Battle for WesnothComing back to this game I couldn't quite remember why I had ever stopped playing it. Battle for wesnoth is a free turn based strategy game. It's a beautifully crafted game, with enough variety between the units to present interesting strategic choices. I've only played the single player campaign so far, and have yet to experience multiplayer, but I'd love to give it a shot.
There is a lot of intricacy to it. Each turn you can move each unit, and if you are adjacent to an enemy unit, attack. Different types of terrain penalise different types of units- horsemen are best on the plains, while dwarfs prefer the mountains, and elves are utterly lethal in the forest. There is a day night cycle throughout turns, and certain units are better at day than they are at night. Units have different kinds of attacks, ranged and melee, with different kinds of damage which effect units differently- impact damage is better against the undead, piercing damage against humans.
The campaigns are great fun, the plot weak, but the challenges interesting and sometimes extremely difficult. And therin lies the rub. Wesnoth is a game with a loyal fanbase of players who have played the game to death, and are looking for more challenge, and the creator is happy to appease them. Sadly this means that certain campaigns, even supposed novice ones, have their difficulty gradually amped up. A scenario which was already quite hard to complete has been made even harder since I last played it, which is just a nightmarish choice.
The main issue this can drive away newcomers is that its quite possible to doom ones self in early missions without realising. Units level up throughout the game, and you can recall them in later scenarios, so the game assumes that you have a back log of these units. If you don't, certain missions become practically impossible as you only have very weak level one units to fight your enemies with. The tactics then are somewhat counter intuitive- you want to let lower level units get kills as they get more experience for that (why kills give more experience is not really clear from a design perspective, as it leads to stupid behaviour), and also to preserve very carefully high level units. Also, finishing a level well usually gives a bonus in terms of your starting gold for the next mission, which sometimes you really do need. The problem with all these systems is that bad players are going to find the game get harder and harder, while good players will find it easier and easier. This is the opposite of what the game should be doing, and is a serious flaw in the game design.
That said, if you do play carefully and well, the game is rewarding- provided you realise the game is structured that way, and are prepared to replay levels or turns (the game does let you rewind at least 5 turns back, which can be a life saver if you accidentally lose important units), its a lot of fun. Its also free, so its hard to go wrong.