Game of War is a fascinating case study (if you’re a strategy game nerd such as myself). On the one hand it is the pinnacle and refinement of the online strategy game genre, but in other ways it is the desecration of the same.
Looking straight at the mechanics, it’s easy to trace the lineage from Travian, to Evony, Kingdoms of Middle Earth, and finally Game of War. Build and upgrade mines to harvest resources, spent to upgrade more buildings, train troops, and do research. There are five different troop classes with the standard loop of who beats who. Infantry beats Cavalry beats Ranged, etc. As is standard these days you also have a hero who provides bonuses to your economy and military, levels up, etc. It also uses the “tried and true” medieval theme, which I have long-since grown tired of.
There are some new features that are much appreciated. Most games have struggled with finding a way to allow alliances to really cooperate on a strategic level, and games that allow you to launch a coordinated attack are few and far between (Ikariam and Clash of Kingdoms seemed to solve this well, but they stood alone). Game of War’s rally mechanism let’s you announce to your alliance that you want to attack someone together. Then everyone in the alliance gets a notification and all they have to do is press the “join” button, select their troops, and its done!
And of course what is Game of War without a giant, iron Throne at the center of the world!? Each Kingdom acts like a game of King-of-the-Hill. Whichever Alliance holds on to the Throne gets some cool bonuses and can assign titles to various players throughout the world, such as the Champion, the Chancellor, the Fool, and the Whipping Boy.
To contrast these great mechanics, the game is propped up with every skinner-box retention mechanism you can think of and sometimes looks more like a casino than a strategy game. Every day you get a free spin of the prize wheel, every 10 minutes or so there’s a “secret gift” you can claim if you log in, every 6 hours you get a bunch of “quests” you can do by pressing start and then waiting for the timer. Each day you log in you will build up your VIP streak, and they’ve even got a building where you can deposit your in-game currency to make interest on it. The UI certainly suffers from all these random bells and whistles, and the main view can be quite distracting.
There are several other features that work to mitigate the true strategic potential. As with its predecessors, throughout the world map are resource tiles you can send your troops to. You cannot control these tiles though, you can only send your troops to gather resources from them, which takes time. And while they are gathering they are vulnerable to attack from another player. While this sounds awesome, there are so many resource tiles that it is hard not to find one that is free. You will also receive a notification if an enemy starts to march towards a tile you are gathering from giving you the opportunity to withdraw, which means effectively you can have as many resources as you want, risk free, so long as you are in the game to move your troops to safety.
Generally, I try to stay out from under skinner-boxes, even when propped up on a stick with a strategy game under it. But, due to its success, Game of War is not so easily dismissed! It teaches us two valuable life lessons.
1. Skinner boxes work.
2. Just because a game is successful does not mean it is a good game. McDonalds is super-successful, but that doesn’t mean their food will be well praised on a gourmet strategy game blog.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Game of War quests I need to collect.