Remember that television show Time Commanders? A bunch of historians got two teams of nerdy military enthusiasts to fight each other in pivotal battles, using a prototype of Rome: Total War and a big electronic table as a war map.
The table was rubbish. But we all know what it was meant for – dragging and dropping troops and keeping sight of the battle.
This is something any tablet or even smartphone can do 100 times better today than that naff BBC program did in the noughties. They’re perfect for this kind of thing. So it's baffling that there aren’t more real-time strategy games made with phones in mind.
Enter Great Little War Game. It doesn’t do much new for the genre as a whole, but it’s so sensibly adapted to the hardware that it’s hard to hold that against it.
Let's talk about hex It’s a hexagonal turn-based RTS with multiple layers and heights to think about, meaning that the military strategies open to you are surprisingly numerous.
Even in the earliest levels, with the most basic troops, there are several tactics to pursue. An impressive feat for what is essentially a hexagonal Advance Wars.
The similarity to Nintendo’s golden strategy series don’t stop with the cartoon, grid-based presentation. Terrain is varied enough to force you to think and re-think troop deployment (with a handy 'undo' button if you make a mistake) and you’re expected to mix up ranged and close-quarters combat if you really want to leave your boot mark on the enemies face.
For instance, placing a sniper on high ground is usually a good idea, but if even one enemy gets too close you’ll have to displace quickly.
The focus in many levels is on capturing useful buildings. Oil refineries earn you enough oil to fund the battle and factories let you build new troops and vehicles. All this is overseen by the inept Generalissimo, whose inter-level dialogue is surprisingly funny. “I’ll be at the back of the battle,” he says, “with the courageous artillery units. Drinking tea. Courageously.”
Home by Christmas?
It’s not just the General who’s got a distinct voice. The sound banks in the options let you change the voices of your troops (and those of your foes) to match whatever accent you like. Here at Pocket Gamer we like to fight the French.
This sense of character means it’s easy to compare the game to something like Worms, and in a sense it's the top-down strategic equivalent. One major difference is how long the matches in Great Little War Game can go on for.
Partly this is down to it being a slow, turn-based affair, but the compulsion to keep playing and thus to lose hours to the sound of toy-like gunfire easily surpasses any one-touch mobile game out there. It even has a pass-and-play multiplayer mode, if you have one of those ‘friend’ things handy.
There are flaws, however. It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between troops because of their similar models. For instance, the sniper and grunt troops are easily mistaken at a glance – something that can cost you your soldiers' lives if you’re not careful.
It also has an annoying bug whereby sliding the Xperia Play’s gamepad out or in mid-game totally cuts off the audio for the rest of your game, meaning a forced re-start if you want your sound back. In fact, it feels a lot like the gamepad wasn’t considered at all, since the physical controls only have token value as a means to change the viewpoint or zoom in and out.
Ultimately, this doesn’t detract from the central appeal of Great Little War Game, which is to drag and drop and tap your troops into shape in a way the nerds on BBC never could. It's refreshing to final get some great RTS action on Sony's cult device. Get to it, soldier.