Brant Guillory, 16 May 2019
On #TBT, we bring you the occasional classic article – an older review or analysis piece we wanted to rescue
Looking for a grognard-quality game in a light, on-the-go package? Walk, don’t run, to your Android phone and grab this little gem.
Small General is a light wargame for the Android OS that has a generic-but-roughly-WWII-era theme that offers some interesting tactical challenges in a package that plays quickly, but still offers a robust grog-friendly experience. The “beta” is available as a free download, and includes about 5 scenarios of varying size/challenge. The paid version unlocks significantly more content. Moreover, the AI in the paid version seems to cheat less, but maybe it’s just me!
Small General is played on a hex grid with basic terrain: woods, cities, hills, marshes, etc. Units are presented as counters with attack/defend values, which are updated based on current damage status. Counters may be stacked, and the stacks examined. Additionally, attackers can pick and choose their targets from within an enemy stack. Movement is also rather simple, with a basic touch-screen drag-and-drop interface to move units around. The same motions are used to specify an attack.
Units are defined generically, with both sides having the same types available to them. There are heavy, medium, and light units that represent both dismounted infantry and armor. There are also mechanized infantry, artillery, anti-tank guns, and supply dumps. While the scenario specifies the starting forces for each side (usually quite balanced), players may purchase reinforcements during the game that will change each side’s force composition.
A Robust Model of War
So how does it play? Quite well, actually. Zones of control are there, but not locking. Combat effects include damage to units, shock, panic, and simultaneous attack bonuses (pile on!). Supply rules force you to maintain an open path to your supply dump (which doubles as your spawn point); encirclements will degrade units in a hurry.
During combat, dice are “rolled” on-screen and a list of modifiers appears with the values, informing the players of exactly how their attacks are being affected. Although I never read through the rules, the communication back to the player is clear enough that within two or three games, you’ll have a solid grounding in how combat is modeled and what results you can expect in your battles.
Once the AI opponent takes over, the screen goes blank and a series of text-labels appears that gives an inventory of which enemy forces are acting, but not the actions themselves. Once the enemy movement and combat are over, the player is returned to the map, with an updated display. There is an option to “play” the enemy’s turn as a playback to see what happened, or skip the playback and plow ahead. The first few games, the playback is quite useful. Beyond that, it’s usually pretty obvious what happened (3 tanks just rolled over my light infantry!) and the playback can be skipped.
The Bottom Line
Small General’s greatest weakness is really in leaving you wanting more. There are no historical scenarios or genres other than a generic late-WWII theme. Scenarios for Carentan, Eben Emael, or Tarawa would be welcome, as would some differentiation between the forces, and the injection of airpower. Additionally, with a very robust combat model like this one could be ported to Napoleonic wars, or the Boer War, or just about anything in the age of gunpowder. The danger in wanting more, of course, is that adding in all of these bells and whistles would reduce the small, entertaining footprint that is Small General’s sweet spot.
As a “waiting in line at the DMV” or “something to do on lunch break” game, Small General is excellent. It won’t replace War in the East on your PC for grognard-level wargaming, but it’ll scratch that grog itch much better than Angry Birds or the 2349123874th clone of Bejeweled you’ve got on your phone. Its scenarios are challenging, and the concepts in the game – like shock and supply – are militarily accurate and well-executed. For any grognard with an Android phone and a small amount of memory, it’s well worth the download, and the paid version is only $3.99.
Some more images – click any images to enlarge