Sorry for the radio silence, people. When you allow yourself a break, it’s hard to pick the work up again. But, back in business for now. Also, new banner, made by Anonymous1157. Thanks!
War of the Lance (labeled as “AD&D War of the Lance”) is a turn-based strategy game set in the AD&D universe of Dragonlance. I’m not familiar with the setting and I apologize to the fans for all the big mistakes I will make in this review. Feel free to correct me. The story goes kinda like this: evil country (Highlord) invades good countries (Whitestone). You are Whitestone, fight back. This being AD&D, there are some subtleties though. But that will require quite some space to explain. *clears throat*
The Highlord alliance has been secretly assembling troops, and they are, at the start of the game, in the majority. The Whitestone forces are actually but some countries that find out what is going on and try to convince the many neutral territories to join the war, preferably on their side. One part of the game is thus diplomacy. You can send out diplomats to try and sway a country to your side. Most countries don’t really care at the start because the war is in some faraway place and doesn’t seem all that threatening. Neutral countries, however, are very important because the Whitestone troops cannot move through them. If the Highlord troops enter a neutral country, it is forced to pick a side depending on its relations with the two factions. This effectively creates a buffer that the Highlord can use to protect his centrally located main territory at the start of the game. Apart from this purely geographical consideration you’ll also have the advantage of being in command of the troops of a territory once it joins your alliance. Some territories are renowned for their unique units…
In order to provide some more context, I have added a scan of the map in the manual, overlayed with some tactical information by yours truly. In the center, you see the generally evil countries. If Whitestone manages to capture the two sites marked in red, they win. Circled in green are the countries more aligned to the good side. When Highlord captures all the blue sites, the victory is theirs. What you will typically see is Highlord going for the southern Silvanesti at the start of the game, being protected from the wrath of the western countries by some neutral territory inbetween. Once most of the right side of the map is under control, they will focus on conquering the rest of the good forces.
Another interesting dynamic are the dragons. As you might have guessed from the “Dragonlance” name, these are kind of important. In the game, they are rather strong units that are very hard to defeat at the start. Turns out, Highlord has a load of dragons ready to unleash their fury on the poor forces of the good. To counter this, Whitestone takes two initiatives. First, they try to convince the good dragons to join the war, but these dragons are wary to join because the evil Highlord has hold their precious eggs in ransom. Only when there is really nothing left to lose for them will the good dragons join the battle.
The other ace in the hole of the good forces are the eponymous dragonlances. A party of brave heroes has been sent on a quest to find various magical items and artifacts to help in the battle. After a while, they will turn up with the necessary items for the construction of dragonlances, that allow units equipped with them to actually have a fair chance against the dragons. Finding these artifacts, and preventing your opponent from finding them, is thus yet another thing you must focus on.
The initial advantage of the Highlord, the late dragonlances and the neutral countries all make for a rather interesting battlefield dynamic in which at the start Highlord will hit Whitestone rather hard, but eventually Whitestone finds the ability to fight back. The sides thus shift focus during the game, and it’s not just a mindless “bigger better more” game like so many other strategy games.
On to the more technical matters. The game can be played as a single player game (CPU takes Highlord) or as a hotseat two player game. I definitely wouldn’t want to try a two player game, because it would take *ages*, there is the classical TBS hotseat problem of “hey, don’t watch while I play my turn” (although I belief it’s a minimal problem here) and, well, I would lose horribly anyway.
Controls are right from the stone age. There are just the cursor keys and the space bar. This results in endless menus when you try to move around your units. This is my main point of criticism. Give this game some decent mouse and shortcut controls, and perhaps a nice zooming interface, and it would be perfect. Now it’s a bit a tedious battle against RMI. But also against dragons, and that makes up for it of course. 9/10.