As is seemingly the case with a lot of the smaller titles being released on Xbox, Wartile, developed by Playwood Project ApS out of Denmark, made its debut on Steam (and occasionally, as in this title, to GOG). Personally, I feel that this is the best case scenario, quite the opposite of Microsoft’s early access program. After it arrives on our platform of choice, it has been thoroughly playtested, balanced, and refined. For this review, I’ll first talk about what Wartile is, what about it could be better, and finally, why it works.
Wartile began its journey as a Kickstarter title exactly three years ago and received nearly half of its funding goal. Even then, the game concept of tabletop miniature figurines doing battle on a hexagonal map was well-fleshed out. Based on Viking mythology, the player embarks on a campaign using ability cards and tactical movement across varied dioramas (battleboards) in order to conquer Scandinavia and England. Really that all seems very grand, but you actually spend the majority of the time in combat and far from the great overall goal. After every battle, there is an opportunity to equip new gear and weapons, change out battle cards, and swap figurines.
Even with the years on Steam and GOG to smooth out the game experience, moving Wartile to console does need a few enhancements. Most PC players sit at a desk relatively close to their monitor, not on a couch several feet away. As hard as it is to believe, it seems as though Playwood didn’t pay too much attention to how console players would experience Wartile, and as a result text is almost unreadable, particularly on the battle cards. With the cards an essential part of the gameplay, that especially seems like an odd thing not to get right. It’s easily repaired by (sigh) getting up from the couch and walking up to the television to read, but who wants to mix exercise and gaming? I want to mention before moving on that this is definitely not a game-breaking flaw, it’s actually more of an annoyance.
What Wartile does get right is the feeling of moving miniatures around a tabletop and blending that well with a card mechanic. Without much experience with decks and card gaming, I thought that it would be confusing when combined with the miniatures ruleset (being something of a grognard, I know how complicated that can be), but Playwood does a pretty good job of building knowledge through small experiences. I played the first level that served as a soft tutorial map and quickly got the hang of things such as the controls. Something else about the levels is that they are revisited two times after the initial playthrough. That seemed like fluff but it actually ramps up the difficulty through more advanced enemy and player units, higher card sets, different goals, and increased rewards. The fact that the map is familiar is a boon to the experience and not a detractor because it allows the focus to stay with strategy.
For the players that love the mythology and the world-building aspects of a game, what I paid the most attention to were the miniatures, the weapons, and the scenarios, and they all seemed authentic to the game’s style. There is an overarching story that gets peppered throughout, but when playing every map three times (and hearing the same lead-ins and voiceovers) I glossed over it eventually. I was able to get enough of the gist to have context and was satisfied with that – it is a battle simulator after all, and when has anyone needed a super compelling reason to hack at their enemies with a sword? Not me.
The maps (or dioramas) and the miniatures are beautifully done. Zooming in to see the setting and the fighting up close was one of my favorite things to do. The music also fits the setting, although I can only guess at this never having been a Viking IRL. Also, loading was a bit of a bear which for sure caused me to wonder how much faster the Series X is going to be when it comes out, and if load times disguised as information screens will finally be something only seen in the rear view mirror of time.
Whether miniatures, strategy games, or deck-building is your thing or not, I highly recommend Wartile because the sum of its parts delivers a unique and fun experience more than each alone. One of the indicators I personally measure when evaluating a game for review is: “Does it call to me when my console is off?”. For Wartile my answer is a hearty “Yes!”.