Controversial is probably the best word for War on Terror [$1.99]. Originally a board game conceived by Terror Bull Games in 2003, War on Terror has precipitated everything from bans to death threats - true story, I swear. As you can imagine, when the iOS version was released, there was significant concern about it being forcibly annulled from the App Store. It wasn't, and I'm damn well glad for that because War on Terror is the sort of game you should at least play once.

Fans of the title should be forewarned, however. The iOS version is significantly watered down compared to the original. There is no Axis of Evil. There are no off-board negotiations or dealings. Defeated players do not become terrorist nations. You don't even get situational cards. Nonetheless, that doesn't change the fact that War on Terror is surprisingly fun and, once you've realized the genius behind it, devilishly clever.

But we're moving a little too fast. Let's take a few steps back and take a look at how the game actually plays. When you first start the game, you'll be asked to select your avatar (this is purely cosmetic, by the way) and the number of players you wish to play against. After that, you'll be dropped into a world map with a few nations under your control. To win, you must accumulate a certain amount of liberty points. How do you do that? By taking over continents (each continent rewards you with a certain amount of points). I'm totally serious about this.

If you cringed at that, you should probably stop reading now because it gets a lot worse. Did you know that the total annihilation of a player in War on Terror is usually accompanied with fanfare and a declaration that the aforementioned individual has been liberated. Ahem. Moving on.

The actual gameplay itself is relatively straightforward. During each turn, a set of dice is rolled and countries with the corresponding number will reward its owner with a certain amount of money. You'll also be able to do things like establish alliances (these seldom seem to help), declare war on others, develop the countries under your ownership (the better developed the country, the greater the revenue you receive from them), indulge in a spot of terrorism (they're surprisingly effective), build defenses (protect a country against radioactive assaults or common-place rabble; it's your choice) and even initiate nuclear attacks (exactly what you think it is).

Complex as all that might sound, it's not. War happens when you click on an adjacent nation and select the appropriate option. Victory is even less hands-on; a win is determined by whether or not your dice rolls are above a five.

Such is the case for everything else as well; it's all a matter of pointing and clicking. However, what makes War on Terror shine is the way the game enforces the need for proper accountancy. For example, you can wage war as much as you like - just make sure you have a minimum of forty million in your bank. Want to call a nuclear strike? Sure. Have five hundred million in reserve. No one ever said it was easy to be a world leader. If anything, it's bloody expensive. Guerrilla warfare, on the other hand, is not.

In fact, compared to everything else, terrorism is almost mind-bogglingly cheap. You'll only need to spend ten million in order to send your incendiaries anywhere in the world. As an added bonus, you won't have to worry about weathering retaliation either - radicals in this game are rather close-mouthed about their affiliations.

For the sake of decorum, I'm going to forgo discussing the political aspects of the game. You can come to your own conclusions yourself. However, I will have to say that War on Terror is rather compelling. Once you've gotten into the swing of things, it's easy to get caught up in the act of expansion, in worrying about the next oil turn and whether you will be a prince or a pauper. Do you play nice with your neighbors or do you move for the kill? Do you spread like a venereal disease or do you focus on building up the nations under your control?

Like any good iOS game, it's simple but prone towards provoking 'one more turn' instincts. Graphics-wise, War on Terror will likely be a hit or a miss. If you enjoy the political cartoons in the newspaper, you'll probably like it. If not, well, it's not intolerable. It's just not something to shout about.

As I've mentioned before, War on Terror is a game that you need to experience at least once. But only once. Re playability is a big issue here for me. After beating it once, I feel little imperative to do so again, an odd turn of circumstances given that War on Terror was derived from a board game. I imagine that this opinion might change once online multiplayer (hot seating could have worked brilliant too, guys) is introduced but for now, it is a problem. Still, if you're willing to overlook that, War on Terror remains a rather brilliant if possibly misguided piece of political satire and a rather entertaining game to boot.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Anonymous

    So uh... playing a classic game of Risk is not controversial, even though you can in reality pretend to be any kind of "power", be that a terrorist network, nazis or a band of pedobears...? If the reason this is supposedly controversial is because it's more explicit about what side you play then I don't know what to say. 

    Didn't you cheer when you won a battle in Risk, thus "liberating" a nation...? If we aren't adults enough to realize what's behind game concepts like this, I wouldn't want anyone near ... uhm anything that's considered "entertainment" today. Just take look at other games out there, including iOS. Morally, Modern Warfare and its ilk is far more problematic than this, if you wish to compare.

    Luckily, I think most of us *are* adults enough to enjoy Risk (or indeed all those military shooters, which I frankly hate, mostly for other reasons) without getting into a moral debate every time the box comes out. In fact most games you play *against* someone else is a conflict by definition. Alot of double standards with moral issues, which is what bothers me with the writeup.Maybe I just don't understand the game but as a European I just see another take on Risk. If it becomes problematic because it has "terror" in the title and its gameplay there are larger issues we should be looking at.

    Feel free to correct my ignorance of the game or delete this comment (since this is a gaming site after all).

    • http://twitter.com/casskhaw Cassandra Khaw

      I suppose it's because of the recent clamor about terrorism in the states and in certain other countries. I'm not exactly the best person to comment on it because I'm South-East Asian and my country has never really suffered from this. 

      I found it controversial on several levels. First of all, if taken from the macro level, there's all the death threats and bans that the game has received - it has fueled a lot of talk over the years. 

      Secondly, the easiest 'winning' strategy feels reflective of certain things people have said: that terrorism is nothing but a political hoax intended to deviate attention from the real problem. 

      That said, I'm EXTREMELY glad you have the opinion that you do. It is always nice to be reminded that the world is capable of taking things with a shrug and an acceptance that a game is just a game. 

      • Anonymous

        "Secondly, the easiest 'winning' strategy feels reflective of certain things people have said: that terrorism is nothing but a political hoax intended to deviate attention from the real problem."

        To me, that sounds like the best reason for the supposed controversy so far; e.g. 'controversy sells' (wether that's the latest sex scandal in the tabloids or indeed creating a game based around terror, which I guess is an easy pick for a world domination game if you want to creat controversy in some countries).

        Of course my next thought would then be "don't buy into it", possibly detracting me from the game (while at the same time attracting others). So ... now I have made it even more controversial, all thanks to myself (at which point I might just get the game... *cough*).

        The 'meta controversy' ("so controversial it was even banned!") is just the cherry on the top at this stage.

        If my opinion inadvertly created more interest for the game then ... have a pint of irony, it's on the house.

        Anyway, thanks for your answer and I hope I didn't come off as just shrugging it all off! :)

        (As with most things today it usually comes down to where to draw the line and how it's all presented, which will of course be a never ending discussion, highly depending on culture and the history of that culture.)

  • http://twitter.com/stevesabol Steve Sabol

    After years of multiple wars, shoe bombers, wire-taps, back scatter scanners, indefinite detentions, Wikileaks, Gitmo, and color-coded warnings, it's hard to find this any more controversial than a game titled "War on Drugs".

    A "War on Christmas" game would be more controversial.

  • Anonymous

    Just looks like a Risk clone to me.

  • http://twitter.com/davidvidalb David Vidal

    Excellent review, i agree with you when u say replaying is important, id add that its really important in any game specially for iOS :p

War on Terror Reviewed by Cassandra Khaw on . Rating: 3.5