Imagine, for a moment, that you are Lt. Gen. George Patton, leading the U.S. Third Army directly into German territory and poised to tear apart the remnants of the Nazi war machine after surviving the winter in the Ardennes forests of France. Then imagine Patton waiting as Tarot cards were placed in front of him that would determine his strategy from thence forward.
This is the inherent absurdity of trying to create a World War II scenario in a deck-based card game. What makes sense in a wizards’ duel as proposed by Magic: The Gathering or Hearthstone is a bit more obviously ridiculous in a game about Axis versus Allies. And yet, the mobile version of the successfully Kickstarted card game 2GM Tactics – somewhat blandly dubbed WWII Tactics Card Game on Google Play and the App Store – still manages to be an enjoyable game in its own right.
Starting out, the game can feel daunting to learn. There are a lot of rules governing unit behavior and the phases of each turn. This makes the physical game feel difficult to pick up as well, and perhaps the apps greatest strength is guiding the player through the overcomplicated rules.
Each turn runs through the same phases in order. First, action points are calculated based on what units the player has on the board, which consists of an 8×6 grid. The player then draws two cards into their hand. Cards can be units, which include infantry, armor, artillery, and aircraft; or special battlefield effects, such as extra ammo or land mines. The player can then move cards already on the board, and then deploy any new cards from their hand. Next is the shooting phase, in which hits are calculated by rolling a ten-sided die. Turns wrap up by resolving temporary effects (usually by flipping over tokens or counters as indicated on applicable cards) and discarding cards in excess of seven from your hand. The winner in the default scenario is the player who does 10 points of damage to their enemy’s headquarters.
There’s a fair amount of depth allowed by this system. Line infantry, for example, can be equipped with grenades for extra damage, or with mortars that can be set up and used at longer range. Artillery pieces and men can be transported quickly across the field in trucks, and having command units on the board means you’ll amass more action points per turn. At the beginning of each game, players can opt to place additional terrain features such as trenches on the board, potentially creating bottlenecks to funnel enemy units through. It’s possible to build your own deck from the selection of basic cards, or use pre-made decks that are tailored to to a play-style.
The mobile version of the card game only includes German and United States decks for the time being. Expansions for the United Kingdom, Italy, and Russia are planned for the tabletop edition, so these may in time come to the app as well. As it stands, the two decks available in the free-to-play app offer a solid variety of effects and units. The ads are unobtrusive, and can be removed permanently by paying $1.99 USD, which also gives you 60 credits to use in the store to buy scenarios, special “experimental” cards, or random booster packs.
In game, the interface tends to slow the pace of the game down to a clunky crawl, unfortunately. You’ll have to confirm the end of each phase of your turn with a button press, and the game will always ask you if you’re sure you’re done moving or shooting, even when you don’t have any more units able to move or shoot. Turning off the tutorial messages still leaves quite a few of these active, so it can get a bit tedious to grind through each turn. Ultimately this is only a minor annoyance, but it would be nice to see the game’s turn flow smoothed out a bit.
The main complaint I have with the game is its reliance on dice rolls. Resolving hits with dice is nothing new in wargames, but here, where you’re already limited by drawing a random hand of cards, it makes the game feel a bit too luck-based. Certain limitations are in place to keep things from getting too absurd – for instance, each unit has an armor-piercing stat that determines what they’re able to effectively shoot at, so infantry rifles won’t work against Panzers. But the feeling that things are down to random chance grates a bit.
Games can also feel lopsided very quickly, as early aggression is rewarded with a surfeit of action points. You’ll gain extra points by positioning units further forward on the board, and if you’ve been drawing expensive units or unhelpful equipment for a couple turns, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by an opponent who has simply had better luck with his draws.
Card art is identical to that featured in the tabletop game, and while it’s colorful and detailed, it left me a bit cold aesthetically. Soldiers have a kind of cartoony look that reminds me of doodles in the margins of a high school social studies notebook, but that’s a personal quibble more than an evaluation of the quality. The game certainly has a unique look, and my complaints about the style are very minor in the grand scheme of things.
Ultimately, what WWII Tactics Card Game, the app, accomplished was make me much more interested in 2GM Tactics, the tabletop game. The clunky interface and questionable art aside, the app is a perfect way to learn how to play the card game by getting hands-on time with the system in a guided setting. As is often the case, reading through an instruction booklet can make a game seem more, rather than less, confusing, and having a chance to actually play the game and see it in action is usually the only way to fix this problem. And while 2GM Tactics certainly isn’t nearly as complex a game as, say, Advanced Squad Leader, there’s enough to it to send new players back to the manual several times per turn. After quite a few games on the app, against both the surprisingly competent AI and more intimidating human players, I felt quite at home with the game – enough so that I’d easily be able to sit down now for a round at the table, which I think is probably the better milieu for 2GM Tactics.