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AppStore Game Review: War of the Dragon Lords

Posted by: Randy at 5/31/2009 10:25 PM
If “whiplash” was a design tenet for video games, then developer A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. would take home the neck brace-shaped trophy. With War of the Dragon Lords, they’ve once again proven their cunning ability to trim gameplay down to a fun, playable core. It was true for Sky Babes vs. Fly Boys (you can read that review here), and it’s true for Dragon Lords.

This high-velocity strategy title draws inevitable comparison to Risk, due to the presence of stacked armies and territories to roll dice over. But the fundamentals driving Dragon Lords are more pared down, more hectic, and seemingly more random than the Parker Brothers classic. At first. It would be unfair to say that the AI “cheats,” because the AI benefits from -- and struggles against -- the gameplay mechanics as often as the player. Things move at such a baffling pace, however, that it may take a dozen games before some of the rules start to gel.

The war in question is for complete sovereignty over Dragon Island -- though Dragon Island constantly morphs from game to game, its landmass randomly drawn, along with the territories that comprise its insides. Bays, inland lakes, isthmuses, and tucked-away peninsulas all serve to manufacture chokepoints and recesses. The procedurally-generated maps keep your movements refreshed from game to game, and the shadows lend a sense of light topography to an otherwise 2D landscape. While there are convincingly craggy lines drawn for the territories’ edges, they occasionally twist off too-small-to-discern borders. Some vaguely misleading territory shapes can unintentionally offer incorrect button presses on the screen.

Two to eight Dragon Lords (the number of AI opponents versus players is of your choosing) can play the maps which typically house around thirty to thirty-five territories. But even if you start with a greater number of players, the more grueling mid-game settles in comfortably with three or four players duking it out. It can prove unfortunate -- though entirely possible -- for the last person going on an eight-player map to be wiped out before they take their first turn.

The number of reinforcements you receive is dependent upon the largest number of contiguous territories you control, although your reinforcements distribute randomly throughout your kingdom. And the AI will still run a ruthless game of hopscotch right down the center of your kingdom. Fair game, though the back and forth can grow tiresome. Often the only way to break such stalemates is to pray for one or two off-the-wall dice rolls to completely change the tide of battle.

Since consolidating your troops at the end of your turn is not an option, careful planning has to go into the path you take around the map. Play carelessly and you can paint your strongest forces into a lonely corner. Accidentally leave a one-army center to your kingdom and rest assured that your enemy will find a way into the middle of your lands. Fail to take into account the enemy’s growing “Dragon Powers,” and you may find your well-fortified territory reduced to a single, destitute army as the bad guy casts “Desolation” on your now-ruined land.

As is the goal of all the best iPhone games, this $0.99 title is only meant to scratch a tiny itch. War of the Dragon Lords has a supreme respect for your time, taking less than ten seconds to get a game going from boot up. And it’s so lightweight that there aren’t any trophies, leaderboards, or even a top score to keep track of (you win or you lose, that’s it, roll credits). The only time it drags out its fast-paced intentions is during the frequently tedious mid-game, which can turn this tabletop conquest into a bouncing back-and-forth tennis match.

Grade: C+

War of the Dragon Lords was released by A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games on April 9, 2009. We reviewed version 1.0 with the special 75% off introductory price of $0.99. Screenshots after the jump.