If you've ever longed for a game to bring it on with animal-on-animal warfare, as in the tradition of Redwall, you've come to the right place. Brute Wars is a turn-based RPG tactical strategy game, and the latest game from Distraction Beast, where you pit your team of six creatures against opposing squads. The placement and order of their attacks adds up to a highly nuanced and rapid game of tactics that you won't want to miss.
As the game begins, you have to choose what kind of creatures you want composing your unit. Six portraits are lined up, you can click on one, and then click on another to swap places, or click on the "?" icon to randomize that creature's type. Mousing over each portrait shows a list of stats, and directional arrows show the way that creature can attack. Some creatures can only attack from two spaces away, while some can attack multiple times and some can smash against enemies in multiple directions. The assortment you choose goes a long way toward the ease of combat.
In battle, simply by clicking on one of your animals causes it to attack. Each turn that passes fills up your magic meter, which allows you to perform a few special moves during your turn. You can also order creatures who haven't yet attacked to swap places. Every battle you win levels up your surviving units, but they also lose a level every time they are knocked out. Between battles, you'll be able to heal and revive units, and then move around a overworld map containing shops and special treasures. The goal is to conquer all 7 castles on each map segment, and then proceed to a final destination.
Analysis: Brute Wars is a great example of a game with high production values, elegant interface design, and complex dynamics emerging from simple rules. The graphics are crisp and iconic and the interface flows very smoothly, making seemingly complex rules and numbers intuitively simple. A few arrows, attack power levels, hit points and attacks per turn ends up evoking some fairly interesting tactical decisions, with the magic mechanic serving as a nice garnish. The only significant issue in the harmony of the gameplay comes from the level adjustment mechanic. There's a nasty feedback loop where any weak links in your team end up de-leveling more and more as they lose levels. A big part of winning the long-term games comes in sparing your animals from being K.O'ed whenever possible. However, the problem there is that swapping them out of harm's way is too expensive, taking up an entire turn. The solution to this design issue would be to allow swapping to occur between an animal that hasn't attacked and a unit that already has—currently both creatures must be fresh in order for the swap to take place. There's also a rare bug on the Exp. screen that causes the game to effectively freeze, so make sure you save regularly and don't lose your progress right at the end of the game, like I did.
Treat yourself to a smorgasborg of tactics and well-drawn portrait art,