First Impressions: WarMage Battlegrounds

WarMage Battlegrounds screenshot
WarMage Battlegrounds, by developer Burst Online Entertainment, is as simple game that pops up in a window and requires no large downloads. At first, everything about the game is simple, from the character creation to the layout of the map. However, after spending some time in the game tweaking my army loadout, and worrying about how to get my WarMage's mana pool to refill faster, I have to say that there is quite a bit of in-depth strategy packed into this unassuming indie title.

You play a WarMage, a caster-type who has been set into the world to defend and conquer other WarMages. Your weapons consist of a small army, creatures, and a hotbar filled with scrolls, artifacts, and spells, and you battle it out with other players and NPCs on sometimes large (but always manageable) maps. If you have played Pox Nora, a turn-based title from Sony Online Entertainment, then you will be familiar with WarMage Battlegrounds. But WarMage Battlegrounds does some things that are well ahead of Pox Nora, things that take strategy gaming to newer heights.

WarMage Battlegrounds screenshot
What sort of things does Warmage Battlegrounds do so well? First of all, the game is accessible and easy to get into. All I do is sign in using a Facebook connect (just one of many options for signing in, but that does not mean it is a "Facebook game!") and the game pops up in a window. It does not require a massive gaming rig, so that means I can jump on my laptop in order to play. There are some basic tutorials that cover what a player needs to know in order to fight, but really the best way to discover how to play is to jump in head first.

Second, the game provides a lot of different ways to play. I can avoid humans altogether and play through some of the many missions available to me, some of them providing a real challenge. Or I can ask in chat or challenge someone to a game and pick the parameters of the map and other details. I can also let the game select a random player who is around my battlerank to fight me in a quick battle, or I can join three other players in a mega-battle! My pals and I can join up against the computer, as well, meaning that this is a perfect game for jumping in with a real-life friend who has never played a strategy game. Let's say you have a significant other who hasn't played games at all before -- Warmage Battlegrounds is a perfect candidate for playing while you're sitting up in bed with two laptops, destroying monsters together! I love the fact that the game provides so many ways to play and keeps those different ways easy to figure out and to participate in.

WarMage Battlegrounds portraitThird, the game monetizes itself by selling what some might call "power." Heck, I would call it "power": It's got a cash shop filled with scrolls, magic spells, units, and other goodies that can actually make a difference on the battlefield. While many of you might scoff at such an idea, I have long talked about how the selling of virtual goods will not only grow but grow to include real, powerful items. In other words, you should probably get used to it. How does a game that sells power work? It offers powerful items available with in-game currency, as well, so everything has a real-life money and an in-game gold cost. It also keeps prices pretty darn cheap for those virtual items, allowing players to spend very little money to open up many more choices as to how to build an army or to outfit a WarMage. Games can sell "power" and get away with it when skill is still the driving force, skill that can make the difference between winning and losing a match, regardless of how much money was spent on either side.

Personally, I love the cash shop, but I have not spent any of my real money on it yet. I was given a chunk of coins for press coverage but really have not spent it much at all at the time of this writing. I have been using a pretty basic army, and since the gold I earn after fights can be used to buy new stuff, I really haven't touched much of the cash I was given. There are many titles now and many more coming that will utilize a similar monetization method. Basically, free players can earn what paying players purchase. It's a different approach than we have been used to for a while, but I like the fact that the paying player is seen as the default, not the other way around. These devs have to eat!

WarMage Battlegrounds cash-shop screenshot
Fourth, the game is a turn-based, tabletop-lover's paradise. Although I will only put about five units on the board, (or 5,000 Battle Points maximum), attacks are powerful, and my WarMage can help out by casting spells and using scrolls. My WarMage builds up mana, and every once in a while, can cast a massive spell to damage the enemy. It really feels as if I am standing over an old four-foot-by-eight-foot gaming table from back in the day, controlling little army people in battles with my friends. While tabletop is meant to be played with other humans, we all know how hard it is to find a good tabletop group or location to play... especially as we have gotten older. Games like Warmage Battlegrounds have brought back my love for tabletop, but in a format that I can easily access from my PC.

So check it out if you're in the mood for a good old strategy tabletop game. All you need after that is a six pack of cola (we didn't drink beer at that age!) and you'll be set!

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This article was originally published on Massively.