Real-time strategy games can be just as intimidating as they are time-consuming. Once every few years I’ll get the urge to fully immerse myself in the genre, starting a small campaign that quickly snowballs into something much, much bigger. While incredibly fun and addictive, they can mighty exhausting too. Upon hitting a personal milestone, or simply realising the eye-watering number of hours I’ve spent playing, I’ll often walk away, happily content until that same itch resurfaces many months later.
Where series like Total War, Age of Empires, and XCOM, serve up an endless buffet, Tooth And Tail from Pocketwatch Games feels more akin to fast food. Instead of mentally preparing yourself and piling your plate high, you can dip in and out for a quick fix. There’s still a sizeable learning curve. but it’s a game played in portions instead of an hours-long feast.
It has a uniquely humorous setting in which four anthropomorphic factions vie for power. Of course, being animals, money and material objects have little value. Instead, they battle for food, fuelling their armies by devouring one another. It’s literally dog eat dog, owl eat owl, toad eat toad, and various other twisted combinations.
Tooth And Tail’s selling point is how it cleverly streamlines the real-time strategy genre. Pocketwatch has stripped it down to three barest columns: resource gathering, army management, and territory control. The game also does away with campaign maps and overarching conflicts between factions. Battles are fast, fierce, and much smaller in scope, geared towards competitive online play.
In order to win, you’ll need to destroy your opponent’s gristmills. These towers mark a player’s territory on the map, producing a steady flow of food which can be spent on structures and units. Remove the gristmills and your enemies will starve.
Part of what makes the RTS genre so overwhelming is the amount of control options and commands available. Selecting, deploying, and positioning units is often arduous work, especially in the heat of battle. Tooth And Tail remedies this with a much simpler approach. Instead of using a cursor, your commander will run around the map, placing structures and leading units from an angled perspective. By either tapping or holding the two triggers buttons (on PlayStation 4) you can issue an attack or retreat order, toggling between individual units or your entire army.
It’s easy to learn but incredibly tough to master. Given the different stats and abilities of individual units, co-ordinating them separately as part of a joint attack is no easy feat. One accidental button press could effectively ruin even the most carefully planned strategy. You could just hammer your opponent using your entire army in one block but that’s clearly not how the game’s meant to be played.
Online multiplayer is the main draw here. Although there’s a string of solo missions, they’re more of a learning tool, fleshing out the basics before introducing a menagerie of playable units. In truth, I found the majority of these to be a tad dull. As much as I wanted to find out more about the world of Tooth And Tail, the single player missions are a bit too dry.
Instead, the drama comes from being matched with others player online, tweaking your lineup of units, and watching as the mind games begin to unfold. Going into each game you’ll take six of the available units, from expendable grunts and heroes to specialised troops and defence structures. Before even stepping foot on the battlefield, the war has already begun. Different units will counter and complement one another in such a way that some battles can be won during the prep screen. Invest heavily in expensive units and you’ll rapidly run out of food whereas platoons of cheap, squishy units may lack the power to take down gristmills.
Tooth And Tail charts the midpoint between traditional RTS games and their massively popular mobile counterparts. It’s quick and streamlined yet complex and deeply tactical when played competitively. Some fans of the genre will no doubt revel in customising their decks to devour their opponents, but others will find Pocketwatch’s approach either too simplistic or not simplistic enough.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 Pro