The turn-based strategy genre is not as popular on the App Store as its third cousin (twice removed), Generic Tower Defence. The turf they occupy is cosmetically similar, but the complicated rules of the former are inversely proportional to the simple design of the latter. Which brings us to RAVENMARK, a defiantly complex game, but also a polished and classy attempt at battlefield chess. Fieldrunners, this certainly ain't.
What's it all about?
The story is built around some medievalist fantasy claptrap, riffing off genre tropes like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Let's ignore the finer details, save for the fact that our protagonists live in castles and ride around on horseback, and focus instead on the gameplay.
Throughout fifteen different campaigns, you take command of an army and venture into a different terrain. Each round is broken into two halves - in a command phase you issue instructions for deployment around the terrain, and in a battle phase the two sides will warily circle each other and occasionally clash. Victory goes to the last-man standing, but the game's AI is sophisticated enough to vex you from the very outset.
Strategic positioning of your troops is critical for success, naturally. And each class of solder has strength and weaknesses that relate to the other types of soldier on the field. For example, archers are especially susceptible to attack by cavalry, whereas infantry are vulnerable to long-range attacks from archers, and so forth.
Where the game gets really interesting are the sheer breadth of commands you can issue, such as building formations of soldiers of the same class and wheeling them into position, or issuing standing orders so that they will automatically attack (or some other action) until expressly told to do otherwise.
Why do we like it?
For such a paltry price, the game offers an embarrassment of riches. The graphics and audio is pretty enough, but it's also a carefully designed game of tactics. Learning the intricacies of command take priority over wading in attacking everything in sight.
We've played our fair share of turn-based strategy games in the past, and we're especially big fans of games like Nintendo's Advance Wars. RAVENMARK is striving to be a spiritual successor to that venerable franchise, and there are sublime moments where it comes pretty damn close. The question is, will it find its audience on the App Store?
RAVENMARK: Scourge of Estellion is available now on the App Store for iPhone, £1.99