Hunted Cow's been a bit nostalgic this year. After making a big return to World War 2 with the recent Tank Battle: East Front [$2.99] series and revisiting ancient warfare with Ancient Battle: Alexander [$9.99], it's making another return to the American Civil War, last visited in Civil War: 1862 [$4.99] late last year. For some, it's probably a bit too soon to go back to a very familiar period, but I'm just happy to get a break from tanks in my mobile war games. As you might expect given the frequency of Hunted Cow's releases, Civil War: 1864 [$9.99] feels very iterative, but there are a couple of differences beyond the expected slate of new missions.
Use your imagination and travel back to a time where the United States of America was divided almost in half on some of the most important issues of the day. It's hard to believe there was such a time, I know. By 1864, things were reaching a breaking point on the most bloody war in American history. The year kicked off with Ulysses S. Grant being given command of the entire Union army, and ended with the Union taking a decisive victory in what would be the last large-scale battle of the war, the Battle of Nashville. Although the back half of the year largely belonged to the Union army, there was still a fair bit of back and forth in the first half of the year, and lots of interesting battles to build a game around. Of course, having learned their lesson from the initial release of the first game, Hunted Cow has enabled you to play any of the game's 39 missions as either the Union or the Confederate army, bending history as you see fit. Take that, Time Variance Authority!
Besides revisiting old franchises, the other thing Hunted Cow's been working on this year is finding the best way to package its games. For the first year or so on mobile, the developer opted for a low-priced initial payment that got you a couple of campaigns with a half-dozen or so missions each, with additional campaigns sold individually as IAP for a dollar. With Tank Battle: East Front, Hunted Cow chose to avoid IAPs, instead selling the game as five different apps, each containing the same training stages and 16 unique missions each, priced at $1.99. Ancient Battle: Alexander saw an increase in the initial price, included 27 missions, and left IAP out entirely. Civil War: 1864 ups the ante considerably, with the highest upfront price on a Hunted Cow release to date, a whopping 39 missions, and, like Alexander, no IAP. Somehow, I doubt strategy fans will complain about this new approach, and I hope the developer sticks with it.
That's enough about that, though. Let's talk about the game itself. If you've played any recent Hunted Cow strategy games, you know the score here, and if you've played the last Civil War game, you know it very well. In case you don't, the first seven missions serve as a tutorial, with the first six being basic stuff that barely qualify as actual missions. You have to play as the Union in the tutorial, but after that, you're free to play all of the other 32 missions as the army of your choice. Generally, the goals on each map will be the same no matter which side you choose, but your starting positions will differ and the odds decidedly favor the Union most of the time because, well, reality. The differences in starting positions and units are enough to give the same map a very different feel, so there's actually a very large game here compared to what you usually get in Hunted Cow's base games. Even running through both armies' campaigns on one difficulty level will offer up tens of hours of gameplay, but if you're the sort that likes to start on easy or normal and work your way up, you'll likely be busy with this until the next game from this developer comes out.
In terms of the gameplay mechanics, not much has changed since Civil War: 1862. You still have the same unit types at your disposal, the basic rules work the same way, and visually there aren't a lot of differences at all. Making effective use of changing formations, flanking, and knowing when to use melee and when to just shoot are still the keys to victory. It's the developer doing what they do best, which is delivering a turn-based strategy game that does a very good job of walking the line between being easy to play yet deep enough to still satisfy history buffs. The three different difficulty settings offer a wide range of challenge, so even people like me who shouldn't even be leading a conga line can feel like a boss.
The biggest change in the game is from a design standpoint. The maps in Civil War: 1864 sometimes run quite a bit larger than we've seen in previous games from this developer. There are still some smaller maps that have more of a puzzle feel due to the tight quarters, but when this game decides to go big, you've got all the rope in the world to hang yourself or your opponent with. To accommodate these new maps, Hunted Cow has added the ability to zoom out for a big picture of the battlefield. The transition isn't exactly smooth, but it does the job and helps you keep track of what's going on in some of the crazier missions.
It's a thoughtful refinement in a game that otherwise plays it safe, opting to satisfy you with a huge serving rather than a new dish. The familiarity of it all isn't necessarily a bad thing, but while I don't want to see big changes for the sake of change alone, I do have a few complaints about some lingering flaws I've griped about before. First, there really needs to be a button to cancel your last move. The hex spaces are just small enough on an iPhone screen that you will occasionally tap the wrong space, spoiling your strategy with no recourse. Second, flanking is an important part of the game's strategy, but it's connected to the direction a unit is facing, and you have little control over that. I waved it off to an extent in Tank Battle: East Front because tanks don't exactly turn around quickly, but there's no reason infantry and cavalry can't move themselves to face in another direction. Neither of these are big flaws, nor do they affect gameplay frequently. When they do occur, it's very frustrating, and little details like these are exactly the kind of improvements I want to see from developers who are refining rather than evolving.
Even with its persisting flaws and somewhat unambitious nature when compared to 1862, Civil War: 1864 is still a nice plateful of comfort food. I'm sure some people are getting a bit impatient with with the similarities between Hunted Cow's various releases, but at least for the time being, I'm mostly content with what the developer is putting out there. It serves a niche, if nothing else, and one that often falls between the strategy game cracks. If you're new to the series, I'd recommend going back to Civil War: 1862 first, since the upfront price is a bit cheaper and it has almost all of the advances over Civil War: 1863 [$4.99] that this game does. If you find it to your liking and want more, you won't have any complaints after this one.
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