Hold the Line in Trenches: Generals on iPad

Strategy games are one of the best-fit genres for tablet devices like the iPad. The touch interface tends to work extraordinarily well with the micromanaging required for such a game. Trenches: Generals, from Thunder Game Works, is just this type of game and currently sits within the top paid iPad apps list and rose up to #12 earlier this week.

A tug-of-war style strategy game set during what looks to be World War I, Generals is most comparable to an older casual strategy game from Armor Games, Warfare 1944 and Warfare 1917. With a cartoonish style, the game pits England against Germany in a recreation of the first World War. It has many familiar features but it grants players much more control over their military units.

That said, the games controls also can be a bit of a hindrance. The pacing of the game sometimes far exceeds the player’s ability to adequately manage everything happening on screen, like unit production, movement and upgrades.

In the game, players are tasked with moving their troops from one end of an elongated isometric level to another, destroying the enemy command bunker. In order to do so, players build various units using passively generated income to push forward through the battlefield.

Like any good strategy game, the units are all well-balanced. There are snipers that are strong against machine gunners, but weak against infantry squads, which in turn are weak against machine gunners. In order to control them, users touch and draw a path for them to follow, and ideally, guide them to a nearby trench where they can acquire a defensive bonus. Additionally, players can swipe left or right with two fingers in order to retreat or advance all units visible on screen.

This is particularly useful when levels begin introducing artillery and poison gas. Each do what one would expect them to do, which is provide area-of-effect damage to all units. When used, it costs a set amount of coin, and a few moments to queue up. As such, players have a second or two to move their units out of the way.

As a final set of notes, players can also upgrade trenches with engineering units and turn them into more defensible trenches and even bunkers that act as forward bases (spawning new troops from there instead of the start of the map). Beyond this, the longer a unit survives, the more upgraded it becomes, allowing it to receive bonuses for health and damage.

While this all sounds great on paper, the problem is that none of these units have a cool-down period before they can be built again, and they are all rather cheap to build. Because of this, there is a constant flow of new units, and even early in the game’s primary, single player campaign, the screen will be flooded with dozens of characters. When this happens, it becomes almost pointless to individually select units and move them to specific points. Moreover, all the units look virtually the same, save for their weapon, making it even harder to select something the player is specifically looking to use (e.g. a single engineer to upgrade a trench with).

The only way to “effectively” control the army at this point is to use the mass advance and retreat commands, but this can end up spreading armies thinly (which can get them slaughtered) and will move units one doesn’t want moved. An example of this, again, comes from the engineer unit, as it must sit still in order to upgrade a trench. Compound this with the chaos of enemy artillery and advancing armies, and quite the headache ensues.