I think people often overlook how much setting can have an impact on wargames. With the tried and true eras of WW2, the Napoleonic Era, Ancient Rome and so on covered time and time again it’s often refreshing to see lesser known conflicts have their time in the limelight. I’d say most if not all wargamers have that era or conflict that will make them snatch up any game set during it. For me it’s the Cold War conflicts of the 20th century with Korea and the Soviet-Afghan Wars taking top spots. The Ironclads series, from Totem Games, has covered naval conflicts I’ve either never heard of or know little about.
The year is 1879 and South America can still feel the scars of its prior colonial rule. Chile and its ally in the form of the British Empire (the best empire I might add) face off against the alliance of Peru and Bolivia who are backed up by the USA.
Both sides are fighting for control over the arid, nitrate rich Atacama Desert with much of the fighting taking place at sea due to the environment’s unforgiving nature.
Ironclads 2: War of the Pacific comes with two campaigns, one for the Chilean side and the other for the Peruvian side. Sadly, despite the game’s interesting setting it really doesn’t give the era much character at all outside of the flavour text for each campaign. Both sides play exactly the same and you have to look pretty close to actually notice the difference their ships. But I’ll come back to this later.
Gameplay is divided into two segments. The first is the turn based portion in which you train/move fleets and ferry troops. The second segment which makes up the bulk of the game is the real-time battles where you fight it out for control of several key ports. What makes Ironclads 2 different from a lot naval wargames is that instead of controlling individual ships you take command of the whole squadron during the battles. To be precise, you take control of the lead ship in your squadron and the rest shadow its movements precisely like a line of heavily armed ducklings. During battles you’re afforded the standard set of orders for naval games of this kind. Cannons can volley fire or fire at will, some ships get several ammo choices and there’s on option to toggle your ships firing ranges on screen. I’m not really sure what use of that last one is though as there isn’t all that much of a difference between the range of most ships.
All ports in the game have several deployment areas for ships. The outermost is where most battles will take place whilst the inner zone can be used to for repairing/sheltering damaged vessels. Should you manage to wrestle control of the waters of a port from its previous owner you’ll then be faced with taking it with ground forces. Ground battles are sadly auto-battle only affairs and honestly just boil down to your assault force having more men with guns than the enemy garrison. But ports aren’t only used for battles and war related activities. They’re sources of trade income that can be blockaded and they’re also where you buy new ships.
It’s probably a good time to mention that consulting the manual will get you a long way in this game. Ironclads 2 often feels like the product of a bygone era in the same way AGEOD games often do, though nowhere near as extreme. The game straight up refuses to hold your hand in any way and makes you reference the manual if you’re unsure about anything. In defense of the devs though the manual is only eighteen pages long and that’s because Ironclads 2 isn’t a very big game. Each campaign can take a shrewd player an afternoon or two to complete.
Strong word of advice for battles: Avoid collisions at all costs. During my second battle I thought it would be fun to test out if Ironclad 2’s “realistic ship models” extended to collision physics. However instead of wood splintering and ships cracking in two, my ship kind of just rubbed up against the enemy before spontaneously taking off and flipping about the screen.
Besides that one snafu Ironclads 2 appears to be a very stable game with no crashes or other bugs to report. The UI is nice and functional and the ships are undeniably pretty to look at. I have to say that some music would’ve gone a long way in making the game feel a little less dry. Seriously, I’d take anything, even Reggae.
So with all that I’ve just said you’re probably thinking that Ironclad 2 is a decent, if small game that’s light on content. In that assumption you’re half right. Ironclad 2 is like a wet Wednesday in London; neither notably good nor bad. The battles are fun for the first couple times but lose their luster before long and since the camera doesn’t zoom in very far it sometimes feels like you’re just watching toy ships exchanging fire. This isn’t helped by the lack of crew on ships and the fact that there isn’t any voice acting at all. The campaigns feel utterly interchangeable and I’m honestly surprised the devs didn’t try to give them some character with event cards and such.
At the end of the day Ironclads 2: War of the Pacific is not something I can really recommend to anyone. It doesn’t do anything terrible nor is it horribly broken. No instead it commits the cardinal gaming sin of being rather dull and forgettable which is a shame considering the interesting setting. I’m kind of sad that my first review of the year is so unremarkable but then you can’t win them all.
What games have made you pick them up simply for the setting? Let us know in the comments below! Sean’s was Theatre of War 3: Korea.