In my quest to find as many apps with Napoleon in the image as possible, or just a good strategy game on the phone that fits my tastes, I came across and downloaded European War 4: Napoleon. I’ven’t looked the other 3 (apparently) but this one was the first to come up and looked interesting (I’m now making a note to look at the others). Is it grand strategy on a Napoleonic scale? Or like so many others just a veneer over something boring?
My first impressions weren’t great; I’m not a big fan of the time period in warfare, but I’m willing to overlook that if the game is good, and they couldn’t have picked less exciting stills to showcase the game on the app page (foreshadowing). Still, it was on sale, had generally good reviews, and came up with other games that I’ve played in a similar vein (Risk, Strategy & Tactics, etc.). I thought it could easily be a game to add to my repertoire where I could swap out and play something different so I didn’t get too burned out, so I downloaded it and started it up.
The game is a pretty simple, hex-based, cities-on-continents style game. Most of the maps are maps of Europe (but there are some in America and Mediterranean Africa) divided into hexes where units can be. The hexes have terrain that affects how the units move and sometimes “cities” which allow one to build new military units and which can be captured (which is usually a goal in a scenario). Capturing land and cities give you the ability to produce more of the game’s 3 resources: food, money, and machine parts(?). Farmland gives you food and I have no idea where the others come from (my guess is it has something to do with cities). Parts and money can be used to buy new units, upgrade cities, or create fortifications in the regular land (and something to do with generals and upgrades, but I can’t figure out how that works), and food is expended by existing military units per turn.
Units are created in cities, each specializing in a different unit type: infantry, artillery, and cavalry. These are pretty cookie-cutter: infantry is cheap and good at defense, cavalry can move two spaces and is in the middle, and artillery can attack over spaces and is good at offense but terrible at defense. The more cities are upgraded, the better units they can build (you can also spend more gold to make units with more “troops” (life) but I’m not certain it has any real benefit). And some units are equipped with generals (again I think you can buy them but I can’t figure out how, it has something to do with cities and medals) that give them combat bonuses and the units around them slightly smaller bonuses. These generals are essential to use during combat, as units not being lead by one will crumble against an assault from ones that are. There are a few more complexities to the combat system: units can move and then attack, but can’t move after attacking (except when certain generals are involved, it seems), and they gain morale after victories and lose it after defeats or when enemy units are on two sides of their hexes (covering 4 or more of the six spaces around them) but how much this actually affects combat I couldn’t tell you.
When your turn is completed, you hit a button to go to the next turn (and if you can possibly perform one single action it asks you “are you sure”, then you watch your opponent’s turn and can continue playing. The most annoying part about this bit is I can’t find a way to skip it (I have now found it, but it’s super tiny and hard to see and hit in the corner). It isn’t that long when compared to Civilization Revolution or Strategy & Tactics (but you can skip it in S&T) but it can run longer than I (who would like to play the game) would want. It’s a minor annoyance, but an annoyance none-the-less. This adds to the fact that the combat is fairly slow paced, with not much action happening and nothing dynamic (you can’t push enemy units out of territories or anything like that) going on. It feels a little tedious and boring after the first few missions. At this point I haven’t learned enough about the game to be good at it, and they are just throwing more and more enemy units at me and I have to hope I get lucky. It’s pretty obvious at the start that only having a few units would be boring, but increasing the amount of units just makes it tedious. They feel weighed down, and that might be appropriate for the time period but I don’t feel like Napoleon when I’m playing, I feel like one of the guys who lost. The strategy seems more to be in number crunching as you slowly move across the board and less in anything actually happening. This may not be the case, but that’s the feeling I get playing the game. I’m not excited, or thinking, I’m just moving, and sometimes not even that when I run up against mountains or rivers that bring my army to a crawl.
It’s entirely possible I’m just playing the game wrong, but the developer isn’t helping anything there by making the control layout pretty unintuitive; generally playing the game is easy, but navigating the menus and their tiny buttons needs a little work. It’s also obvious the developers aren’t native English speakers with the broken, poorly translated sounding tutorials. They get the message across well enough but I feel like I’ve missed something. There was probably something in there about the morale system or how to purchase generals that I missed, but they didn’t make my job easy there. And I quickly lost my excitement for playing this game (relatively speaking, I probably put some good hours into it before that point). There are 6 campaigns, only 2 of which are unlocked from the start, and I haven’t finished either one. I got to battles where I lost and couldn’t see any immediate way I could have done better, and there was no incentive there for me to learn how to get better, so I just stopped playing. That’s a bit similar to how I felt playing the first two Strategy and Tactics games, where the campaign mode is just annoying, but the large battle maps are great fun and allow for more overall strategy. This game does include a “conquest” mode, where you can play as most any country in the game and try to take over the whole map, but this doesn’t fix most of my problems with the game, being just as slow and lacking any obvious real strategy.
Now, aside from all of my picking apart and finding flaws, I actually like this game more than I thought I would. I’d seen it and its “family” of games before, when looking for better strategy games on mobile devices, and from the screenshots I thought it looked like throwaway garbage. But I actually had several hours of fun with it, and for a free game that’s a pretty good ratio. But it’s just not something I can get into, nor something I can really recommend. It’s slow and more obtuse than it needs to be, which kinda kills the grand-war-simulator(game) for me. From what I can tell it’s like the others in the series and if you’re a fan of those it will probably fit right in (but you likely already have looked at it then), but for most other people looking for a good, in-depth but quick strategy game on mobile, it looks like you’ll have to keep waiting (or play Strategy & Tactics or Civilization Revolution if those are “in-depth” enough for you).