There's an enormous gulf in complexity within strategy games. That one genre designation can include everything from simple, mathematically solvable games played with pencil and paper to the enormously sophisticated simulations used by governments to test their military capabilities. Even so, in the public mind, strategy games rank among the most complex games around.
But not every strategy game needs to be Europa Universalis. Today's title, The Trasamire Campaigns, opts for simpler rules in order to focus more on the setting and story. Fair warning, though - "simple" doesn't necessarily mean easy.
We'll come back to the story in a moment - it's a significant part of the game, but I should touch on the rules first.
The Trasamire Campaigns is a digital board game with some similarities to Risk. The player begins each game on a board consisting of several dozen linked battlefields, with each battlefield occupied by the armies of one of any number of factions. Up to eight soldiers can occupy each field, but there's always at least one.
The goal is to occupy enough of the fields (somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters - it's not made clear) to justify declaring victory. The player may launch an attack from any field containing at least two soldiers. The attacker and defender roll a die for each soldier they have. If the attacker wins, then all but one soldier moves into the target field; if the defender wins or there is a tie, the defender keeps the field and the attacker loses all but one soldier.
Once the player is finished attacking (which can be done as many times per turn as there are valid targets), the player gains reinforcements, added randomly to any field that isn't full. The number of reinforcements is based on the longest chain of fields the player controls - not all your land, but the amount of contiguous land.
This is a very simple ruleset, but it leaves room for a surprising amount of tactical subtlety. Capturing land is necessary to win, but each attack diminishes your defenses, so sometimes it's wise to hold back. A long string of fields stretching across the board grants a lot of reinforcements, but it's easily disrupted by an attack on the center. And since you can't move your forces without attacking, it may be worth baiting an enemy into attacking a vulnerable space to open up a counterattack from a large army waiting behind it.
Fair warning, though: This is not a game of pure strategy. The use of dice rolls and the random placement of reinforcements means that there is a healthy element of luck at play. Even with a perfect strategy, you will lose some of your matches. That's fine, though - losing a match isn't game-over. In fact, most of the game consists of mini-campaigns wherein the player needs to win numerous matches. Losing a match just means you'll have to try harder the next time.
This isn't to say that there are no consequences to losing; the way the story ends will be very different depending on your record.
So let's return to the story for a moment.
The Kingdom of Trasamire is in turmoil. The great King Unmorr has died without an heir, leaving the future of the kingdom in jeopardy. Without a ruler, opportunists are eyeing the land - everyone from petty raiders to occult heretics to a rival domain bent on expansion.
At the start of each game, the player takes on the role of one of five pretenders, all headed to the capital to claim the throne for themselves. I opted to play as Leo Bright, a junior priest of the Royal Church and King Unmorr's illegitimate son. His goal is to reunify the kingdom under the Church's authority...at least at first.
Throughout the campaign, the player is given choices as to how to handle their men and the land under their control. These choices - along with the path taken to reach the throne - will determine the state of the kingdom when the player finally reaches the capital. In Leo's case, this means deciding how closely he will follow the orthodoxy of the High Clerics. Deviate enough, and you might just open up a schism - or even turn away from them for a chance to rule in your own right.
The Trasamire Campaigns is a casual, board game-style strategy game with a heavy focus on its story. It has ample replay value and is good for short sessions of play. The simple rules make it easy to pick up, but the heavy luck element might make it frustrating for some.
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