Scratching the Itch.io: An Introduction

By Josh Brown 20 Oct 2017 0

Mulling around on Steam can really only get you so far. While it may be the most popular place for gamers to find and consume content, it isn't the best when it comes to video game visibility and even Strategy Gamer’s regular Friday Filter column can only do so much. Due to over-saturation of the market and some cruel algorithms, indie developers have started to flock to Itch.io. Used to publish short 'GameJam' material or to offer cool ideas for little cash, Itchi.io helps developers get prototypes in form of like-minded individuals and grow an audience without committing to the expectations and fees that come with Steam.

 

But don't let the idea of short - and frequently free - video games put you off. Itch.io is a great platform to showcase unique and novel ideas that might otherwise get brushed under the rug. In a bid to see what we've missed by living off Steam, we ventured through its pages to test just three of its stand-out strategy titles. What we found were three simple ideas that can all be played and enjoyed during a lunch break due to their tiny size, accessible length, and simple visual style.

Paper Craft Battles (Black Curtain Studio)

Accessible entirely through a browser thanks to Unity, Paper Craft Battles is a turn-based strategy title with small 3D maps and limited unit selection. While that may sound like the complete opposite of what you'd want in your strategy cereal, it's exactly the kind of thing to look out for when for when it comes to lunchtime brain games.

PaperCraftBattles

Mostly handled through left and right mouse clicks, this one is as simple as picking a map and going toe-to-toe against the AI. Clearly taking inspiration from toybox activities and childlike imaginations, Paper Craft Battles pits small armies no larger than 5 against each other in a light-hearted skirmish. The aim? To annex city spaces for support and assault the enemy base.

Cash earned each turn is spent on a foot soldier, tank or helicopter; allowing for increased macro should you earn more cash per turn by taking a city space.

Each round consists of 3 turns, with each individual action subtracting one from your count. These are essentially spent by moving a single unit, healing up from a nearby city, issuing an attack order, or spawning more units from the base. To put things into perspective, your 3 turns per round can consist of moving the same unit twice and attacking another, or reinforcing your army with a new unit and attacking twice with the rest.

It's a simple idea, but the limited turn count eventually starts to show its cracks if a match goes on for too long. There's little in the way of unit balance, with power-ups found on the field being one of the only real ways to feel more powerful than your foe. A stalemate situation is likely unless your strategy is on top form. It may last longer than your average lunch break, but its quick-fire turns and browser-based functionality means you're able to just leave it on in the background for your breather.

Pangea (Zelosfan)

One of the more unique choices here, Pangea is a Java applet that may require a separate install of that particular common platform to fire up. It isn't browser-based, so prepare to hide some files if you're running it on cubicle machine.

Pangea1

Coming in at around 80mb, this one manages to build a captivating world with little more than five or so background images. It's a turn-based resource management simulator that feels more like a short text-based adventure game. And by short, we mean really short. One of its three resources are favoured by one of its three playable characters, with each character hailing from one of the world's five locations. Your aim is to gather 80 of their preferred resource across 3 days by choosing one of 3 randomised options in each town.

You can swap currency for low-pay workers, trade the workers for food and then trade the food for even more cash or workers across each zone. Once each location has been assigned a task, you move forward to the next day. Accumulate enough of your desired resource within those three days and you'll secure victory for your people. Driven by the player's politically aligned choices, Pangea requires a decent amount of forward-thinking to execute properly. One solution isn't always the best, though; and the victory screen makes sure to let you know that you can always do better.

Playable from start to finish in a matter of minutes, Pangea manages to make you feel something in the process - something other strategy games rarely attempt at all. While you're considered a 'Hero', this is only true for your own starting land. By trading with your neighbours, you're basically scamming them of their resources. They'll happily chat with you on the first day, but throughout the rest, you'll notice them starting to resent you for your actions. By the end of it, the victory screen will show you and your people prospering while the rest... well, it's best you experience that for yourself.

Super Battlelands (0x143)

Running on Unreal Engine 4, Super Battlelands doesn't really look all that different from Paper Craft Battles. It certainly plays and feels much better, but needing a separate download and likely higher computational force to run might hold it back as a lunchtime getaway for some.

SuperBattlelands

Super Battlelands is a much more robust offering than our other two picks. Focusing on turn-based tactics yet again, its faster pacing and large selection of maps set it apart. Accumulating cash between rounds, it's spent by manufacturing a wide variety of troops from your barracks; though you're limited to one spawn per turn unless you annex additional barracks or steal them from the AI.

Rather than obliterate your opponent's HQ, your aim is to capture it by having any unit land on its tile. There's no need to grab an army big enough to overthrow it if you can distract your enemy long enough to slip a sneaky unit through their ranks. Being mostly colour-based could cause a problem in a multiplayer situation, but support for that doesn't exist – yet. Unlike Paper Craft Battles, each unit can move and fire so long as it isn't their first turn on the field. There doesn't appear to be a max unit counter, either, so expect chaos as the battle wages on.

SuperBattlelands1

Matches could theoretically go on for far longer than you'd expect, but we had some finish in 5-10 minutes flat thanks to some brute force, wise unit choices and a brave troop sliding through the frontlines. Battle damage is a little difficult to understand at first, being both number and percentage based, but the added bonus of physics-enabled unit remains means just messing around for a few minutes can result in a battlefield loaded with colourful debris that detracts from more obvious shortcomings.

Aided by rapid-fire AI turns and unique - and plentiful - units, Super Battlelands is a great little time waster and a perfect choice for whenever you're bored and have some free time on your hands. And with a map editor to boot, it's a good one to share around the school or office during downtime - or busy time depending on your discipline.

We're only just scratching the surface of what strategy-starved gamers can find on Itch.io, provided you do a little digging around. Most titles exclusive to the platform are available as free downloads with optional donations, so it's a win-win for everyone involved. Just like Miniclip and the generations of worktime distractions before it, there's plenty for a strategy fan to find in places other than Steam and their giant PC box collection of yore. You just have to know where to look.

Alternatively, check back in a fortnight. We'll dig up some more for you.

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