My great-grandfather, or at least the man I pretend was my great-grandfather when it's convenient or hilarious, was the great General George S. Patton, Jr. He was a man who knew his strategy, especially when that strategy involved advancing, attacking or conquering anything remotely resembling Axis territory. The Seventh and Third United States Armies wouldn't have been the same without him. Today I try to live up to his legacy by being the best video game strategist I can be. In Highgrounds, a turn-based defense/strategy game from Spry Fox and Heart Shaped Games, I embody Patton at his greatest by sending hordes of angry wolfmen and golems to do battle with ghosts, skeletons, bandits and other creatures that probably dislike America. Sure, I probably won't go down in history for my endeavors, but I get the feeling it's also a little bit safer than World War II.
Highgrounds is essentially a collectible card game rendered as a strategy game. You've got armies consisting of up to 28 units which you pit against other armies in an attempt to take down your opponent's city before they do the same to you. There are two things to keep your eye on... your gold, which is generated each round and used to buy more units, and your population, which determines how many units you can actually have. At the start of the round, you will be given a selection of various soldiers, and mousing over them will give you a rundown of their power and any special abilities. Just drag the one you want to the field to select it and click the crossed swords icon to start the round. The side with the most attack power, as tallied by the numbers next to the little swords above each unit's head, "wins" the round and deals damage to their opponent's base, and the first one to knock out all of the other's hit points wins.
Note that to save progress and actually challenge other players in matches, you need to register for a free account. Doing so will also allow you to edit your army, buy new units, and even change which city you use, which can impact your gold per round and other factors. If you feel like spending real money, that's the only way to get the Gems needed to buy "Booster Packs" of new units. You may find, however, that the units you earned through simply playing were able to hold their own against the computer opponents without much issue. Naturally, when it comes to other players you're dealing with both the units they have available to build armies and the strategies they employ, so your results may vary. In general, though, when you buy units you're paying for variety moreso than power. Building new armies that focus on different abilities is engrossing and the main reason to buy Gems is the chance to play around with more esoteric units, such as units that "generate" resources by taking them from the opponent or units that get stronger when combined with others. There's quite a few scenario battles where you fight against a computer opponent, but many players will find that the real game lies in battling other humans online. Options are available to create matches against random or specific players at your discretion.
Analysis: The difficulty curve in the single-player game stays fairly constant. I didn't encounter any situations where I ran into a brick wall, though there were certainly matches I lost through poor strategy, bad luck or both. Again, when you're playing against humans it's difficult to say what the game's difficulty will be like. One high point of PvP matches is that Highgrounds takes full advantage of its turn-based nature and allows for asynchronous play like you might see in Words with Friends or similar games. You can make moves at your leisure and check back when you get the time to see if your opponent has done the same.
Highgrounds has a unique visual style that looks a bit like the claymation films of yesteryear. Most, though not all, units have unique appearances that make them easy to identify at a glance. Sound effects and animation are fairly simple, which makes it easy to keep track of what's going on during a match. Strategists and fans of collectible card games alike are bound to enjoy Highgrounds. Unlike many games that employ a similar model, microtransactions don't spoil the fun. Instead, players who try the game and like what they see have the option of paying for more without being forced to break out their wallets in order to enjoy themselves. It makes for a fantastic lunch break sort of game where you can play when you get time.