Land Doctrine is a tough ask. A territory control game of point-to-point armoured combat, underpinned by an ongoing R&D technology race. A pastiche of pulp Great War hardware that doesn’t fall too far into fancy, but plays with that ever-present drive of wartime being the best time for boffins. But Land Doctrine fails in a few key areas that, if addressed, would shepherd it from a current half-hearted recommendation to emphatic nodding.
Land Doctrine is a pausable real-time affair. You start, jostling at the front, with a number of early tin-can armour stationed along the frontier. Given territory is governed by control over nodes – minor and major – it’s a case of spreading your battalions along the border, mounting offensives where you can and heading off an enemy’s advance. Cities play a crucial role as key points of conquest. They act as munitions and hardware manufacturing hubs, and their loss is an obvious opponent’s gain. Cities can be set to produce whatever is needed for the war effort, provided you’ve done the homework and touted the papers.
Which is where the research and development comes in. Putting research points in various projects nets the obvious bonuses over time. Increased output, decreased research time, upgrades to infantry kit and the like. Research points are dredged up over time, dropped back into the think-tank projects. This fattens the tank module selection, and that’s my bread and butter.
There’s no brinkmanship in Land Doctrine, one that allows for a little lingering peace to build on the jalopies of the pre-war period. This means combat endured in the opening phase of the game is often costly. Getting those upgrades and fresh designs are paramount to sustaining the spearhead, because the days of those tiny, tinny paper tigers on the front are numbered. Once you start seeing the fruits of your labour cranking out from a healthy R&D sector, it’s time to start getting nitty-gritty with the parts.
Armour, suspension, engine and armament research offer up some interesting combinations, sadly not visually reflected in the unit models. Going from miserly small-calibre machine guns to stonking cannons, satisfying the encumbrance and considering armour percentages is the kind of Great Night In a rivet-counter can appreciate. It does lead to a lot of relegated mothballs used to soak damage until their demise, but nothing beats a better beast of higher mobility and better range.
Battalion constitution also lets players drill down into the type of infantry – initially regular and reserve – and their firearms. Again, this sadly doesn’t correspond to any visual indicator, compounded by the fact only stock tanks feature on the battlefield.
Once pickets are bolstered and battalion engagement rules set, provided you’ve stemmed the tide and held the line, it’s time to schwerpunkt into the guts of the enemy. This is where things could be clearer and easier to command. Individual battalions can be directed anywhere, but they can’t be synced to advance simultaneously from different directions. Pincer movements on a fortified position is therefore a bit of a wonky enterprise. Land Doctrine would benefit from some sort of control group option.
Combat itself is hands-off. A brace of numbers and stats based on machine parameters follow each clash of steel, including officer impressions of the engagement. This is where I feel Land Doctrine needs a touch more polish. It’d be great to see more overlays. Combat feels often arbitrary in who it picks as victor. I often found massed battalions coming from all directions against an opponent annihilated despite the odds. The battle reports are brimming with information, but there’s a lack of discernible information prior to contact. Or, it’s buried.
That’s what makes me hesitant to heartily recommend Land Doctrine. The game is certainly not lacking in crunch and depth, letting players dig down into the cogs of the war machine. But I couldn’t get a good grasp on how certain parts connected. And it certainly might be my shortcomings in not seeing the clockworks operate, but for every moment where I knew I should love Land Doctrine, I came away either flummoxed at how my heavy battalion crumbled against a foe with far less, or why there was no mini-map to get a good overview of the front, despite the generous zoom. It’s the small things with this game that hamper what is otherwise a fascinating and rather unique, sweeping strategic experience.
The cost of entry is minimal, and though far be it for me to assess value for money, Land Doctrine is cheap enough to warrant satisfying curiosity. With a few more passes for clarity, it’d be a fine little wargame.