It always impresses me how creative the indie wargaming development scene can be. Seeing what innovative mechanics and systems that can come from the smallest studios expands my grinchy wargamer heart by at least three sizes. Maneuver Warfare, I’m happy to say, is definitely one of those heart expanders. It is clear that Decisive Action Games, the tiny study behind Maneuver Warfare, believes in what they are trying to do and, by and large, they are succeeding at it. A few minor issues and one glaring one hold the game back, but with more time and updates I believe Maneuver Warfare can become something truly inspiring. As it stands though, potential players must be aware of some caveats.
The premise is altogether standard, but the execution is what sets Maneuver Warfare apart. Taking control of a Panzergrenadier Battle Group, players lead their units from the invasion of Poland through to the end of the war. The gameplay happens in a pauseable real time environment as players issue orders to their units on a paper map, and watch the units attempt to carry them out. Units are generally companies or equivalent of tanks, support units, and artillery.
There are stand alone scenarios, but the true game comes from the full campaign where players take control of the same battlegroup from mission to mission. Watching commanders gain experience or die off, and husbanding resources to keep your battlegroup combat effective from mission to mission is a lot of fun. Movement used to be a struggle, but the latest couple updates (1.14 at the time of writing) have solved this major complaint of mine. Now units can be grouped and moved together as long as their command unit is intact. You can still micro each company, and I did for fine tuning, but being able to maneuver collective elements was a godsend, making sweeping movements a breeze and gameplay in general far less frustrating. Combat is generally deal with under the hood, with only a small line indicating effective fire and a combat log that keeps you up to date on losses.
As for the units, they react to enemy fire and the terrain, moving and spotting at different rates while they attempt to follow your orders. Happily, you can give general orders for what each unit should do when they come under fire. You can suggest to your recon units and artillery that coming under fire is best met with a swift retreat, but tell your tanks to keep moving and close the gap as they take hits.
Actually managing the controls of doing all this takes a bit of learning. Especially when it comes to ensuring you have the correct groups selected at a given time, but it just takes a bit of time. Overall, setting up new fire orders, calling in artillery and airstrikes, using AT guns to counter tanks, and effectively using recon is all functional and rewarding. Once players get a hold of their units the game quickly comes together. It’s fun, the tactics feel real, the AI is mostly responsive, and there’s a good amount of content.
Now, some negatives. The game is ugly, and not just in the acceptable wargame ugly. It’s poor to the point of negatively impacting potential interest, I’m sure of it. It just looks amateur. Maneuver Warfare needs to full visual overhaul to bring it up to modern gaming standards or, and I don’t say this lightly, scrapping 3D entirely for a simple 2D map and counters if that is easier. But real art is sorely needed. A yellow rectangle is identifiable as a farmer’s field, but it could look so much better. As it stands the modifiable 3D just doesn’t work. It is painfully ugly. After several hours I finally started to get used to the art, but I shouldn’t have to. Excel games can and do work. Wargames with visual hiccups can be fine too, but what Maneuver Warfare is doing is straddling the line in an awkward way that needs to be corrected. I was consistently put off by the poor visuals.
Secondly, I never really understood how the terrain affects spotting. It seems that my units could spot enemies through what I assumed were built up areas (It’s a grey rectangle, who knows?). The abstraction is certainly a plausible answer, but I wish there were more coherent lines of sight and terrain rules presented within the game.
That’s really it for my complaints, especially since the 1.14 update solved my movement frustrations. The core gameplay is good. What’s more important, the core gameplay is unique. I’m willing to be pretty forgiving, especially for indie offerings, if they’re doing something classic extremely well or going out on a limb to do something new. Maneuver Warfare definitely fits into the latter. I honestly hope that the developer takes the visual complaints to heart because, and I truly believe this, there is something special just under the surface of Maneuver Warfare that would be exposed to a much wider audience if it just looked good.
If visuals mean nothing to you and you’re looking for an interesting indie offering that feels unique, then Maneuver Warfare is definitely worth checking out. If not, perhaps waiting for further optimization and a visual overhaul is in order.
This is a unique and fascinating Indie offering that is genuinely trying something new in the digital wargaming space. It is held back by abysmal visuals and some rough edges. If these problems are solved, Maneuver Warfare has the potential to be the start of something amazing.