Update: Sadly, the servers powering this game are no longer up and since it’s purely a PvP affair there’s nothing left to play. It was good.
A free competitive multiplayer plant vs zombies, but with army men and pleasant CCG mechanics thrown in. Surprisingly good and light on the P2W elements.
Should you get it?
Yes, and maybe even spend a little bit of real money to get started (something I don’t often do). I keep coming back to this game almost daily, many months after initially playing it. It’s just a bite sized 1v1 multiplayer RTS but for what it is, it’s perfect.
Matches take place on a long horizontal map. Your base is on one side, the opponent’s on the other. You each send out troops who march towards the opponent’s base, fighting the enemy along the way. Units that make it to the enemy base attack, eventually destroying it and winning the game.
What you do
This is a simple game with a handful of mechanics that come together to create a surprisingly satisfying feeling of waging a little tactical battle.
You create your force (Russian or American) by choosing five out of eight possible units (5 infantry types and 3 vehicles). Each unit has a number of reinforcements and takes a certain amount of time to deploy; cheap riflemen have 5 replacements and take only 10 seconds to deploy while tanks only have 1 replacement and can take over a minute to deploy.
You have no direct control of the units, they just march or roll towards the enemy base, but you can activate specific cover locations littered throughout the map and infantry units will stop as indicated and take cover (vehicles can not be stopped in most cases).
While you are sending out units to do battle you also have access to a hand of three “support” cards from a deck of 20. Deploying these cards costs support points which replenish steadily over time.
And that’s mostly it. You send units out and deploy support cards (buffs, debuffs, artilery and extra units) and play with the cover system as your units crawl across. There’s no building, resource gathering, flanking or unit powerups to activate. Again it sounds simple, and it is, and I don’t usually like “casual” games but this all comes together perfectly for a little morsel of competitive fun. And when it’s done, win or lose, you want to tinker with your team and try again.
Con Artist Games calls Warfare online a “tug of war” game, and it does feel like that in close matches where the front shifts back and forth. To me it felt more like a series of delayed rock-paper-scissors matches; instead of resolving immediately your rock walks across the screen and you try to make it meet the opponents scissors instead of paper. That’s where the skill comes in, and good players will absolutely annihilate poor players by ensuring every individual match-up goes their way until their units are blowing up the enemy’s HQ.
After matches each unit receives XP and you receive white and gold currency (white is used for leveling up your units gaining weapons and training, gold is used to purchase premium time and booster packs) and can see a very nice stats summary of the match. You can also view your opponents exact team and cards and when they were played which helps you learn exactly how you were beaten, or alternatively feel smug as you see you beat an opponent with a far more powerful team.
I mostly play now with my Russian team which I purposefully did not upgrade and I use an un-optimized deck. I have a knack for this game and find it more challenging to play an under powered team but that’s not nearly the achievement it would be in other CCG’s because other than a few specific elite cards, the game is well balanced. My Russian soldiers have only default equipment and training, but as a result they are fast to deploy and plentiful. This is another place the game shines. Units have three slots for customization and their role can change considerably based on loadout. By not upgrading my russian team I kept the units plentiful and quick to deploy. It’s not an automatic loss against elite units as they can overwhelm with a sort of Russian zerg-rush.
Is it pay to win?
A little bit, but not in an ongoing way like other CCG’s tend to be. I started for free and was having a good time playing, even when losing. But I noticed that against players with “premium” accounts I mostly lost while the free
accounts I was beating. At first I couldn’t tell why because premium status only gives an XP and currency boost without affecting matches. It seemed like even when I was countering the units correctly I ran out of soldiers and lost.
Eventually I understood why; on the field the units were identical but the premium accounts had superior support cards. Over the length of the match that meant a number of extra units and damaging artillery wipes while all my started deck could do is fart out mortars and buffs.
The game is particularly stingy with both currencies. Grinding your way to a decent deck would take quite a while. Luckily you only really need a decent deck. It’s not like other CCG’s where you need very specific meta to beat highly specialized decks. It just needs to be good enough to not have an overwhelming disadvantage, any remaining gap can be more than made up with skillful play.
I bought the $20 package and never felt the need to spend more real money. Playing provided a steady (if slow) stream of new cards. I should point out that some elite cards are extremely powerful and if someone bothered to spend enough to build a deck with them it would be unbeatable through skill. I just haven’t run into any such decks in months of playing. The best decks I’ve played have had no more than a handful of elite cards (which still proved a huge additional challenge).
The graphics are great (for the type of game it is), sound is both pleasant and useful with every action having some subtle sound cues you can use to better maintain operational awareness. I’ve had zero crashes and less than 5 dropped games in many hundred of matches. Matchmaking rarely takes more than a minute. Everything is polished and professional. The UI is easy and intuitive. The only hiccup was occasional stuttering on rare occasions after being open for many hours.
It’s always a good sign when the biggest complaint about a game is a desire for more content. There’s only one match mode and a handful of maps. I wish there were more units and more nationalities.
The game desperately needs a ranking system. The spot on your profile where it would go currently says “coming soon”. I’ve unlocked most of what I want to. There’s little motivation to continue beyond the sheer enjoyment of the individual matches. A ranking system would prolong my engagement.
Matchmaking is also a completely opaque process. It works, and matches are easy to come by, but there’s no lobby or ability to challenge specific players. You click the button and get a match. The player base is tiny, currently at 30 concurrent users on steam. That’s enough to play for hours without getting the same opponents beyond a single rematch.
I have no idea what the game is using to find opponents. Is it matching my team level (each nationality gains experience separately)? My overall level as a general? The strength of my armies or decks? No idea. Lopsided matches do occur.
Unit upgrades are expensive and the stats provided don’t give a full picture of what you’re getting. I wasted a lot of white coins on unit upgrades I’m never going to use again. Having a month of premium time (which came with the $20 pack I bought) helped as it increased coin collection by 50%.
I worry that my praise is too effusive and you’ll expect too much. It’s not a big game. Matches usually last between 5-10 minutes (never more than 15) and other than upgrading your team and playing with your deck there’s nothing else to do. But I had a great time in the matches, it never felt like grinding, and months later I still fire up the game daily to have a handful of matches and collect the daily rewards. It’s definitely worth a free download and the $20 I spent felt entirely worth it.