Hunted Cow are best know for their long series of accessible but samey strategy games, all running on the same base engine.
Recently they've teamed up with two board wargame companies to digitize some classic tabletop games. American Revolutionary War title Rebels and Redcoats, originally by Decision Games, is the first fruit of those labours.
At first glace, it looks very much like business as usual. The grainy sprites and terrain look almost identical to those used in its series of American Civil War games.
There's also the same dispiriting sense about the tutorial. It's still focused on troop quality and formations. There's still an irritating feeling that it's not telling you everything you need to know. A quick trip around the menus and help screens will prove those suspicions accurate.
But appearances can be deceptive. It might not be obvious from the tutorial but a quite different beast lurks under that familiar cover. It'll need a bit of time to coax out, but it's worth the effort.Bigger and better
The first thing you'll notice is that volleys of fire are somewhat less predictable than in the usual Hunted Cow engine. Sometimes, they seem to do little or no damage to the target.
That might sound like a bad thing. But when you've watched enough ten-strength units remorselessly grind weaker opposition into the dust, it makes a welcome change.
Besides, the value of this becomes apparent as you unearth other improvements that Decision Games's ruleset has bought to the tablet.
Flank attacks are much more powerful for one thing. And terrain has a bigger impact in terms of protecting units from damage.
Finally, there's greater differentiation between how unit types and formations affect one another. Infantry in square put out weak volleys, but will repulse cavalry assaults in short order.
Those same cavalry can be devestating if they catch infantry in column, however. And artillery will mess up everything else in their considerable range, but will collapse if brought to bear by other units.Longer and lighter
It all adds up to a game system that makes you think and plan a lot more carefully before marching your men into battle. Because face-to-face volley exchange is a bit unreliable, you need to work the terrain, the flanks and the unit differences to win.
Yet it's still very accessible, and doesn't punish mistakes too hard. As a result, it's much more engrossing and rewarding than the majority of previous Hunted Cow fare.
With two five-scenario campaigns, both of which can be played either as the British or the Americans, it also promises some decent play time.
It doesn't, however, boast online or even hotseat play against other people. So once you've beaten the scenarios, you're unlikely to be revisiting the app again.
There are three difficulty levels to play, but the game seems to increase toughness by loading more enemy units onto the board.
The AI isn't great either. I've watched the computer controlled player aimlessly march an infantry unit up and down the battlefield while I cannonaded the bumbling troops.Costlier and cruder
This, and other aspects of the game make it feel like a rush job. The interface is a bit clunky. There's an option to integrate infantry and artillery units together so the former can protect the latter.
But it uses the same tap to activate system as other Hunted Cow games and it's not obvious if a combined unit has taken both its opportunities to fire or not.
The sound was also completely haywire on my device. The music would seem to come to an end and then stop, rather than looping. And there were no sound effects at all, even though "sound effects: on" was clearly switched on in the menu.
These shortcomings would be forgivable in a cheaper game, but this has been priced as a premium product. It's in the same value bracket as strategy classics like Desert Fox, but has nowhere near the same level of features and polish.
That's a shame. At a cheaper price point I'd have no hesitation recommending this. But as it is, you're better off putting in your sale wishlist and hoping.