Braveland Wizard Review: War of the Hexes

I’m not very good at real time strategy games. There’s something about the sheer amount of micromanagement on such a fast moving scale that makes me go kind of blank and not know where to start. In the real time strategy heyday, I tried Warcraft, and while I generally liked that it was a fantasy game, I just couldn’t keep up with the pace at which things moved. Naturally, I also played a little Command and Conquer as well as Dune 2, but all of these games effectively left me cold.

there was, however, joy to be had on the strategy front in terms of turn-based games where I could take my time, focus and get things right. I loved Civilization. I fell into Fantasy Empires [but not the actual fights in that game, because they were silly] and I absolutely adored Master of Magic.

Perhaps the biggest problem with all of those games was the complexity curve they operated on. You couldn’t just pick them up and play them, they would suck away hours of your life. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered King’s Bounty: here was a tactical, turn based game that I could take with me wherever I went. It fit on a single disk, it had a reasonable save system and it had a play-style that meant I could dip in whenever I had the time.

But New World Computing wasn’t content with the simplicity of King’s Bounty. They wanted to turn it into a massive game. And that, of course, is how Heroes of Might and Magic came to be.

But for twenty five years, I’ve longed for a game as simple as King’s Bounty. One that wasn’t so absurd in the complexity department that you’d need a manual and at least one or two visual aids to help you work out what to do. [Civilization was wonderful, but if you didn’t have a Technology Tree diagram, and you didn’t know it by heart…good luck.]

Enter Braveland Wizard. The [sort of] answer to all my prayers.

Developed for tablets and the like, Braveland Wizard does Heroes of Might and Magic or King’s Bounty, but without the gravitas of those particular games – the tone here is light and breezy. Moreover, much of the complexity is gone. There is no harvesting for materials or upkeep of hero units. Nor do you have to particularly worry about a morality slider that means bad creatures can’t fit in a group with good creatures. It’s incredibly stripped down.

Part of this stripping down comes at a bit of a price: while the tone is light and breezy, the story – and in fact, most aspects of Braveland Wizard are rather generic. Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before: There’s a mage graduating from an academy let loose on a world where someone has stolen a book of power. Along the way, he meets up with other mages, fights ghosts and visits a shaman that will help him, but only for a price.

The world of Braveland Wizard is at least artfully rendered.  It's rather cartoony in style - if you were expecting the beautiful, cg-rendered landscapes of Heroes of Might and Magic V, you might be dissappointed.  Here we have a picture of the lushest part of the map, greenery everywhere and a beautiful waterfall flowing along the map.
Always go right!

This is, I think, some part of the game’s ancestry on show: since it was initially a game meant for the Apple Application store and the Google Play Store, it has to appear friendly, but safe. And most of the design choices on display here are firmly in the safe category.

On easy, i never once ran out of money, my dead units always regenerated at the end of every battle and I never seriously used any of the equipment I found unless it was particularly generic.

I expect that on one of the other difficulties – normal or hard, perhaps, I may have had more trouble, but the game – as I played it – was fairly forgiving.

Since the basis of Braveland Wizard is essentially King’s Bounty, it’s an easy enough game to explain: You start with a hero figure who drives the story along. The hero has a collection of statistics, each of which govern how hard they hit in combat or how much mana they have at their disposal.

All units have a "cost" associated with them.  Here, I mix my squad up to get the perfect number of fifteen by adding their star values together.  A higher star value means a better unit, in much the same way as an army has lietenants and the like.
2 + 3 + 5 + 5 = 15. A perfectly balanced squad.

One special statistic is “leadership,” which is the gateway to most of the game. The leadership statistic defines how many of a particular unit you can have in your army. This particular setup is complicated slightly by another statistic which is essentially your “Army score.” Each unit, regardless of size, has a star rating assigned to it that more-or-less determines its strength. Higher numbers are better, but also “cost more” in terms of total army size. For example: suppose you have an army strength of six. The question now becomes, do you take the low cost, plentiful pike men with you – you can have twenty five, but they’re rated at one star – along with a bunch of mages – who are pegged as four star fighters, but whom you can only have four of – into battle or do you balance the numbers out better and go for a pair of three star monks and axe-men? With this balanced set up, you might only get twelve of each separate unit but your power would be mixed between medium-quality ranged units and medium-quality melee units.

Naturally, since this is built on the Heroes of Might and Magic template, your hero acquires gold to spend as they go, they don bits of armour that they can buy and they have experience points. Each level of experience earns you points that you can spend on a talent tree – a tree which you cannot completely unlock in one full game.

Given that this is Braveland Wizard, it is naturally part and parcel of the game that you receive spells that you can cast during battle. In fact, many of your units will acquire a single spell on a fairly long cool-down that helps matters immensely during combat – there’s very limited healing, but a lot of ranged spells do make up for the fact that your team generally has middling range-of-movement.

Battles in Braveland Wizard are turn-based, use hexes for movement and generally play like old-school tactical games of yore.  Here, some apprentices are facing down some goblins.  The apprentice will take a turn hitting the goblins and then the goblins will return the favour.
A first battle: Humans versus goblins.

The battles themselves are gloriously old-school: A unit appears as a stack with a number beneath it denoting how many you have to kill and everyone moves around on a board of hexes. There are occasional interactive pieces of scenery [treasure chests or coins that you might be able to pick up] but most of the focus is on the turn-based tactical nature of the game. There is a [hidden] turn order for each unit to move and attack or cast special cool-down spells. You can sometimes intervene with your own book of spells, making units move faster or raining ice down upon your foes. It’s all very much in line with the Heroes of Might and Magic ethos and that, sadly, is where most of the problem lies.

Can I recommend it? Sort of. It’s a short game and I wouldn’t pay full price for it – the going rate in the play store is just about $3 and the current price on GOG is just about $6 – too much for what little there is, here. If you’re seriously missing Heroes of Might and Magic, I’d give it a look on the express understanding that it is neither as deadly serious as those games nor as complex. If you can live with those dire warnings? Go right ahead.