I never expected to find myself so busy and caught up with work at this age. I always thought my twenties will be about traveling the globe, making games on the road and discovering an easier way to inject myself with caffeine. At least the latter is on schedule. But between work (freelancing), my own projects (Pimps vs Vampires) and wrapping up what’s left of my university (which I winged like Jeff Winger in Community) I find myself not being able to invest much time in gaming. On the road I used to play Carmageddon or Cardinal Quest on my Nexus and at home it was either Skyrim, Steam Marines or, when I got to hog the only TV in the house, Hawken (Mech Games and HDTV’s are a match made in heaven).
While browsing through Gamejolt’s database, I ran across what appeared to be a strategy browser game called Iron Grip: Marauders. I was never into this type of games and the only one I invested any time in was Bitefight, mostly because of my, then, girlfriend who kept pestering me to play it. What caught my eye, regarding IG: Marauders, was that it was “marketed” as a 3D Turn Based browser game so I decided to make an account and see what it is about. Honestly, I was expecting it to be a regular pay-to-win, ad-filled game like so many others on the web and boy was I wrong. So, after playing it on-and-off for a few months I decided to tear it to shreds, brake it into different components, and do a small analysis on why I find it so attractive. In a nutshell IGM is all about taking control of an diesel punk airship (think of it like the offspring of Queen Anne, Blackbeard’s pirate ship, and a Russian Kirov), raising money for your “cool pirate crew” and plundering cities and caravans. The resources are split into three categories: Gold, Iron and Gems. Gold and Iron are the primary resources used to research, build and acquire new technology and units, while Gems represent the premium currency of the game. And here’s the first thing I liked about IG: Marauders: You are not forced to buy Gems in order to succeed at the game. Even better, you get free gems when leveling up or when you complete certain missions. The actual gameplay is split into two parts: Browser Based and 3D Tactical Battles.
I’d like to refer to the Browser Based part of the game as “Resource Management”, the bean counting phase if you may. Here, you invest in technology, research new units, acquire new tanks, hire heroes, take on missions and chat with other players. After logging in, you are greeted by a world map, from which you select the “region” you want to visit. At this moment I only have access to Anchor Point and Kolo’s Storm Bringer. Anchor Point represents the central hub (at least at this point in the game) from where the player can access missions and the market place. Missions can be found at the “Gentleman’s Club”, handled by the beautifully rendered, and bribable, Jasmine. They come in different variates: Raids, Smuggling and Assault. Smuggling missions are you standard browser game events in which you select “a character”, equip him and send him off to do his job. After 6 hours he will report back if he’s successful, with a sweet bag of resources and some experience. Raids and Assault missions are played from the battle phase of the game, as well as failed Smuggling Attempts (more on this later). Battles are also initiated from the browser, just after your unit lineup is selected. The Deployment phase is similar to a Table Top game like Warhammer where you maximum number of units is based on a total amount of points you can spend.
The Black Market, accessible from the map, offers a wide variety of units and “crates” which can be bought with Gems. The crates can be seen as Booster packs for Trading Card Games. You never know what’s inside them and most of the times you end up saying stuff like “Need, need, got” and “OMG YES!1!”.
Players can use the upper bar to access the “Research Center” from which technology (vehicles and units) can be studied. Once a certain “unit” has been researched it can be built or hired either in Engineering or the Training Room. Some units can be “licensed” and have a “limit of availability” based on the number of licenses you have bought. Iron Grip reminds me, allot, of trading card games that I used to play not long ago (Duel Masters and Magic The Gathering) due to the way it handles it’s unit management, which brings allot of strategy and careful planning to the table. After fighting a few battles against Militia’s I knew what I should expect from them and made quite a successful lineup. The same lineup turned out to be utterly useless against swarms of Mortts (delightful symphonies of evil grinded down into Worms – more on my hatred of them at the end of the article).
The thing I like about IG: Marauders is that I have access to this part of the game where ever I am. When I’m home and my blood is boiling for some assaults on the Mortts I jump into the battle phase and only worry about research and smuggling missions when I’m commuting or my laptop battery is dead. I spend most of the management time on my tablet (a really cheap, low-end, android tablet).
This is one of the things I always wished it could be done in games like “X3 – Reunion/TC/Albion Prelude”. Micro/Macro Management is a pain in the ass most of the time and I usually feel the need to do it when I’m not playing the game (in X3 it really is a daunting task if you have more then 4 stations and 20 ships). ISOTX, the developer, gets a huge gold star for this.
After accepting a Mission and clicking READY you must select a hero and the army he will lead. At level 3 Emilia can deploy an army worth 435 points. Each unit has a cost based on it’s level. A level 3 Assault Archos costs 30 points while a level 1 Savar Tank costs 35. Each unit has it’s strong points and weaknesses and all of them have their purposes. The way I see it, you have 3 types of units: Scouting units (more points for traveling around on the battlefield), Assault Units (infantry and armored vehicles) and Support Units (they heal, repair or boost the stats of the previous two types). Once the starting lineup is selected a separate window is opened and the unity player kicks into action. A 3D Battle is about to begin. The game is turn based. You move and act, the enemy moves and act, once again showing a huge similarity to Trading Card Games (place a card, select a card, attack another, enter the damage calculation stage, select another card, etc). At the start of the battle you place your units on the battlefield.
After the unit deployment stage has been completed it’s time for the battle to begin. At this stage you are not aware of the enemy’s position so the right thing to do is send some Mounted Bombers out to scout, while strategically moving your army deeper into the battlefield. Each unit has a certain amount of action points, which are spent on Moving and Attacking. They also have a fixed range at which they can shoot their targets. This is important to keep in mind during the battle. One thing I usually do is “estimate” the range of my enemies and keep my units somewhat just outside. When I attack, I move my unit one step into their range, engage an attack, and move them out again. At this point the game feels a bit like a Tango dance of Life and Death.
You can select a unit by clicking on it. Each unit has a movement and attack range. In the image bellow, I have my Mountain Bombers selected. Their movement range is quite huge, but they can only attack close targets. Attacking and moving cost Action Points and by balancing the ration between moving and attacking I can use them to engage the enemy Bazooka units.
I like that it gives me the feeling of being a General who’s sitting at a table trying to come up with a strategy. And strategy is the key here. I feel that RTS’s are to fast paced during battles, decisions being made in just a quarter of a second, always having to adapt and macro-manage the units, not having enough time to control and assign EACH unit a goal. During player versus player battles the feeling is deepened more since the opponent movements are depicted via color-coded arrows.
Another gold star for ISOTX is given due to the fact that players can jump in and out of battles. For example, I can start a raid on the militia, deploy my units and engage some enemies. At any point during the battle I can close my laptop and resume the game later, from another location on a different device (for which the unity webplayer is available). For a person who spends most of his time knee-deep in code, the ability to resume playing a game during quick brakes is “god-sent”.
An important aspect in online games, at least for me, is the community of players. Interactions between a player and it’s peers is important. I was happy to see that IG:M has allot of mature players. In my three months of playing the game I didn’t get to see allot of trolling or offending messages (to be honest, I really don’t know if I ever witnessed such a case). Veteran players are quick to give, good, advice to newcomers like myself. The in-game chat reminds me a bit of a few dev channels on #freenode.
ISOTX managed to shape a masterpiece with this installment in their Iron Grip series (which started out as a Command & Conquer total conversion mod). I like how they approached strategy and combat, eliminating the need to keep an eye on resources and “factories” during gameplay. It’s a great blend between turn based strategy games like Advance Wars, trading card/table top games and a traditional browser based game (travian, ogame, etc). My only desired left to be fulfilled is the ability to resume and play battles, or just issue some quick orders to my troops from my phone and/or tablet. But it looks like they have that covered in their upcoming game March of War. If you enjoy Iron Grip Marauders as much as I do then be sure to Like March of War on facebook. The developers said the game will be released when they reach 100.000 likes.
— Bonus: Why I hate MORTTS
Let’s say you are doing a mission. Emilia is at your side, gently caressing her sniper and all your troops are in tip-top shape. Everyone is happy and looking forward to a little bit of “innocent” plundering of nearby villages. You take a right turn and a small and particularly white, chio-chips shaped, thing grabs your attention. So you decide to aim all your weapons towards it and give it a 40 gun salute, coupled with a few rockets, just to spice things up. Congratulations, you just opened up the gates of hell and before you ask, the answer is no, the Winchesters cannot help you. What going to happen next? Well, a cocktail of toxins and pure hate will be released upon your soldiers and with each turn, more and more maggots will crawl their way towards your army. Fortunately they are to slow to engage you with all their toxin-producing friends. Unfortunately, even in small numbers, they can wipe out your entire team. And if you are so unlucky to be caught in a narrow space then you might as well ALT-F4 and go beat up your grandparents. Mortts don’t just attack one of your units and move on. They do splash damage and when they hit, they spray.
The only tactic available? Running! You run and spread out like a school of fish when facing a great white. It’s every man, tank and hero for itself. You run and gun and then run some more, always keeping track not to get yourself in a check mate position. After you manage to clear out most of the underlings you need to get ready, because your forces have been reduced to but-a-few lucky soldiers and barely-working tanks and guess what? That’s right, you haven’t reached dry-land yet as you still have to face the Mortt Queen (The Spawn-of-Satan from here on out). She’s not only big, mean and ugly but also a beacon of hope for all the little Mortt’s that were far enough from the original onslaught as her very presence turns their attack more deadly. Can you focus on taking her down while indulging the barrage of acid spit thrown your way by the little guys, or do you take down one maggot at a time? My strategy? Tanks, Tanks, Tanks… and repair trucks. With a bit of luck and some well thought out strategy, might be able to cook up a Mortt Soup!