The Great War of Prefectures
Ah, Japan. Progenitor to the weirdest and most original games you've ever seen. Home of Mario, Katamari Damacy, and more web-based games than you can shake a stick at. Truly, we owe those crazy thinkers a lot.
Kinda makes you want to hire an army and invade them, doesn't it?
Well, put down that walkie-talkie, because ZigZaGame have created a game to scratch just that itch. The Great War of Prefectures plays like a cross between Risk and a Real-Time Strategy game, with Japan's prefectures (analogous to other countries' states or provinces) serving as the territories you fight over.
The first thing you get to do when you start a game is pick your initial prefecture. It's an important choice, because the prefecture you pick will determine whether you are immediately crushed, survive but can't expand, or begin squishing all who come near you. You want a prefecture with as few neighbors as possible, but it's not quite that simple.
Each prefecture comes with a special power, and some are definitely better than others. For instance, some produce units for free, an immense boon when you're just starting out and haven't acquired enough prefectures to get lots of gold. Then again, maybe you'd just prefer to start in a prefecture that gets a bonus to its gold.
Whichever you choose, your first turn will be quite uneventful. Buy some units from the panel at right, then move to the second tab and pick a base for your prefecture. Bases act like secondary powers for their prefecture, and you can hover over them to read a description. Choose carefully, because you can only pick a new one if an enemy captures the prefecture and you retake it. Whichever you pick, you'll want to end your turn next (double click Finish Turn), because your neighbors are far too strong to attack just yet.
At the start of your second turn, the units you bought last turn will be available for attacking, so you might be ready to make your first conquest. To do so, click and drag to select your units, then click one of the red arrows to attack. Depending on where you are, you might want to wait another turn, because you can only move your troops once per turn. It would be rather pointless to take over another prefecture only to lose your first one.
When you do make your first attack, you'll enter the battle mode, which is where the RTS part comes in. You control your units by using the tags at bottom, one for each unit type. Drag the tag around to have your units form up in a line at that point, or click it once to change it to Will, which lets them leave formation and fight whoever they please. If you need an extra boost to defeat your opponents, double-click Strategy at bottom right to call upon an ancient Greek god for a temporary power-up. You can only do this once per battle, so if you get in dire straits again, you'll have to double-click Withdraw and make a run for it.
Analysis: When I first opened The Great War of Prefectures, it made a bad impression. The graphics—especially the tutorial—reminded me of a webpage from 1995, which is to say "brightly colored, annoying, and hard to read."
It also has one of my pet peeves in Flash games: a custom cursor that can't be disabled. I can't say if it was the game, the Linux version of Flash, my particular system, or some combination thereof, but for the entire time I played, the cursor was lagging behind the actual position of the mouse by half a second or so. Simply clicking a button was an exercise in frustration. I got about a third of the way through, saved my game, and walked away for a day, because it was driving me up the wall.
But, and this is the important bit, I came back the next day and finished it anyway. I didn't force myself to; the next time I remembered it, I wanted to play it again.
There's a certain elusive quality that some games have, a combination of fun and compelling that makes them stick in your mind. You don't always even see it right away, but it's what pulls you back in after you thought you had enough. It's the reason you say to yourself, "Oh, I'll just play one more round before I quit." Thirty rounds in a row.
Whatever it is, The Great War of Prefectures has it. Despite a bad first impression and a continuous dose of frustration (which, with luck, most of you will never see), I really liked this game. There's a fascinating little strategy game hiding behind the often-clunky interface, and if you can stick with it to the very end, you will be amply rewarded for your patience and effort.