Deep strategy in browser-based Warbarons
It seems like every time I turn around there is another new free game available. Years ago this was not really a problem because the quality and scope of the games, well, it just wasn’t quite there. However, as time goes on, the free games get better and better and more and more unique. Warbarons is a browser-based strategy game in the vein of the Heroes of Might and Magic series in many ways. You start the game with a city (which produces gold each turn), some gold, and the a handful of units and you are tasked with wiping your opponents off the face off the map. The more cities and resources (think mines and lumber mills) you have, the more gold you produce each turn.
However, unlike most strategy games of this type, gold is not used directly to buy units. Instead, you purchase the right to recruit each type of unit for each city. So, just because you paid the 1,350 gold to be able to recruit Archons in one city does not mean that you get them in your other city. Each city can produce one type of unit at a time and a single unit can take anywhere from one turn (Scouts and Crows) to five turns (Red Dragons and Great Archons) to complete. You can group up to eight units in a single stack and then send them off to do battle for greater glory for your kingdom.
The combat in Warbarons is pretty basic, likely because the game is meant to be played asynchronously (Think: Words With Friends, Two players taking turns but not having to be online at the same time). Combat can feel very much like risk, although the game makes the rolls for you in Warbarons, insofar as sometimes weaker unit can manage to take down several other units. Still, unit strength matters: A unit’s attack value is its percentage chance to hit. If both the attacker and defender hit or both miss, then the game rolls again until only one unit hits. The losing unit takes a damage and the game continues until one side is wiped out. It is an exercise in statistics and odds, but it can be strangely satisfying to watch sometimes.
While that gives you a basic idea of how the game works, it hardly encompasses everything there is. There are 16 types of terrain and almost 40 different units (39 by my count) and different units provide bonuses in combat or get bonuses if they are attacking on certain terrain. You can upgrade your city walls to better defend your keeps and obtain Heroes, which are special units that cost a ton of gold but can gain levels and become nigh unstoppable. You can choose to Occupy (a small amount of money each turn, Plunder (more money now, but none over time), or Raze (costs you money, but means the city must be rebuilt; great when you capture a city you can’t hold) captured cities. Further, some units get more money for Plundering than others. You can also set up teleport routes between the cities you own so that you can quickly send your units to the front lines. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few things here. While I’ve played a couple of games (and gone through the tutorials, which are more than a little slow and contained several typos), I am hardly an expert at this game. For me, the AI provides a more than sufficient challenge to going and finding a real player that has been playing this since its first release in 2009 to knock my teeth out.
The graphics are nothing special, but they don’t bother me at all. They have a well-made, old school quality that I actually find quite pleasant. The UI is not great. Buttons are not necessarily in the place you would expect them to be, the tutorial gets the information across, but takes way too long for what it is (And you can lose tutorial missions and have to redo them. I actually had to surrender a couple of tutorial missions.). The game’s learning curve is pretty steep with the number of units and abilities and the sheer amount of information on the screen. Even once you figure out what you’re doing, it’s going to be more than a few games thrashing helplessly against the AI before you figure out the flow of the game (as you get used to the slow building process and how much money you get at turn).
While the game is free, if you don’t pay you can only have three simultaneous games going at a time, two AI players, fewer timeouts during multiplayer games, and fewer created maps. Heroes previously had to be purchased, but have been made available for everyone in a recent update. A one year membership at the Silver level costs 1500 credits (15 Euros, or about $19), which hardly seems unfair if you play the game enough to need unlimited game slots. Silver players also carry over more time between turns. Your account also comes with 400 credits (at least mine did), so you can upgrade to Silver for 30 days for free. A year of Gold membership costs 3500 credits (35 euros or about $44), but provides some more substantial benefits like an in-game notepad, a quick edit fight order button, and the ability to see how many turns away a destination is. Certainly nothing game breaking, from what I can see, although I doubt I could ever see myself subscribing at the Gold level (the Silver level, maybe).
With all that said, would I recommend you looking into Warbarons? Sure! I mean, you can try it for free and – if you can figure out how to play and get used to the user interface – there’s a really deep, rewarding game in there. This is definitely going to be a game that leaves a lot of people cold but my guess is that if it grabs you, there is a ton of game to be had here for you.