SpiritWars - Beta 1.3.5.a version Developed by Kellogg Creek Software Online version published by WON.NET
Rating: four-and-a-half stars out of a possible five stars
Reviewed by Hartley and Pattie Lesser
In the world of online multiplayer games, occasionally a title pops-up that is deceptively easy to learn, yet holds the key to numerous game permutations for future interaction. Such is the case with SpiritWars, which is currently available at WON.NET (http://www.won.net) for open beta play. And we are impressed! This title proves that you don't necessarily have to have multiple chain guns chattering into action, blasting apart your online opponents, and that strategic thought can be as rewarding an experience as slaying millions -- if not more so!
Think of your favorite board games, such as Chess or Risk or even Monopoly -- even an interactive card game -- and roll them into an online game that offers a richly-embroidered (graphically-speaking), randomly generated playing field formed of hand-crafted hex tiles. The object of the game is to destroy your opponent's Castle. Yes, it's that simple, as the world of Valhalla has you commanding a variety of Spirits in your quest to annihilate your enemy. For two-players, SpiritWars is so simplistic in its game approach, yet so complex in its various iterations, you will never play an identical game twice.
Here are the basics. You start with your Castle, wherein a Dungeon exits. You must populate your Dungeon with Spirits, of which there are four varieties: Energy, Combat, Defender and Magical. These are your "forces" and they move from the Dungeon into your Castle's Courtyard. However, the Courtyard can only hold eight Spirits at a time, so as you move your Spirits onto the playing field, you open up "slots" in the Courtyard for additional Spirits to arrive from the Dungeon at the start of the next turn.
WON's SpiritWars offers you more than 250 unique playing pieces, yet you must be quite particular in the number, and type, of Spirits you deem necessary to claim victory. In most cases, gamers use between 30 and 50 Spirits from their "kingdom" to populate the Dungeon. Spirits come in colors that represent their Homeland. For example, a Spirit from the Woodlands would be of the green category. The colors become quite important as you place your Spirits on the playing field. If you place a Combat Spirit on a terrain hex of the same Homeland color, that Spirit gains a +1 on attack and can suffer one point of damage without affect.
The Energy Spirit garners energy for your forces. You cannot place Spirits, nor move them, nor use them in combat, unless you have the energy to "power" them. That's why the Energy Spirits become extremely important, for without them, the three energy points your Castle produces each turn will quickly become insufficient to motivate your forces on the playing field. Place an Energy Spirit on a Homeland hex, and they produce an extra point of energy! Believe us, when you have multiple Spirits in the field, and several Spirits awaiting delivery onto the playing area, you'll need as much energy as you can obtain. To be left bereft of energy as an enemy hacks away at your Castle is a most frustrating experience.
Your Combat Spirits are the forces that tackle the opposing Castle as well as attempt to mitigate your enemy's forces in the field. These Spirits are categorized into three categories: Speed and Ranged Attack. Being able to assault an enemy while two hexes away from your target is a great bonus for you -- plus, you can move your ranged attack Spirits away from impending disaster far more effectively than a non-range attack unit. Speed is also a great bonus, as such Spirits can attack beyond the normal, one hex, movement allowance. Of the categories, the ranged attack unit is considered to be the most important of both.
Your Defender Spirits, although unable to move or attack, if used wisely, can be extremely effective defenders. For example, their use in conjunction with an Energy Spirit can prevent your energy source from being decimated, as the Defender Spirits can absorb the damage your energy source would normally suffer. They also have a blocking range and blocking power - woe to the defending unit that attacks a Defender Spirit with insufficient force, for the blocking power can annihilate them through these Spirits' defensive posture.
Finally there are the Magical Spirits. These are not actual playing pieces as the first three types, but give you special powers you can "cast" onto your own units, enemy units, or even the world itself. Many spells enhance ranged combat distances, speed a unit can move, or even "take over" an enemy unit and place it in your camp. Other spells are detrimental to the enemy and can weaken their defenses prior to an attack, or even wear away an opposing Castle's walls. When a Castle's defensive points are lowered to 0 or below, the other player wins the game. But getting to that Castle, while defending your own edifice, is the trick of the game.
You'll countermove, keep reserves in the Courtyard for Castle defense, work Defender Spirits in close to your Energy Spirits, perhaps fall back or race ahead, regardless of the consequences, as you strive to crush that enemy Castle. As you can only see two hexes beyond your furthest unit, you must also keep in mind that you really don't know where the enemy Castle is when you start the game. This means not only considering your defensive positions around your Castle, but also sending out Combat Spirits to attempt to locate the Castle and engage the enemy.
WON's version of the game offers a default Dungeon which is especially helpful for new players as you don't have to decide which Spirits to use, which can be a complex decision process. Even when you do use the game's Dungeon Editor to select your Spirits, you never really know what units will be brought from the Dungeon to the Courtyard, as they are randomly placed. You simply have to use your wits in selecting the units made available and ensure you have enough energy to complete your tactical plans.
Spirits can also be healed and resurrected, but once again, only if you have the color energy necessary to accomplish such actions. As the Castle only produces two colored energies, the wise gamer will establish other color Energy Spirits as soon as possible on playing field hexes to start generating the additional color energies necessary to empower a variety of Spirits. We learned the hard way that Energy Spirits should be placed BEHIND your Castle, making it more difficult for opposing forces to attack them to reduce your energy supplies. However, BEHIND is relative for, as we stated earlier, you really don't know where the enemy Castle or forces are when you start the game (unless you happen to be lucky enough to find yourself starting the game in a corner of the map, which is easier to defend).
The interface allows you to right-click on any unit to determine its characteristics. And remember, the object of the game is to destroy your enemy's Castle, so no matter how tempting it might be to engage in unit-versus-unit combat, getting to that Castle may be far more important than winning a single battle. In fact, some of the folk we played online enjoyed setting unit combat traps using their weaker units, drawing us away from our Castle, as they used speedier, more powerful Spirits to whittle away our Castle walls. One tactic we finally employed was the decimation of an opposing force's Energy Spirits, for once that energy was depleted to the point where our opposition could no longer move their more powerful troops, their Castle was ours for the taking!
Oh, should your Dungeon become depleted of Spirits, your Castle will then start to suffer neglect. This means that, each turn, your Castle will lose three points to damage.
SpiritWars is an extremely enjoyable online game that is suitable for the entire family. The only drawback was the fact that there really is no practice game in which you can tune your skills. Certainly, you can enter the SpiritWars chat room and find players there willing to enter a game with you, but your first experiences will definitely be of the losing variety. If you can hang tough, suffer through those first games, you will soon learn how to play SpiritWars effectively. Not that you'll win every game, for there is a certain amount of random luck in each session.
WON has provided an easy-to-read tutorial for newbies and many of the folk in the SpiritWars chat room are eager to help you learn the game. For those who want in-depth information regarding the game, tips and strategies, and philosophies, Kellogg Creek (the creator of the game) have their own SpiritWars site at http://www.spiritwars.com that is certainly worth your while to visit. Definitely a winning title - and should your war not go the way you had wished, a special CONCEDE button has been included on the game screen to allow you to slink away without suffering the humiliation of total defeat. Engage SpiritWars at http://won.net. You won't be disappointed!
System requirements PC, Win95/98/NT, 16MB RAM (recommended 32MB), 14.4 modem, 16-bit graphics card with resolution set to 800x600.
Addendum You will need to download SpiritWars to your hard drive -- Beta version 1.3.5a is a 16.2 MB file. Plus, you will also need WON.NET's online game service software. When installed, the game will offer you a direct connection to WON's SpiritWars server and you must have an open connection to the Internet when starting the game.
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SpiritWars is a registered trademark of Kellogg Creek Software.