players, this new way of fighting will be stressful and take away the joy of well-planned strategies, but for others the fierce pace and fluid battlefield will represent a fresh new take on tabletop combat.

Personally, I fell on the intrigued side of what will inevitably be the split between players who find WARTILE interesting and those who can't get into the new system, though with a few caveats.

On the superficial level, WARTILE could use more life in its levels, which are currently static affairs (even water and animals don't move at the moment), though they are overall quite lovely with their diorama-like, green and grey-heavy European mountain aesthetic. The levels would also be a lot more fun and engaging if they had more going on in the narrative department, and indeed the whole game is currently sorely lacking in story and lore. Characters don't have names or motivations other than achieving what feel like arbitrary goals (there are always a few words of description for a goal, but they're forgettable), and other than a very simple almost unnoticeable “story” about wanting gold, you don't really know why you're doing this fighting. Heck, I don't even know who the enemy was, except maybe just “other Vikings.”

More problematic is the multiplayer, which frankly just doesn't feel worth playing.

For one, it kept crashing for me in the middle of a match, with units locking up and being unmovable for a few minutes before it would just kick me out. There has already been an update since I started writing this, and it seems to work better now, but even when it's functioning, the capture point-focused mode that you get with the multiplayer just doesn't have the thrill of the single-player battles. That's primarily because of the weird choice to not only make the goal capturing points, instead of just killing the enemy, but also to have units respawn after a bit of time once they die, both of which serve to make the risk and reward of the combat feel much more muted. A far better choice would have been to have the multiplayer be more like the regular game, with a squad-vs-squad “last man standing” mode and characters staying dead.

Beyond those somewhat minor flaws, though, WARTILE has one glaring issue, and it is enough of a problem that it keeps me from being able to recommend that you buy this game in its current state. That problem is that there is almost no content in the game so far. This is apparent in just about every facet of the game, from the few available units, cards and abilities to the lacking menu content when building your squads. For instance, I accidentally skipped a screen once when I picked up a reward item, and there is no text available to describe these items anywhere else in the game, thus I had no idea that it had magical properties until suddenly there were friendly minions popping up next to the character bearing it in the next fight.

But by far the most glaringly lacking facet of WARTILE is the paltry amount of missions.

Currently there are but four short maps to play here, and one of them is the tutorial map. You can replay maps on higher difficulties (read, more enemies, same goals and map features), but I've never been one to enjoy doing that, and I mean, what kind of gamer would ever want to replay a tutorial. I actually had to go to the WARTILE site and look into whether this was seriously all the content or not, and while devs Playwood Projects say they're working on another short campaign with an English theme and at least three more maps (it's unclear if these three maps are the other campaign, mind you), there's no info on when those will come out and if more are to come after.

Considering that $20 gets you only four quick maps, and only two of those maps feel high quality (the middle two; oddly enough the “finale” isn't that interesting), that's not a lot of bang for your buck. While WARTILE does feature a cool new way of approaching the tabletop genre, or you could alternatively say it is a fresh approach to the RTS, as it stands you are absolutely paying to support an indie studio in further development of a severely content-lacking game at this point, and there's no real guarantee of how much content the final product will have or whether they will successfully shore up the weak points of the game.

So, a purchase right now is at best a risk.

That said, WARTILE's greatest draw is that this approach to tabletop gaming is almost certainly only possible to have on the computer right now, which sets it aside from its tabletop ancestors and makes it an interesting entry in the history of minifig games. Even trying to imagine how eliminating turns the way WARTILE does would work in a physical game (A whole passel of countdown timers? Mini hourglasses?) is an exhausting logistical nightmare, but it works smoothly enough in this digital form. The shifting of your units around those of the enemy and over the terrain, racing over these gorgeous diorama-like maps for the best ground and advantage while desperately trying to keep everyone on your team alive, is enough of a draw that, if you absolutely love strategy games and tabletop strategy games in particular and you have enough disposable income that $20 to support a fresh take on those things doesn't seem like much, I could risk a recommendation of WARTILE to you.


The Verdict

If you're looking for a full $20 worth of gameplay purchases, I would have to tell you that WARTILE is simply not at that level yet. It's cool, it's fun and it is deadly short. I'd like to see where it is in 6 months or so (it's taken three years to get it to where it is already), but at the moment, all WARTILE can be considered is an interesting framework for a good game without the content necessary to actually be that game. With any luck, it'll get there, but for now, it's only for the most hardcore tabletop strategy fans.

Trevor Talley
Written by
Tuesday, 21 March 2017 00:00
Published in Strategy



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Trevor used to tell people that he writes anything 'they' pay him for and everything else. But, what he really wants to do is sit on his porch all day with a beer, listening to Berliner techno while pounding culture into his brain through a computer screen and then writing about it. Trevor subjects the internet to his musical tastes as editor of The Deli Austin and his credits include PC Gamer, the infamous Busted! Magazine and over a dozen books on Minecraft and sports (not together, though he thinks it could be done).

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