Ah, the classic tale. Humans meet monsters. Humans enslave monsters. Monsters rise up and strike down the human heir in an act of bloody vengeance. Really takes me back, you know? The story behind The Leon Wars isn't its driving force. This is turn-based strategy gaming at its best, putting you in charge of one of two factions, vying for control of the land.
You can play as either the humans or the maligned monster race, and although the difference is largely cosmetic as both sides have access to many of the same abilities, it's still nice to have the option. After all, some days you want to liberate some towns, other days you want to crush some innocents beneath your taloned foot. Whichever side you pick, you'll start the game with access to only a few types of units. As the game progresses, you can research new types of technology and beasts, expanding your arsenal. There are only two additional tiers to research, but the units you can create are diverse enough to satisfy most any of your combat needs, whether you want someone to hang back and cast support magic, or a big juggernaut on the front lines for tossing back your opponents like tic-tacs. If you've ever wanted to order a giant flaming sentient orb or a griffon rider into battle, this is the game for you.
You construct your armies with gold and iron, and each unit (up to six in an army) has its own unique abilities and requirements. Create an army by first choosing a hero, and then fleshing out the rest with whatever units you feel are most appropriate. You have to choose where to place each unit in your army too, which is important since some units can only attack enemies directly adjacent to them, while others can bring the pain from wherever they are. When you encounter an enemy army, battle plays out like the turn-based RPGs of yore. In between battles, you'll need to heal your armies and bolster your defenses.
A save feature is included that lets you pick up wherever you left off if you need a break. Warning: There is no auto-save. You have to select the Save button manually.
Analysis: The Leon Wars really feels a lot like SNES classic Ogre Battle. You'll spend most of your time on the overland map, directing your troops to capture the nearby towns and mines that generate the gold and iron you need, while your opponent tries to do the same. It forces you to be more aggressive in your play-style than you might want, which sort of hampers some of the potential for real strategy. As you gain access to more research and technology, however, putting you on more of an equal footing with your enemy, things loosen up a little. And while the battles are straightforward, you're often left hand-holding your armies against even weaker opponents, which slows down the pace of the game. The option to have your armies automatically fight some battles would have been a welcome addition.
Still, for all that, the game manages to be a solid gem. It's surprisingly long and can be pleasantly challenging at times, and the tidy, gore-free presentation is easy on the eyes. This shouldn't be missed by any fan of turn-based global domination. And monsters. Feel free to put on your viking helmet for this one. I know you've got one.
[Note: The Leon Wars was released early last year, but if you missed it, now is a good chance to catch up with an unusually good strategy title. If you like The Leon Wars, you might also enjoy Brute Wars or Monster's Den.]