Wartile takes you on a journey through a miniature tabletop world inspired by Norse mythology. You control a Viking warband out to unravel the mysteries of its world and eventually conquer it by acquiring the power of the gods. The game’s hybrid system of cool-down based gameplay suits its board game aesthetic full of beautiful, intricate figurines and maps.
Your warband can have up to five of seven possible characters, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. You pick up and move figurines, individually or in a group, according to their movement restrictions. Regardless of how many tiles you move there is always be a brief pause before you can move again. This is an important consideration since your opponent doesn’t wait for you in the real-time setting.
The combination of RTS and timed character turns creates a quick and deep combat system; layered with the strategic concepts of positioning, high ground advantage, card choice & cycling it comes together to create something unique and engaging.
The combat flourishes because of the well designed mission boards throughout the campaign. While the story and campaign were fleeting and limited, the missions managed to create variety, and constant entertainment. You’ll move from elaborate jungles to cavernous ice caves marveling at how the developer not only made it so visually appealing and thematically accurate, but how they could inject such life into mission boards that are mostly still models.
Tales told through parted clouds
Wartile has seven battle boards, each with a couple of missions and difficulty tiers. During missions, short text boxes explain the current moment in the story and the significance of the location.
Unfortunately, this is the full extent of the storytelling in Wartile. The limited story could have been so much more considering the potential of the rich mythology. There is no mention of characters aside from overarching figures like Odin. No one in the warband is involved or interacts in a significant way throughout the campaign. It’s closer to a plot outline than a full story.
Your warband is searching the Northlands to find a gateway to Jotunheim and Mimir’s well of wisdom. Logical steps lead from one mission to another, but they’re presented almost independently, like a series of vignettes. There is little meaningful progression or development, just a single object or person you need to interact with to move on.
Come what may
Although the story aspect isn’t of much interest, the way the missions are designed really makes up for it. I love how they are set up, each one being so different from the next. It’s exciting to go into the map not knowing the strategy you need to use. Some are stealth rescue missions, some fetching items, defending against waves of enemies, and others are sacrificing goats to gods. There is always something new and interesting to face and even when it’s occasionally a similar type of mission, they still feel unique and are incredibly fun.
Some missions also have spontaneous events, which serve well in creating paranoia about overextending characters and leaving them vulnerable. The events include: ambushes (new enemies pop up out of nowhere and surround you), reinforcements (large number of additional enemies appear), and last stance (as you near the end, more enemies show up as a last ditch effort to hold you back). It is certainly a consideration at the back of your mind when you are quickly plotting a strategy and adds an interesting layer to the combat.
The campaign, although short and bereft of meaningful progression through story, is quite fun to complete. It specifically starts to ramp up near the end of the campaign. The latter half of the game does a reasonable job in developing new ideas. There are bigger maps, new enemies, and somewhat of a greater challenge as you progress.
It was ultimately, a shorter campaign than expected, but enjoyable nonetheless. If you go from mission to mission without redoing some for new cards and loot, it could go by quickly. Despite the brevity, gameplay remains engaging on the straight path to the end.
Your own Viking warband
There are a total of seven different characters at your disposal, each with unique abilities and many with specific equipment. The figurines and dioramas that make up the levels, are intricately designed and reinforce the beautiful tabletop look.
You can customize the warband with different helmets, pauldrons, weapons, the ability to rename, and special stat boosting tokens. You can’t adjust the color and look of your equipment or the facial features of your character. In games like XCOM, that do provide such a function, it’s always a source of fun. It also adds an implicit level of care on the part of the player for their own creation.
It’s a shame there isn’t more customization because the identities of characters have no bearing on the story or continuity. Unlike games such as XCOM and Darkest Dungeon, character deaths are not permanent and downed units are available in future battles. But with the inability to really customize you likely wouldn’t have cared if they died permanently anyway.
Horned hats and hatchets
Combat is simple, easy to pick up and play with some competence almost right away. You may have a challenge while learning strategies but once you grasp the concepts you’ll beat every battle board first try.
Though the difficulty doesn’t ramp up adequately over time, there is still a reasonable depth in the strategy within missions. Whatever struggle you might face you can almost always find some way to come out victorious.
The combat is absolutely the crown jewel of the game. Adapting a cool-down system of movement combining real-time strategy and turn-based elements creates a hybrid that provides a thrilling experience. This design choice increases the speed of the game, and creates an unexpected fluidity in gameplay.
The RTS components are clear as you make plays at the same time as your AI opponent, and also move these characters in a strategic way without entirely controlling the combat. Once in range the character attacks the closest enemy, leaving you to make decisions about positioning and special abilities.
Due to some of the combat being automated there is some RNG involved. Your characters’ attack and defense stats give certain probabilities for giving hits or taking hits. The inclusion of special abilities, high ground defense boosts and cards gives you adequate control in combat. This ensures that it doesn’t just feel like you’re anxiously watching AIs go at it.
Onion of war
The combat strategy has layers of variables to consider as you scan the immediate battlefield before you. There are stat buffs and reductions for having higher or lower ground and different characters have varying reach. Understanding the extent of the possibilities opens up strategies of placement, flanking positions, swapping out low health characters for an armoured tank, and all while injecting some card support. Playing the proper cards quickly is important so cycling to get to the one you need can be a tension raising aspect.
The CCG layer deepens Wartile’s tabletop style of gameplay and strategy. Cards are broken down into three different categories: consumables (picked up on the map), abilities (character specific on a cool-down) and Godly cards (cost battle points which are gained by defeating enemies). The cards may be few in number but there are enough for plenty of variety and new ways to alter the combat strategies to gain a unique edge.
Should you buy?
Wartile is a game with a unique style and some innovative ideas. The gameplay is an intriguing and enjoyable combination of real-time strategy and pseudo turn-based structure. It blends together these ideas for an experience that doesn’t closely resemble many games of the genre. There was some degradation to my expectations though it was not because of what the game offers and rather what it was missing.
Outside of the combat, there isn’t much depth. The developer certainly focused on the right aspect of the game. The combat is a great combination of concepts that requires shrewd decision making, but other areas are left a little bare. The story is limited with a campaign on the shorter side, the character customization is sufficient but not exciting, and there is little replay value without an endless or multiplayer mode.
Despite the seemingly negative outlook on the game, the aesthetics, combat & mission design make up for the shortcomings in a big way. I still definitely recommend Wartile to those that enjoy strategy games. I would love if there was a more detailed story and customization options, but presentation and combat mean far more.
Available from Steam