At first glance, Wargaming.net’s Massive Assault Network 2 is just another turn-based strategy, but once you dig a little deeper, an involving and addictive little gem is found. As in most games of this type, players take control of one of two evenly-balanced warring factions, and attempt to drive the enemy from a given map of territories. While there is a nice mix of air-, sea-, and land-based units to choose from, MAN2 would grow tiring quickly but for one devious little concept: Secret Allies. However, this one addition makes for some very deep, satisfying gaming.
Secret Allies really set Massive Assault Network apart from other turn-based strategy games. These territories are randomly assigned to each player at the beginning of the match, sprinkled about the neutral territories on the battlefield. Since each new match consists of a new combination of controlled territories, each map can be played again and again with completely different dynamics. As the name suggests, the Secret Allies are unknown to the opponent until the player decides to activate them. Since placement is random, players may begin the game with a well-defended and well-positioned set of beginning forces, or they may find themselves strewn about the map, fighting tooth-and-nail for victory. Undisclosed Secret Allies look just like neutral territories, so the enemy will never really know when and where reinforcements might be appearing.
After disclosing a Secret Ally, players are given a certain amount of credits to spend on military forces. Each round later, the territory behaves exactly as a normal Controlled territory, generating revenue to purchase units as long as there are no enemy forces present. Once the initial forces are purchased, it’s time to send them off to war.
The only way to gain more credits and continue conquest is to invade neutral territories and attempt to take control. However, invading neutral territories comes with a great deal of risk. As soon as even one unit crosses into a neutral border, the enemy takes control of Guerilla forces within that territory. Guerilla forces are purchased from credits generated by the Guerilla rating of a given territory. These forces are only able to be purchased once per invasion, but they may immediately attack during their combat phase, before the invading armies get a chance to reposition or retaliate. Adding to the danger, the neutral territory may actually be one of the enemy’s Secret Allies, allowing them to Disclose at any time and pepper the ground with defense forces. Deducing which territories may or may not be Secret Allies, and deciding when and if to Disclose Secret Allies is often more important than actual troop movement and combat.
As the game continues, each player takes turns moving and attacking with military units, deploying Guerilla forces when required, gaining revenue and purchasing more military in un-contested territories, and Disclosing remaining Secret Allies. Once one side eliminates the other’s units, or achieves an overwhelming military advantage, the game is over.
As I stated earlier, Massive Assault Network 2 has a simplistic feel throughout, which I find to work in its favor. There are no special powers hidden in any of the units, nor do players need to memorize complex “rock, paper, scissors” strategies to succeed. MAN2 is about using each of the straightforward units to the fullest of their potential, combined with the surprisingly rich strategies needed to maximize Secret Ally employment. Given this simple-yet-complex feel to the game, players may at first feel frustrated when the enemy effortlessly marches across their territories. I suffered many a disgraceful defeat, often seeing the overwhelming loss come to bear in a few scant turns. Even small mistakes can lead to brutal losses, so players that like a bit of forgiveness to their gaming may want to look elsewhere. Thankfully, players can think and rethink each of their moves, undoing and redoing, before finally committing and hitting the “end phase” button.
Although MAN2 only supports 1-on-1 matches, it offers a fairly robust player-matching service. Players can quickly and easily set up matches with either human or very capable AI foes. Thanks to the nature of MAN2, games can be played in a matter of minutes, hours, or days, depending on the players’ schedules. Players can finish and entire game in one setting, or they may choose to pop on, play a turn, and then come back much later to see what havoc their opponent might have wreaked. For those of us with disjointed gaming schedules, this type of play is a wonderful thing. With every game saved on Wargaming.net’s servers, everything flows smoothly for those with solid internet connections.
Controls are solid, and players can be up and running in almost no time. A nice tutorial gets everyone up to speed on the concepts of Secret Allies, Guerilla forces, and resource gathering. Even if mistakes are made during movement and deployment, nothing is final until players hit the end turn button, meaning those of us that like to think, rethink, and triple-think our moves will be right at home. MAN2 looks good, with some spiffy little effects thrown in to spice up combat. There’s nothing cutting edge here, but it all works well.
Overall, I find Massive Assault Network 2 to be a very solid title. The two-dozen or so maps really don’t grow old, thanks to the randomization of the Secret Allies. This game just oozes replayability. I will say that MAN2 won’t be for everyone—players looking for flashy play, scads of unit detail, or a constant sense of discovery won’t find it here. Everything is laid out on the table right away, and it’s up for the player to decide how to best use it all. For those looking for that simple-but-deep playing experience, assuming they’re able to tolerate some humiliating losses early on, MAN2 is well worth a look.