By: Jeff Cater
How would the Civil War have turned out if each side had mighty walking siege engines? Developer Zachtronics takes us to the late 1850s and follows the journey of two friends whose quest takes them from coast to coast with Ironclad Tactics, a turn-based strategy game with card collecting elements to spice up the flow of battle!
While on the battlefield you may use the left stick or directional pad to highlight and select units, but during the heat of a big fight it can feel a bit daunting. Since Ironclad Tactics‘ combat is based on a grid, you have to navigate through each individual square to get to the unit you want, rather than having a snap-selection or roster method chosen. X is your best friend throughout, as it makes decisions both for the menus and combat portions of the game.
The portrayal of the bloodiest war in American history could not look more friendly. While there is very little animation (or any) during the comic book style cut scenes, the characters and backdrops all look about Disney quality. On the battlefield, your units scuttle across the field with few frames of animation, but amid the chaos of the fight it’s pretty difficult to notice. The battlefields themselves are nicely done and resemble old western oil paintings.
Unfortunately, Zachtronics missed a huge opportunity by not providing any voiceovers to the game whatsoever. This makes the otherwise lively cut scene sequences to have a still, barren feel. This also serves to highlight the fact that the music, while entertaining and fitting of the period, isn’t much more than drum raps and flutes.
Ironclad Tactics does offer up unique gameplay, but part of the deal seems to be a steep learning curve and a control scheme that only serves to make the game more difficult. Upon equipping your deck, you are taken to the battlefield where the goal is to march your troops to your opponent’s side of the screen to score Victory Points while preventing your enemy from doing the same.
To get the upper hand in battle, you can employ a card from your deck (which is seemingly always being shuffled) during the Play phase. When the Play phase ends, all selected actions are carried out until the end of the turn. You may also choose to slide your next upcoming card to the bottom of your deck just in case you have a better one after that, so making decisions like that while simultaneously managing your troops’ movement can be a bit much, especially since there is no clear pause option during the battle.
That being said, the act of crafting your deck to focus around different approaches and tactics is actually a very fun thing to do, as cards are constantly unlocked almost up until the end of the game. Don’t like how the last mission went? Stack the deck with your best Ironclads and give it another go!
While the gameplay in Ironclad Tactics is very solid after you’ve practiced and learned the nuances of the game, I can’t help but feel that had just a little bit more effort been given to the sound and graphics it would’ve greatly benefitted the game as a whole. As it stands now, it is an extremely enjoyable game with unique takes on the genre, but the slow and quiet cut scenes could make it a tad difficult to find the motivation to finish.