Cardboard and dice have reentered popular culture with vigor over the decade. Games like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, and Pandemic have become household names, not just the nerdy fringes. Development of “digital” gameplay websites like BrettspielWelt which sprang up in the early 2000s was no surprise either. Players could indulge their board gaming obsessions against other like-minded individuals. I’ll admit I was one of these folks. I played Carc’ deep into my lunch period, much to the confusion of our high school librarian.
You can imagine the excitement when I saw Armored Freedom on my review docket. The game looks like a cross between MechWarrior, Civilization 2, and Magic the Gathering. Immediately I conjured my favorite game components of customizable mechs, a solid turn-based combat system, and the strategy of a solid deck build. Sadly, it lacks their excellence and is, in fact, quite dull.
Gameplay is straightforward throughout the single player “Missions” mode. Players are given a mission objective, the map is revealed, action cards are dealt, and the gaming session begins. Each turn begins with a “dice roll” determining how much movement your side has on that given turn. The movement pool is split amongst your players however you choose to do one of three things: move towards your objective, move into attack range, or move towards “boost” items. Where you move is additionally important as each hex tile has a consequential effect. The effects range from “-2 movement”, “+/- 4 to defense”, “+/- 4 to attack”, and “no effect” which can impact unit efficiency greatly. More on this a little later.
After the movement phase, players can choose to use one of their “attack” action cards against an opponent’s unit. Attack strength is determined by the number in the corner which also indicates the attack’s range. If the attacking card’s attack strength beats the defending card’s defense score, the difference is how much damage it deals. Units act like turn-based strategy games. Each unit has individual hit points. Units are augmented, as previously mentioned, by picking up or beginning a turn while on a shield, heal, or a “wildcard” token scattered over the game board.
The Good, sort of
Killer Bees Games bills “Armored Freedom” as “an intense strategy board game where giant robots fight for dominance.” It is designed to replicate the board game experience, like dedicated boardgame simulators like Tabletop Simulator or BrettspielWelt. But it only does an okay job replicating that cardboard experience. The game tries to set itself apart by adding variable geographic tiles, meteorological effects, and camera effects like blurring at the edges of the screen. While the effects do add visual interest, they do very little to improve the game’s depthless gameplay.
The “missions” section of the game only took 2.5 hours which was enough time to determine what made the game a lackluster experience.
1) The dice rolling mechanism is VERY slow, and there is no way the player can skip it.
I had several rolls where the dice collided with each other, and in an attempt to mimic true dice mechanics they scattered in slow motion. Another time the dice fell into each other causing a glitch where the digital dice were squished together and took a few extra seconds to resolve. A “skip animation” button would have made this forgivable but alas it does not exist.
2) The zoom and movement control mechanisms fight each other.
The game allows players to zoom in to see the attack and defense animation explosions. While it is cool to see the attacks, it’s extremely glitchy. At times after zooming in completely, I attempted to move or attack an enemy unit. The movement would lock up limiting the selectable options until I increased the field of view. This wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the documentation and was EXTREMELY annoying until I figured out what was going on.
3) Vague objectives.
One of the mission objectives was capture and hold indicated squares for X turns. There are four highlighted squares on the screen, naturally meaning take and hold each square for the indicated number of turns while not surrendering them to the enemy. Right?
I finished this mission in under 10 minutes because you had to hold ONE square for the allotted time. You might be saying to yourself: “this dude is just being picky.” This level would have GREATLY been improved if you had to hold all four spaces while not surrendering any. This was mission 6 of 7. You would expect the difficulty to increase as the game went on, not get easier. End rant.
I’m placing a giant asterisk next to this critique. An item in the game menu is called “Rules,” and it does go through the process of playing the game. But its 2018. EVERY other game I’ve played in the last five years there is a tutorial level which walks novice players through how to play the game and draw their attention to ways to improve their strategy. For me, I REALLY could have used this when it came to recognizing the different benefits of the hex tiles. Each tile has a benefit listed in the lower right-hand corner of the screen as you hover over it. My gameplay was MUCH better once I understood the different effects of each tile and a few rounds of frustration could have been avoided by the inclusion of a tutorial.
To sum up my opinion of this game: “Armored Freedom: easy master, equally easy to bid farewell to forever.”