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Posted on Jul 10, 2012 in Electronic Games

Battle Academy on iPad – Mobile Game Review

By Jim Cobb

Battle Academy for iPad Game Review. Publisher/Developer: Matrix/Slitherine. $19.95.

Passed Inspection: Easy interface; fascinating play; many scenarios; great multiplay.

Failed Basic: No editor; questionable history; pricey for an iPad game.

Most PC games have to be slimmed down to be ported to tablets; others are born to be played on the smaller systems. Slitherene’s Battle Academy falls into the latter group. The game depicts a variety of hypothetical World War II tactical situations. The game plays on the iPad exactly as it does on the PC.

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Twist and Shoot
The only real change in the iPad version from the PC one is the interface. Selecting units requires a double tap which may be difficult even with a stylus. A good work-around is opening the options menu and tapping "Next Unit." It cycles through unmoved units; when the desired one appears, select it. Maps can be dragged simply by holding a finger in one spot and zoomed with a pinch.

Zooming in shows units, terrain and structures at a quality almost as good as a PC monitor. A two-finger twist will change the angle for interesting views of the many vehicles. Other graphics include permanent shell holes, structural damage, burnt vehicles and bodies. Orders are given with single taps on terrain and targets, which bring up movement and combat options. All of these functions are explained well in a tutorial that must be played to unlock the real scenarios.

Sound effects are good with rumbling, blasts, pings from defected shots and nice voice acting in the correct language for the side. A tabletop option allows players to view the entire map for strategic purposes.

One Touch at a Time
The turn-based mechanics and campaigns for the iPad version are exactly like the PC game. Units are single squads, gun teams and vehicles with action points and roughly historical capabilities. Movement can be fast, which covers more area but degrades fire, or "hunt" which costs more movement points but allows accurate shooting, with intact units always being allowed two aimed shots or one suppression round per turn. Players are given the "To Hit" and "To Kill" chance before firing. Adjacent infantry movements can assault. Any move or fire can cause reaction fire from the non-phasing side. Combat results include casualties, suppression, rout and elimination. Chances of success can be increased with side and rear shots as well as by attacking suppressed units. Depending on the mission, off-board assets are provided. Artillery and airstrikes are handled fairly historically but instant promotion, supply and medical aid are a bit fanciful.

Missions are embedded in campaigns with around twenty missions per campaign. The base game—$19.95 at the App store or from Matrix/Slitherine—contains the North Africa, Normandy and Bulge campaigns. The add-ons, Blitzkrieg France, Market Garden, and Operation Sealion, are $9.99 each, pricey for iPad games but half the price of their PC counterparts. Free user-made missions can be downloaded.

A graphic novel-style format is used to give instructions. Click to enlarge.Missions aren’t linked but do follow a narrative. Each mission has objectives that must be accomplished. Separate achievements, such as killing a certain number of troops in a specific amount of turns or limiting losses, encourage replay by making players strive for perfection. Within limits, players buy units before play with points. The scenarios range from small to fairly large. The AI is only partially scripted so that its play can be varied. Players play only one side per campaign but missions are divided between defense and offense. Although the missions are not completely historical, the situations resemble actions that took place. Realistic tactics must be used with an emphasis on suppression rather than heroic charges.

The number of weapon platforms, particularly vehicles, is impressive and reflect the times. For example, the French tanks in 1940 are tough and need to be swarmed in order to be taken out. Conversely, troops that had bad training and officers tend to break as they actually did. Even the hypothetical Operation Sealion has a hint of verisimilitude with the Germans taking early damage but wearing down the Home Guard. Special weapons include bazookas, flamethrowers and advanced ammunition for tank armament. The greatest disappointment, as with most tactical games, is the lack of persistent smoke from damage or deliberate smoke rounds.

The Battle Academy franchise has a very active multiplayer community. The editor, the only feature missing from the iPad version, has allowed fans to make numerous scenarios for on-line play. The iPad version fits seamlessly into this system. A game started on the PC can be continued on the iPad or vice versa. Games no longer have to wait for vacations or similar activities to end; thanks to the iPad’s portability, they can just go on as normal.

Given that the PC and iPad versions of Battle Academy are virtually identical, owners of the PC version may wonder why they need the iPad version. This stance is logical but some points can be made to get both. Being tied to a desktop is confining and laptops can be bulky. The iPad had that nice "anytime, anywhere" feel. Regardless of duplication, this iPad version proves that good wargames can be made for tablets without sacrificing essential play elements.

(Battle Academy on iPad requires iOS 4.3 or later—Ed.)

Armchair General Rating: 85%

About the Author

Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online and Gamesquad.

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