War is Blind

Skahal Studios sure love a good game of “Battleship!” Their debut offering has more in common with the classic guessing game than the fact that it sports Battles N’ Ships (Out Now, $1.99); with just a few twists, this is about as faithful a port of Clifford Von Wickler’s original pencil-and-paper version as the iOS could possibly receive. That means it’s not as fully featured as some players have come to expect of the average iOS game, and yet it still carries the strengths that made the original so compelling.

I must begin with an embarrassing admission: never before in my life have I actually played “Battleship”. I’ve only witnessed commercials for the Milton Bradley board game adaptation. Therefore, when I fired up Ships N’ Battles expecting a turn-based strategy game in the vein of Front Mission or Final Fantasy Tactics I was in for a rude awakening. This age old style of game removes one of the most basic facets of the now highly developed genre: the player’s ability to see enemies on the battlefield grid. Once the player accepts this fact, perhaps grudgingly, it’s really the source of the game’s fun.

Rather than try to wrap any kind of story around the “Battleship” formula, Ships N’ Battles shoops the player right into the art of blind maritime combat once he or she chooses a difficulty level. The game begins with the player arranging his or her battleships – always the same assortment – on a grid of square tiles while the CPU opponent is presumably doing the same. Then the player and opponent take turns bombarding each other’s ship field one square at a time, any knowledge of the opposition’s exact placement completely hidden. Even when the player scores a direct hit, he or she must guesstimate which square to target next based on knowledge of each ship type’s length; chances of following up with another hit are essentially 50-50 depending on the ship’s exact orientation. Volleys that miss still remove squares from the opposing ship fields, so player and enemy attempts essentially become more accurate as the round progresses.

Adding a little more excitement and strategy to the original game formula are bonuses that the player and enemy pick up as random consolation prizes when their broadsides splash otherwise harmlessly onto the opposing ship field. These bonuses – which the CPU tends to use aggressively but which the player may hold in strategic reserve – include guided missiles that automatically land hits, decoy vessels on which the opponent might waste turns, and radar devices that ping an area of the opposing field for the presence of enemy ships.

Ships N’ Battles’ greatest shortcoming is that it features no starting tutorial – letting the player sink or swim, as it were – and the concept isn’t immediately intuitive for anyone who lacks familiarity with the original pen-and-paper game. Once the “Battleship” neophyte’s confusion is all settled, though, it’s very smooth sailing. Some of its main menu virtual buttons could stand sensitivity improvement but otherwise the game’s touch interface worked like a charm for me. Aside from multiple difficulty levels and OpenFeint achievements, its replay value rests wholly on the strength of how repetition-worthy the player finds its core gameplay to be — think of it as you would an iOS version of Chess or Checkers in that regard. Players who happen to have a fellow “Battleship” aficionado nearby can link up for a Bluetooth-enabled multiplayer mode as well.

Skahal Studios does an excellent job squeezing lots of mileage out of simple visuals in Ships N’ Battles, which contains low poly 3D models and just a dash of particle effects that get the job done cleanly. Of special note on the aesthetics side is a very nice foreboding track courtesy of Incompetech, which lends the game a palpable tension. Several “Battleship”-style alternatives already exist on iOS, so this game competes with very fierce competition; the developers have wisely leveraged the game’s youth by putting out an open call for user feedback regarding updates

iFanzine Verdict: A rendition of “Battleship” that’s pretty bare-bones but still carries the addictive quality of the classic pen-and-paper game on which it’s based. Recommended for longtime fans of the original who haven’t been spoiled by similar offerings on the App Store already, and it’s also worth checking out for Turn Based Strategy vets who would appreciate strategic guessing as a core game mechanic.

[xrr rating=3.5/5]