For the past two years, Hunted Cow Studios has been quietly carving itself a niche on the App Store with a series of turn-based strategy games. But it has never had a breakout hit.
It's unlikely that Ancient Battle: Rome will have bring it wider success, but the Elgin-based developer has still crafted an engaging tactical wargame.
And while it's far from 'unique', as its App Store blurb would have you believe, this is a robust, well-constructed title with enough to keep armchair generals occupied for several long winter evenings.
As a newcomer to Hunted Cow's output, I have to admit that early impressions weren't promising. Presentation is the game's most obvious weak point, with the tutorial talking you through the basics in a very cheap-looking font, and the dull graphics and forgettable sound aren't too inspiring, either.
The many different unit types under your command aren't memorable or distinctive enough in look, and much of your early time with the game will be spent double-checking whether, for example, you're moving light or medium cavalry.
Yet when you've made it over that early hurdle, a deep and challenging strategy game emerges. Once you've completed a couple of missions you may find it hard to resist tackling the next, and the one after, and so on.
Your initial outlay gets you 16 missions in total. These are split evenly between two campaigns, with the ability to play each chapter as either side.
That might not sound particularly substantial, but you'll be replaying most of them several times, as your opponents are tough nuts to crack, and you can pay 69p / 99p each for two more of a similar length.
Its hex-based battlefields aren't particularly large, but your armies often are, which means the action can get quite cramped. On the one hand, it frequently leaves you with little room to manoeuvre, but then it also means you rarely go a turn without being involved in a number of skirmishes, which keeps things interesting.
There's a wide range of different unit types whose nuances you'll learn over the course of several missions, from light archers to legionnaires, cavalry to catapults.
When in Rome…
Terrain is key to performance: some units perform better on open ground, and others while protected by their environment. Attacking certain enemies forces them to retreat, while others stand their ground.
At times you'll think you've hit upon a foolproof strategy, but such is the variety of missions you might find it's useless on the next.
Reaching two control points within 15 turns sounds simple enough but when reinforcements arrive you'll need to have left enough of a defensive force on the first as you approach the second.
With the claustrophobic maps and the strict objectives, it can feel overly restrictive, but that just forces you to plan your strategies a little more carefully than rushing into decisions and trying to improvise when things go awry.
Ancient Battle: Rome is never going to have the wider appeal of an XCOM or a Total War, nor does it try to push the genre forward in any meaningful way. But if you fancy testing your strategic mettle and are happy to overcome presentational shortcomings, you could do a lot worse.