Turn-based strategy games have traditionally been rather unwelcoming to casual gamers as most demand a fair amount of time, patience, and prior experience before one can become even remotely decent at them. Things haven’t really changed much over the years when it comes to AAA games, however, indie developers certainly took note of that fact and have started releasing TBS games that are quite a bit more accessible to newcomers yet still feature at least some of the complexity we’ve come to expect from the genre. Wee Free Studio’s Powargrid is a recent example of a turn-based strategy game with puzzle elements that can be pretty difficult at times but manages to keep the player engaged thanks to its interesting gameplay mechanics and silly humor.
It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that Powargrid was inspired by chess, as both games reward players who are able to correctly predict the opponent’s next move. Unlike chess, however, the indie title also features basic resource management and base building mechanics that add an extra layer of strategy on top. While the game only features one type of resource and a handful of buildings, winning a game of Powargrid isn’t exactly an easy feat thanks to the intelligent AI that tries – and often succeeds – to outsmart the player at every turn. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that the solid AI is Powargrid’s main strength and can be a very important selling point for anyone who enjoys challenging games.
Having said that, Powargrid is one of those titles that looks very simple at first glance but gets increasingly difficult with each mission, so don’t worry about the AI beating you right off the bat, at least as far as the single-player campaign goes. Speaking of which, the campaign has the potential of being either a pretty enjoyable experience or a total cringefest, and it all depends on your sense of humor strangely enough. Personally, I find the quirky characters to be fairly amusing but the jokes are definitely hit or miss for me. It’s not that I don’t find them funny per say, but this particular style of comedy doesn’t really fit in with Powargrid’s strategic gameplay and the humor tends to feel a bit forced as a result. I do commend the developers for wanting to make a turn-based strategy game that feels light-hearted, but at the same time, the humor here seems a bit out of place when combined with the challenging tactical gameplay.
What the campaign does have going on for itself, however, is a good amount of environmental variety that makes every mission feel unique. Even though the end goal always involves destroying the opponent’s key structures in order to claim victory, Powargrid starts throwing various obstacles and additional objectives at you pretty early on in the campaign to make things a little bit more interesting. This system works really well and it’s easy to see that the developer put a lot of work into designing each individual level with a specific challenge in mind. Whether you’re trying to foil the evil plans of Zomg or stop Archeologist Ford from breaching the walls of an ancient temple, there’s usually some kind of interesting objective to complete on each map and the missions are always accompanied by a few lines of written dialogue.
In addition to the single-player campaign, Powargrid also features a Skirmish mode against the AI, complete with four levels of difficulty and three maps to choose from. The game also offers multiplayer but seems to lack dedicated servers right now, so the only way of playing with someone over the internet is to establish a direct connection the old-fashioned way, at least as far as I can tell. On the bright side, Powargrid does feature Hotseat multiplayer so at least it’s easy to play this game with a friend provided you are both playing from the same computer.
All in all, Powargrid is a pretty interesting indie game that requires very little time to learn but is definitely not easy to complete. The campaign could use a couple of improvements here and there, most notably a save function, but it has been a fun experience overall. The game currently only costs $10 on Steam and is certainly a good way to kill a few hours, especially if you’re a fan of turn-based strategy games.