I Played a Mobile “Wargame” for a Full Month.

So a while ago I purchased a White Dwarf magazine from my local hobby shop. I used to read White Dwarf quite a bit, but fell off the wagon years ago as the magazine degraded into a flashy catalogue and I got busy with other things. This issue caught my eye because it included a dozen Warhammer PC game codes. I’ve got a few of the more prominent ones, but I thought it would be interesting to see what the good and bad of digital Warhammer games are these days and maybe squeeze a few reviews out of the deal.

One that immediately tripped me up as I went to redeem it was Warhammer: Chaos and Conquest. This was a mobile wargame in the tradition of Clash of Clans. Something I vowed, as someone who respects video games, to never willingly engage in. But here it was, a code for some free stuff to get you off the ground. A morbid curiosity grew in me, followed by a crafty rationalization to convince myself this would be a good idea. Why don’t I play using what this code gives me and see how long I can last?

The experiment opened my eyes to a sad reality. But I’ll get to that.

How Does Warhammer: Chaos and Conquest Play?

So there isn’t really much game here. The general gameplay loop revolves around timers. You want a high power score. In order to get a high power score, you’re going to need soldiers and defences for your fortress. This is accomplished by acquiring resources, constructing buildings, researching new skills, and training soldiers. It sounds pretty typical for a strategy game, but in Warhammer: Chaos and Conquest, as in most other mobile wargames, there is no real strategy involved. Each building linearly increases in value and power as it levels up. Some allow you to gain more resources, some to recruit more troops, some to let you scout farther or faster. None of these things require choice as there is room for it all in your base.

The true enemy is time. Every build requires resources and time. Some of the early timers are easy. 10 minutes here, 30 minutes there. But by the time I finally hit my limit, I was waiting a full week to finish researching tier three units. Of course, you can always pay real money to reduce timers.

Combat is another simple numbers game. There are plenty of AI ‘armies’ dotted around the world map that you can attack, but combat consists of selecting an army, a general to lead it that hopefully makes good use of your troops, and sending them on their way. Units do damage to each other, you earn some items for your trouble, and the army marches back.

PVP is where these games flourish, but the tragic part is that it will always come down to the player with higher power winning. There is no tactical choice to be made. I never lost a fight against a human player, mostly because I never engaged unless I had far superior power, but really, my safety came down to the true meat of these mobile wargames, clans.

The Social Trap of Mobile Wargames

Warhammer: Chaos and Conquest, like most similar games, heavily encourages players to join a clan. This helps reduce timers, allows players to share some resources, and creates a sense of community. The community aspect is frightening in its ability to quickly ground down players on the fence about spending. Each server wide event shows exactly how much help each member is contributing to a victory, and is quick to show relative power levels. Those who spend some money to help out and top off a win for their clan are greeted with praise by their fellows. Those who do not are, in my experience, just kind of ignored.

PVP being a clan versus clan thing also helps to inflame players and goad them towards spending money. Several times in my month I saw enemies from different clans swear across the open chat to out buy each other in an effort to win personal or clan glory. I also saw players spending in order to act as protectors for their weaker clan mates. It was almost baffling until I realized just how important these games could be to certain people.

The Vicious Necessity of Mobile Games

I tried to chat a lot with my clanmates while I played. Mostly about the limited strategies we could employ to improve our lot, but also about their lives. More of them than I expected were playing this because they couldn’t really do anything else. Several spoke openly about disabilities preventing them from playing other games or engaging in other hobbies. Others spoke of this game as their escape from a difficult world, using the easy mechanics and linear progression for a sense of satisfaction and fun, and even other seemed to have little else besides the game to spend their time and money on.

It made me more than a little sad, but also, I think, helped me understand why these games are they way they are. Yes they exist to bilk money out of their players at an absurd rate, but I also see that this connection of real money to in game prowess helps those who cannot find that power elsewhere to feel good about themselves. Is it an actual solution to real life problems? I don’t really think so. But I understand it now. For some, spending money on these kinds of games and participating in a community is an important part of their lives that fulfills them in a way they can’t or aren’t getting elsewhere. I’m willing to bet that if the real money component wasn’t part of the equation, there wouldn’t be the same sense of real impact.

For the record, almost everyone I spoke to while playing the game said they had a budget they were keeping to, though I suspect some were pushing it. I know these games do everything they can to get players to fork over cash, and I really do wish there were some better ways for people to get at that same sense of community. But for some, this seems like all they can do, and I can’t fault them for that.

I took all images from Steam. Don’t spend money on this game if you can avoid it.