Drums of War Review: Keeping a simple beat

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DrumsboxGame: Drums of War
Price: $19.99
System(s): Windows
Release Date: March 19, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Matrix Games (Slitherine)
ESRB Rating: (Everyone 10+, plenty of bloodshed, but cartoonish)

Drums of War is a turn based strategy fantasy war game. The general theme here is “clean”. Battles are kept small (a dozen or less units on a side), combat modifiers are all easy to follow and calculated for you instantly, and every design decision was made with “simple fun” prioritized. The end result is a fun game that anyone can pick up and play in a matter of minutes, although the simplicity does mean the depth leaves a bit to be desired. Let’s take a closer look:

Drums of war day

Draw your sword…put down that pencil!

There is no “random battle” or “quick battle” option, but the game comes with two campaigns, based around an orcish warlord and a human general, respectively. The orcish campaign, intended as tutorial, starts slow: you have your orc, and an ally or two, and that’s it.  Things quickly escalate, and you build your army as you play. The troop options are limited but functional: archers, soldiers, knights, healers, wizards, and a “special” unit (troll for orcs, paladin for humans), with a few other oddball units.

Each unit is rated for evasion, accuracy, armor, courage, hit points (about 4 hits kills a unit). As your units fight, they gain experience, and each level brings another semi-random bonus to a rating, or perhaps a bonus skill. There’s a good mix of bonus skills, and about 10 spells that might come up (a spellcaster generally only can learn 3, however). Everything has mouse-overs that explain what does what, making the game fairly easy to learn.

Drums of war

Who turned out the lights?

The battles are the strong point of Drums of War. Many enemies (like undead) are more powerful in the darkness, and simply being able to start a fire can be critical. Position is also important, as troops get a bonus when attacking from behind or in the flank.

Probably the most important units in the game are archers, which have great range, and there’s literally nothing you (or the opponent) can do to prevent the archers from shooting right through your troops to slaughter the mages hiding in the back. This is something of a big deal–spells like fireball have a shorter range than archery, requiring expert use of cover (trees are effective, as long as they haven’t been animated…) and a little luck to cast combat spells effectively.

There’s a “hardcore” mode where you can’t resurrect slain troops, but combat is lethal enough that it’s best to turn it off, so you can resurrect fallen allies. Even your hero can easily get snuffed if the archers decide to concentrate their fire for a round. You can equip your guys with 2 potions (healing potions, of course, are quite popular), and up to 1 magical artifact (so, you get magic armor, or a magic sword…but not both).

Drums of war

Have fun storming the castle…then go home.

The sheer variety of battles keeps the lean rules from wearing thin a bit longer than otherwise. Nevertheless, eventually you’ve done every possible combat maneuver possible, and another level on your hero just isn’t going to matter after the first nine. After both campaigns, perhaps the game will be played out for most gamers. For the more dedicated, there’s a full campaign editor; while Drums of War is a little lean now, I can see this turning into a fairly awesome game after a few expansion.

In the meantime, Drums of War is worth the price of admission, and not every game has to be good for months of play.

Product Page [matrixgames]

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