Friday, 6 July 2012

Review: Levee en Masse HD for iPad

A week or so ago, Victory Point Games released the iPad app Levee en Masse HD - a digital implementation of the boardgame counterpart Levee en Masse.

I have anticipated this game ever since I first heard of it being in development, for two reasons. First, because it is Victory Point Games, a small company making great games. Second, because the game is based on the States of Siege engine. I like that engine a lot. I own Empires in America, which is another States of Siege game (I reviewed it here).

A blurry snapshot of an ongoing game on my iPad.

Game overview
Levee en Masse is a game about the French revolution (1789-1802) and its many wars. As mentioned above, it's a States of Seige game, which in turn means a solitaire game. The player is ruling France and must defend Paris from foreign armies (e.g. English and Prussian) closing in from several directions, and suppress Monarchy and Despotism to keep up the Republic popularity.

Each turn a card is drawn. The card will tell what enemy armies are moving towards Paris in that turn, how many actions the player receives for that turn, different die roll modifiers etc. The cards drive the game, they set the pace and steer the enemies.

User interface
The user interface in Levee en Masse HD is good. It captures the theme well and is easy to use. However, there are some minor flaws, like when rolling the die. It's made automatically by the game. I'd like to tap and roll it myself. And it disappears real quick sometimes, so you have to catch it with your eyes before it goes away. The other bad thing, which is much worse, is that there are no rules within the game. Just a tutorial. Sure, the tutorial is okay, but sometimes you can't remember everything first time you hear/see it, you need to go back to the rules and read it again. What I did was to download the pdf rules from VPG's web site, the rules for the paper version of the game. The rules are the same, but the graphics is different and you have to leave the app to read them. I would have preferred to have them readable within the app.

This is where the game really shines. The theme is very strong, mostly thanks to all the card drawn each turn. On each card there are historical notes, that tells an interesting story. The choice of color scheme and graphics within the game, also add very well to the theme and enhance the atmosphere.

Decision making
This is what I think is the weakest part of the game. I like solitaire games (or games in general) that offer a lot of decision opportunities for the player. I like it when the player has too many options, but limited in time/resources to implement them all in one game turn. Unfortunately, Levee in Masse (HD) offers a low number of player actions each turn, which makes the game somewhat repetitive. What you do most in a turn is attacking one or two enemy armies and spending a few actions on the political track. In Empires in America for example, the player is given more choices, but that game is on the other hand more complex.

Maybe the "decision making" feel is different when playing the paper version of the game? Maybe an app like this makes it all go too fast, with e.g. housekeeping performed in background by the app instead of by the player? Some of the analog/physical feel perhaps got lost in the transformation into this digital form? Could be a general matter to keep in mind when letting boardgames go digital: How to not lose the game's original soul?

Despite the limited number of decision opportunities for the player each turn, I like the game. From what I can tell, the iPad app is a very faithful implementation of its paper version. The theme is really strong, both the graphics and all historical text on the cards. All in all, a game I will continue to play and enjoy! :-)