The lands of Generia are just a little bit too sensible and boring for the tastes of the evil barbarians who have decided to pillage and plunder their way through these fair lands. Barbarians aren’t exactly known for their excellence in strategic thinking, making them the ideal subject for a fast paced real time strategy game on phone, tablet and PC.
The leading barbarians in your horde pop up before each mission with particularly crass and banal dialogue. Initially, there’s a degree of amusement to be had from these, as the chief cajoules his layabout son and their high-born hostage tries to outwit his dullard captors, but the novelty of the foulmouthed dialogue quickly wears thin. I honestly cannot remember any of the character’s names without checking – Brog is the chief, Fuzgut the son and Prissy LeFlop the hostage, if you were wondering – and I stopped paying attention well before some soothsayer appeared professing doom. Imagine my surprise when a giant monster showed up in a climactic battle and saw all of the characters talking about how this had been predicted.
But that doesn’t matter, when the strategy gameplay is distilled so brilliantly, working well for both mobile and PC. You move your horde of barbarians around the grid-map map, simply by clicking them and either dragging a route or clicking on where you want them to go or what you want them to attack.
The game’s strategy centres around controlling and expanding your territory, with each square’s terrain coloured to show who owns what. You can’t simply romp to an enemy’s building and burn it to the ground, but have to capture the land on the way there, slowing down an advance and giving the other side the opportunity to react and counter your move, or at least stall you by putting a few bodies in the way.
So overwhelming weight of numbers is the order of the day, but another clever twist is the fluidity with which you can divide and combine your barbarian hordes. You can have up to 50 in a group, but every move or order that you make gives you the opportunity to send only a portion of those, so you can send 10 men off to capture a tower, while the remaining 15 are sent off to fight the enemy, before combining them again later down the line, alongside some reinforcements. You also have to take into account that the more men in a group, the more damage they do, the faster they can capture ground, raze buildings, and build new ones.
Buildings are also a key strategic resource. The game starts off simple, with just your average barbarians running around and being produced from huts – again, the more guys you have at a hut, the quicker barbarians are, uh… produced, but they max out at 50. Soon enough, you’re given access to barrack, and directing a group there turns them into more powerful, armoured warriors. Over the course of a few hours, you have to start dealing with defensive towers which spew out arrows when manned, archers, shield bearers and so on, adding successive layers of strategic complexity to the battles as you figure out each unit’s strengths and weaknesses.
It’s in the second campaign that you’re given the task of resource collection, more units to learn how to use and even more things to worry about as you try to complete the missions. Missions throughout the game are often like finely crafted puzzles, giving you a particular scenario that can be defeated with brute force, but with three challenges per map, ranging from time limits, to completing it with only a certain unit type or only a certain number of losses.
They can become particularly fraught just trying to complete them normally, let alone figure out how you can best achieve the additional objectives, but they’re a compelling twist that had me replaying levels multiple times. Admittedly, the game can stack the odds against you, with multiple enemy huts sending out roving bands, but it’s part of the puzzle to figure out the trick for how to turn this around, and learning the patterns that the simplistic AI tends to follow.
You need to have a certain number of these objectives completed to unlock each successive mission, but going through the campaign map also gives you more difficult side missions to unlock. Capturing these points gives you periodic payouts of beer that can then be spent at a shop on boosters. You then spawn into each mission with temporary recruitment tends, strengthening beer, decoys and other tools that can help turn the tide.
Having three challenges per mission ties in with familiar mobile game tropes. Though it’s available on PC with an upfront cost – £6.99 with a launch discount – it’s free to play on iOS and Android, with the second campaign and multiplayer against friends behind an in-app purchase of £3.99. Matchmade multiplayer is free and cross-platform, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much. After sitting and waiting on PC for a few minutes, I set the iPad to find a match as well and was paired up with myself on PC game in seconds. In other words, there’s nobody else delving into the multiplayer at the moment, which is a bit of a shame.
The mobile angle is also likely a reason for the game’s minimalist, pixel art visuals. They’re nothing too special, calling back to mid-90s fantasy strategy games like Warcraft, but are clear enough to play with on a smaller screen. In truth, while the game works well on PC with a mouse, the interface feels better designed for use with fingers and thumbs. On a number of occasions in trickier, time sensitive missions, I’d mis-click and feel like I was fighting against the interface ever-so-slightly as I tried to quickly marshal the barbarians under my command.
The puzzle-like missions of Crush Your Enemies are a lot of fun, as you race against the clock in a frantic rush to defeat the enemies, or simply grind with sheer weight of numbers. Ignoring the crass sense of humour and forgetable story, Crush Your Enemies does an admirable job of distilling the strategy genre down into a bitesized form.
Versions tested: PC, iOS