There are two things you should know about the indie game Wargroove, which comes out for PC, Switch, and Xbox One on Friday. The first is that it’s a smart, challenging turn-based strategy game that’s essentially Advance Wars for the modern era. The second is that you get to play as a puppy who wears armour.
I’ve been playing early code of Wargroove for the past week, and I like it a lot so far. The basics are simple: In every mission, your army of colourful troops faces an opposing army of colourful troops, be they tree-summoning hippies or vicious skeletal warriors. You’re given some sort of objective—capture a base, assassinate an enemy commander—and a handful of units, then told to go off and fight.
You move your units across a grid-based map, one turn at a time. Sometimes you might smash one of your units into an enemy’s unit, after which you’ll see a brief animation of the two going at it, and then one or both will take damage. Every unit has its own strengths and weaknesses: Pikemen, for example, are strong but slow. Alchemists are easy to kill but do devastating damage to flying units. And dogs are adorable.
A modern-minded gamer might think that sounds a lot like Fire Emblem, but actually, Wargroove emulates Advance Wars, a similar Nintendo series that has been dormant since 2008. In Fire Emblem, each of your units is a unique character, and you’ll start every mission with a finite number of them.
In contrast, Advance Wars (and, subsequently, Wargroove) puts you in charge of a phalanx of faceless troops. You can use those troops to capture towns, which generate gold every turn, and you can use that gold to buy yourself more troops. The stronger the unit, the pricier they’ll be.
What that means is that you’re constantly making interesting decisions. Do you want to buy a cheap pikeman this turn or save up for that more expensive knight?
Do you want to get a fast-moving wagon so you can transport your units closer to the fray, or hang back with archers and play defensively? And what about your commander, who’s far more powerful than a regular unit but will end the game if she dies? Should she really be on the front lines?
Wargroove is a game that requires your full attention. Whichever unit gets the first swing can change the tide of battle, so you’ll need to pay attention not only to where your enemies are, but how far they can move on the next turn. It’s a delightful, cerebral experience that can feel sluggish at times—pro tip: TURN OFF combat animations!—but is never boring.
For a sense of how Wargroove plays, you can watch Kotaku video producer Paul Tamayo playing a mission here:
There are a few fiddly things in Wargroove that have annoyed me. This is a challenging game, and if you’re not keeping track of where every enemy can potentially move next and which unit counters which other units, you’re not going to have a good time.
In general I’m a big fan of the difficulty—failing missions multiple times has made it all the more satisfying when I finally got past them—but sometimes the game takes cheap shots. It’s not fun to lose a mission in Wargroove because the AI was allowed to spawn a bunch of random units out of nowhere.
You can’t save in battle, and there’s no undo button, which means that a single misclick can screw up your entire game. Wargroove’s missions are very long, so sometimes that can mean losing upwards of an hour of progress. Again, not fun.
Still, Wargroove is a very good game, full of smart missions and charming characters. (The story is rudimentary, mostly taking place during brief cut-scenes before and after every mission, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.) Winning a tough battle always feels satisfying, because victory is always the result of your own good decisions. And the top-down view combined with the just-one-more-turn addictive nature make it the perfect game for Switch.
Also, you get to play as a puppy who wears armour.