Eastward Ho! Battle Academy 2 Review

If you ask me, the tablet PC was created for one purpose and one purpose only: mobile wargaming.

Steve Jobs may not have realised it when he and his team were rolling out the first iPad, but what he was creating was the most convenient, compelling and easy to use platform for mobile wargaming that could be imagined. Anything else you might use your tablet for is frivolous.

Unfortunately it took a couple of years for PC game developers to realise this, but when they did and began porting over some of the great wargame titles from the PC, among the best of them was the original  Battle Academy.

A turn based WWII strategy game focused on the western front it was ported over from the PC version in full, and quickly became a huge seller for developers Slitherine. Although relatively expensive for an iPad title at 20 USD, it came with several single player campaigns, multiplayer mode and oodles of downloadable content made by users which took the game from the Western Europe theatre to the Pacific, and even WW1.

That was then. Fast forward two years and we are treated to the next chapter in the series: Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front (BA2).

Price and Installation

Well, it’s an iPad. Download and install took about three minutes on my home broadband connection. The game is still priced at 20 USD and once again it is a faithful full featured port of the popular PC version.

Gameplay

You get turn based single player campaign play with four campaigns on the Eastern Front to choose from, or online turn based play using the Slitherine server for opponent matching. You can also play by email with a friend who also has the title.

Campaigns include: Barbarossa (Germany), The Winter Counteroffensive (Soviet), Third Battle of Kharkov (Germany) and Operation Bagration 1944 (Soviet). Slitherine has also included a free bonus campaign, Castello di Pavone, as DLC.

To recap how a campaign mission plays out on Battle Academy, an animated cut scene introduces you to the mission scenario.

You are then shown the battlefield, with excellent, animated explanations of your mission objectives.

You are then either shown your available forces, or given the opportunity to choose your own. The force selection screen gives you a wealth of information on the units, from armour and melee strength to anti armour capability, special abilities such as ability to lay smoke, scout, react or move quickly, attack fortifications or special weaknesses such as open turrets on armoured vehicles, prone to mechanical failure, prone to bogging down. If you are not familiar with German and Soviet unit strengths and weaknesses, this is vital information.

There are more than 130 infantry, air and armour unit types in the game including the Tiger, Panther, T-34 and IS-2 tanks.

Having selected your forces, they must be deployed on the map to match the strategy you are adopting, and as player you usually have some freedom around where to place your forces, which can dramatically influence the outcome of the battle.

One of my only complaints with the original Battle Academy was that the single player AI was largely passive, rarely doing more than just sitting in houses, fortifications or behind hedgerows waiting to ambush the player. It was very poor at retaking lost objectives, and never tried to flank the player. Play was therefore much more satisfying in multiplayer mode against a human opponent.

The AI in Battle Academy 2 seems to have been given a slight tweak, and seems much more aggressive. It is still frustratingly dumb, happy to sit units next to an undefended victory point rather than taking it, but at least the AI provides more of a threat now in single player mode.

You can see a video of the gameplay here:

 

What is new?

The biggest news in the game is the new ‘Skirmish mode’. This is enough reason in itself to buy BA2 even if you already have the first chapter of the game.

Skirmish mode allows for almost unlimited single player replayability, with its ability to set up red on blue skirmish missions of almost limitless variety.

Through the skirmish set up screen, the player can pick the size of the map (claustrophobic, to huge), and a myriad other variables including the landscape, season, weather, historical or random force types, special units, force balance, you name it, you can control it!

You can determine whether the scenario is one of balanced combat, offense or defense and the game generates a briefing accordingly, as seen in this defensive scenario.

The new skirmish mode offers a depth of mission generation which will keep this title on your iPad for a very long time.

Other noteworthy changes:

Airpower: as before you can call air and artillery strikes on enemy positions. But differently this time, you also have fighter cover available on some missions, which you can call to protect you from air strikes. If you have called air cover, you can establish fighter superiority over the battlefield for up to 4 turns, and any enemy airstrikes called in that time risk falling to your fighters.

You can also call in your fighters and try to drive away the enemy fighters…but at the risk of losing them of course. This adds a third airborne dimension to the game which can be used for or against you with great effect.

Smoke: certain units have the ability to lay smoke, allowing you to obscure line of sight from attackers and cover your movement.

Damage: Armour can now take partial damage (previously it was all or nothing), meaning armour can be degraded at the front, sides, rear and turret, guns, tracks and wheels disabled. This is very well executed and it can turn the tide of an attack if one of your key armour units is disabled on open ground by an anti tank gun, able to return fire but stranded and vulnerable.

Unfortunately, disabled units cannot be repaired. It would be ideal in a future update to the game, to see an engineer or mechanic unit be able to repair damaged armour.

Dash: Some infantry units have the ability to move quickly, which is good for covering open ground but they still seem to take heavy casualties so this isn’t that useful, or I haven’t learned to use that ability properly yet.

Greater variety of air and artillery units: you can call Stukas, IL2s, 109 and Yak fighters, katyusha rockets and heavy artillery, mortar fire, AT guns and rifles into play and the interplay of combined forces is very satisfying to experiment with.

The Good

Huge variety of gameplay options from single player to multiplayer in a compelling theatre of war
Large number of unit types and options for deploying them, nice graphic and sound improvements
Skirmish mode: enough reason in itself to buy this title

The Not So Much

Although improved, AI can still be rather dumb. Better as a multiplayer platform.
A lot of maps are rather small and though the game can generate huge maps in skirmish mode, these are rarely seen in the campaign.

Consider also

It is now a close competition for my favourite wargame on iOS between this BA2 title, and the much deeper and more complex hex based Panzer Corps, also by Slitherine.

Conclusion

A must buy for any fan of strategy wargames.

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