A critical confrontation from World War II plays out on Apple's multifunctional computer tablet in the interactive history lesson Battle of the Bulge (Shenandoah Studio, rated: 9+, reviewed with iPad 2, $9.99).
Incorporating some of the basic concepts from board games such as Risk and chess into an educational resource, the turn-based war game offers players a strategic look into the desperate offensive by the Third Reich in December of 1944.
Taking place in the confines of a single illustrated map in and around Ardennes (a forested region bordering France, Belgium and Luxembourg), the action requires a player maneuver infantry and armored division units around roughly 60 occupied and unoccupied spaces (territories) on the virtual game board.
A player acts as a leader of the Allies or Axis, and can work through a pair of scenarios — either a shorter game featuring the beginning Axis assault (30 minutes or so) or the full-blown Bulge.
Moving to an occupied area can begin a skirmish, with the aggressor first getting a combat preview to decide if he really wants to attack.
It pops up in a trading-card-like presentation loaded with statistics and, if combat occurs, peppered with explosion animations until one side loses or retreats.
Familiar gestures on the iPad touch screen including tapping to move units or view such resources as a briefing, calendar and large versions of images and swiping or pinching to view the map. Bundled with an intuitive user interface, it makes for a very simple way to enjoy and appreciate the simulation.
Though the game sounds simple, part of its complexity relies in monitoring statistics, supply routes and time to know when to retreat and attack depending if you are part of the defensive Allies or aggressive Axis.
Either a player can challenge a computer opponent (picking from such greats as Gen. George Patton or commander of the Fifth Panzer Army Hasso von Manteuffel), another friend through a "pass the iPad" experience or search the online world for a challenger with asynchronous play (check in and take a turn when available) using Apple's GameCenter.
The simulation overwhelms with a majestic musical score, chatter from the troops, songs from the period and, most importantly, educational opportunities starting right at the animated introduction mixing footage from the war with a text briefing.
Actual lessons arrive either through clicking on a history button to learn about such topics as Axis Commando Operations, Allied Infantry Weapons and a glossary explaining the German combat divisions or by looking at an overview at the end of a day's battle with a encyclopedic Daily Briefing.
Despite detailed tutorials and loads of charts and tables to view before going to war, casual gamers might find the cerebral action a bit too complex and pricy, but any student of WWII or tabletop war games will consider this interactive Battle of the Bulge well worth the investment.
Note: Fans can expect a similar game simulation from Shenandoah Studio this year tied to El Alamein, one of the decisive battles in the North African campaign.
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