Score = 2.5 out of 5
Review by special correspondent Old Timey Gamer
Iâll never forget my first wargame: Avalon Hillâs Battle of the Bulge. I was held spell-bound at the first sight of the gameâs map, which was mounted on cardboard and superimposed with hexagons. By the end of turn one, I was in love. Back then, the Internet wasnât yet invented and the Commodore VIC-20 was considered a first-class gaming machine. In this era before the floppy drive, games were available only on cassette tapes. While this format brought many engaging games, such as Attack of the Blue Meanies, it could not deliver a complex strategy game. To find that kind of gaming experience, one had to turn to the cardboard counters, paper-based combat results tables, and thick-rule books part of any Avalon Hill wargame.
Technology has taken some giant steps forward since then and, for the most part, has left wargames, in all their hex-board, turn-based glory, behind to die alone and forgotten. Of course, there have been a few notable exceptions. Both the Panzer General and Battleground series brought wargames to computers and consoles with varying degrees of success. Panzer General emphasized playability over tactical and historical accuracy, while Battleground chose a different path and attempted to deliver games that detailed the weapons and warfare of a particular period, from Napoleon to WWII. It wasnât until Combat Mission that it was demonstrated, without a doubt, that technology could deliver a superior wargame: one tactically rich, deeply realistic, and, most important, a joy to play.
These days, there arenât many computer wargames on the New Release shelf of the local gaming store. Whenever one does make its way into production and wide distribution, like Shattered Union, a turn-based game played on a hex-board map, there is a reason to celebrate. Unfortunately, once the initial buzz of this gameâs release wears off, thereâs not that much life left in this party.
Shattered Union starts with an interesting premise, imaging a future in which, for various reasons, America has once again descended into civil war. The country breaks into six different groups, from the New England Alliance in the north to the Republic of Texas in the south. The European Union even becomes involved and, in an attempt to restore stability, invades Washington, DC (and is a playable faction in the game).
A game of Shattered Union is broken into two parts: one strategic and the other tactical. On the strategic portion, players move across a map of the United States, able to attack adjacent territories as well as build and repair units. The majority of game play is in the tactical mode. After a player chooses to attack, or is attacked, turn-based battles are fought over particular states with victory determined by how many cities are captured, or defended. Each tactical battle is 14 turns long.
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All in all, itâs clear that the designers made playability top priority and in this regard they have succeeded. At its heart, Shattered Union is an engaging game: the AI is competent, thereâs a wide mix of units, and the graphics and sound are both good. However, the tactical map is somewhat of a muddled mess. Not only is it difficult to distinguish friendly units from the enemy; itâs very easy to lose them on the game board entirely. In addition, the learning curve is too steep for a strategy game that puts simplicity and playability over realism or strategic depth, and the manual is no help whatsoever.
Battles in Shattered Union are won based on the numbers and types of units one brings to battle and not on tactics at all. This was my biggest disappointment with the game. On the other hand, thereâs a Skirmish mode that allows one to fight tactical battles in any region between any two factions. Playing the game in this mode versus a human opponent could be rewarding.