The “tick tick ticking” of a legion of troops can be heard echoing throughout the town as they march in formation, heading straight into the arms of a defensive garrison. Leading the march is a cocky blonde guy donning shiny armor and a blue cape, and to his sides follow a crossbowman and a priestess. As the troops draw closer to the castle walls, a defending lizard man jumps into the air and lets out a blood-curdling “YEE-HAW!” – the first blow of what will likely be a long and bloody battle.
Blood Battalion is the latest in the Blood Brothers series by Mobage that puts you in the driver’s seat of an pawn-army. Winding your way through a simplistic story involving some undead and magical brain washing, you’ll watch as a mostly automated war unfolds before your very eyes… pausing here and there only to trigger special attacks. As your pawns reign doom down upon the doomed tides of doomy darkness, they will gain experience and levels. Completed battles will award you gold and chests which you will use to fortify your army in an on-going struggle for dominance over eeeeeevil.
Your story begins with a sudden and rather non-interactive series of battle scenes, supposedly giving you some handle on the game’s controls. Each battlefield is a rectangular section of map broken into squares on which your pawn-army will advance. Judging by the screenshots in the Play store, I’d assumed that Blood Battalion was a turn based strategy game where I could carefully plan and execute each unit’s move for an attack. Not having been familiar with the Blood Brothers series whatsoever probably only added to my initial confusion. With a giant orange “Go” button staring at me from the bottom of the screen, I wondered to myself… “Go, where? I didn’t tell anyone to do anything yet.” After unsuccessfully tapping, tap-holding, and dragging on my units, I decided to just see where “Go” took me. And, go they went.
You see, Blood Battalion is really not the turn based strategy I’d assumed it was. In fact, all of the “strategy” in this game lies in your triggering (or saving) special abilities and how you manage units and formations outside of battle. Combat itself is a fairly straightforward and disappointingly automated affair. Each army begins at opposite ends of the map, and tapping Go advances both armies a few lines. Once the armies get close enough together, your pawns will automagically shuffle themselves around however they see fit – likely according to their unit types. I’m still not entirely sure what the logic is behind battlefield movement, if there is any at all. Attackers and lancers tend to rush out front and jump straight into combat while defenders and sharpshooters hang in the back rows. Healers, for some strange reason, think of themselves as attackers and will head straight into the fight – something of a surprising move, considering that you need them alive to heal your units.
The Old ‘In-And-Out’
Each “scene” consists of 3 battles and your units don’t heal or resurrect in between, putting much of your success at the whim of your units’ AI and special abilities. Each pawn has its own skill that can be triggered once or twice over a set period of time, so it’s best to save them until you need them. Once a skill has been used-up, the pawn resorts to a standard auto-attack. Depending on what formation you chose before the scene, you might also be at an advantage (or disadvantage) vs. your opponent’s formation going into the fight. During combat, the map will automatically scroll and zoom in to the action. While the graphics look good zoomed-out, the game tends to stay zoomed-in for most of combat rendering the artwork somewhat blurry and pixelated. Unfortunately, you can’t lock the zoom to your preferred setting so you’re going to be experiencing most of the game in medium quality. Selecting individual units can also get tricky, even when zoomed-in, since they tend to group tightly together on the battlefield. Don’t even bother picking one out of the crowd while zoomed out.
Managing Your Recruits
Once a scene is over, your units will gain experience and auto-level thus raising their stats. You’ll also be awarded random loot during each battle in the form of gold, coins, and chests. Coins can be used between scenes to recruit random units to your army, and there are various rarities of coins which determine just how awesome your new pawn will be. Chests can contain coins, items that give you energy (yes, this is a freemium game), or books that you can use to level-up a unit. The meat-and-potatoes of Blood Battalion, and quite possibly the single most entertaining facet of the game, is constantly recruiting new units for your army and creating new formations. The type and rarity of a new unit is completely random, so it encourages you to keep fighting to fine-tune your squad. Each formation has a limited number of slots going into battle, so recruiting and developing a solid army is the key to this game.
As you accumulate duplicates of a given pawn type, you have two options: turn them undead or “evolve” them using gold. Turning a pawn undead lets you summon them onto the battlefield as a temporary unit. Evolving a unit is basically merging two of the same type into one, conferring a significant stat boost to the merged “spawn”. There’s a set number of times you can evolve and level each unit as well, so choose wisely! A running list of challenges exist as a meta-reward system and are met by completing various tasks – kill x creatures, use a defender’s ability 5x, etc. Finally, once you’ve progressed a bit in the game, you can enter a special Coliseum mode which allows you to participate in serious events for serious rewards. In the Coliseum, you will defend and fight against other players (async) for fame and fortune.
Blood Battalion is truly a game of army management and unit hoarding. While the number of new units you can recruit seems nearly endless and getting “the next one” is an addictively rewarding experience on its own, combat is 90% automated and lacking in depth. During my play testing, the game also stalled every few minutes for no apparent reason – a glitch I hope Mobage will fix in the next update (Nexus 7). While Blood Battalion would be pretty sweet as a manually controlled turn-based strategy, there’s plenty of fun to be had simply collecting and upgrading an army. Unfortunately, you won’t get much play time in a given sitting due to the fact that you’ll constantly be running out of energy.