Introduction: Massive Assault is a turn-based war strategy game by Wargaming.net. Most of the mechanics of this game will be familiar to wargamers—infantry type units as cannon fodder (Light Attack Vehicles in the game), ranged artillery, air support, and an economy to purchase new units.
Plot: Humanity has expanded to different planets and is nominally ruled by the Free Nations Union approximating freedom, justice, and the American Way. A rebel faction called the Phantom League (aka commies) rebels and war ensues. Fans of the Command & Conquer series will see a lot of parallels here.
Combat Mechanics: Each unit has a set damage value, hit points, attack range, movement, etc. All units do full damage upon attack. For melee units, you can choose the light attack vehicle (LAV) or armor. Armor moves further and hits harder but costs more. Artillery is a short range cannon that shoots two spaces or long range artillery that shoots four. Long range artillery is expensive and has very few hit points. There is also a hybrid ‘tank’ that is like a standard armor unit but hits twice as hard and has the range of short range artillery. There are several naval units and maps that offer various degrees of naval warfare. They mirror land units with cheaper weaker units and battleships which shoot farther and harder but are more expensive. Other than the island maps, I have found that naval is too expensive to be decisive early on. There are both land and naval transport units which matter as mobility is limited in this game. There is also a stationary turret defense unit with moderate attack, long range, lots of hit points, but is expensive.
Air is unique in this game and mirrors real life more than other games. In other turn-based games like Military Madness and Advance Wars, air is decisive. In this case, air is based in cities, has no hit points, and does what one might effectively call ‘chip damage’. Range is very long but air is expensive. Air can also use a turn to fly to a different city to base out of. The only way to destroy air is to have a unit occupy the city itself. I have found that air tends to be good at keeping long range artillery away due to their few hit points but is too expensive to be decisive otherwise. There are also aircraft carriers that serve as mobile bases.
There are no ‘veteran’ units, experience points or level-ups. There are no ‘hero’ units that can overshadow other fighters. Expect it to be more like the first StarCraft where some expensive units are stronger but not nearly invincible.
Each side has the same units with the same stats but they look different and have different names. There is little advantage to choosing one side other than one side goes first like choosing white in chess.
Economy: Like most games, you get income each round depending on how many and size of cities owned. This lasts for ten rounds and then no more income from that territory. What really makes this game unique is the “secret ally” system. In each map, some territories are owned by you, some by the opponent, and some are neutral—all randomly assigned each time you play. None of these territories are disclosed at the beginning of the game. Each round forces you to disclose one territory (or two for the first round). At disclosure, you get to use a big pot from the treasury to build the army and then attack. You won’t know which territories are enemy territories at the beginning and which are neutral.
Each territory has a small treasury representing guerilla forces. If you invade a territory by moving one of your units across the border, guerilla forces are automatically raised. For a neutral territory, it’s more of a roadblock than anything else but prevents you from taking over a territory with a single infantry unit with one hit point. For an opponent territory, raising guerilla forces plus disclosure will often lead to the destruction of the entire attacking force.
If you have even one of your units alive inside enemy territory at the end of the enemy’s round, he will not get income for that round. This means that one of the vital tactics in the game is to get that wedge inside enemy territory to survive the counterattack and keep filling breach as the units get destroyed all while keeping spending going on your own side. It is also a viable tactic to get an enemy to send a unit or two inside an undisclosed territory just to get the extra treasury knowing you can wipe them out easily.
Guerilla forces in neutral territories automatically fall under the control of your enemy and if your entire force gets wiped out, you just gave the enemy a free territory and income. Neutral territories are used in this game mostly to increase your economy. Likewise, if you take over an enemy territory before their ten turns of income are up, you get the income. Another unique feature is the indemnity. If you completely take over an enemy territory that was not formerly neutral, you get a cash bonus. This makes it worth it to take over enemy territories that have run out of money.
Strategies: The key limiter to this game is the fact that you cannot occupy an enemy space on the hex grid that you destroyed the same round. This limits mobility and turns the game into mostly attrition warfare unless you have just disclosed a territory on his rear and he has no rear guard. Many times, the game gets reduced to putting LAVs on the front row to absorb damage and lining the rear with as much artillery as you can afford. When two dug-in enemies are facing each other, the major way to win is to bring enough force that you have wiped out his entire front row, the row behind that, and he doesn’t have enough money to complete refill the front row with infantry to keep you out next turn. If he leaves just one space to invade, he can often kill your single unit and you just gave him the guerilla treasury bonus.
I have found that a front row of infantry plus several long range artillery units are enough to destroy the front row every time with the enemy using the entire turn’s economy on replacing the roadblock LAVs. This means you get little forward movement on your side but make his entire territory a net zero until he runs out of income.
Flanking movements via naval transports can be very effective. Load up a few infantry units, drop them right behind the enemy’s front row, and you have just paralyzed his income long enough to get a permanent entry into his territory. This works with smaller territories that do not have a large guerrilla treasury. Land transports cannot slip through in a hex grid format.
Putting several lines of infantry as a very long roadblock on a border doesn’t tend to work well because they can’t shoot two spaces. The side with more artillery will eventually overcome. Likewise, putting a few defense towers at the rear of the territory will stall the enemy but will eventually be overcome. This can be effective when the enemy has just disclosed a large territory adjacent to one of your smaller territories and you know that you will only get the disclosure treasury, guerilla, and maybe one round of income.
Probably the most effective strategy is to wait until an enemy discloses a territory and lines up his army to invade a neighbor and then disclose your territory at his rear. He likely won’t have enough juice to completely take over the enemy’s territory by the time your army wipes his out so this can be a freebie. However, many times, the enemy waits for you to do this and then discloses a second army at the rear of yours and you just lost a territory for very little cost to him.
One of the strategies that can really draw out a game is for the enemy to put guerilla LAVs at the rear corners of a territory for a neutral territory that you invaded. Due to mobility limitations in this game, it forces you to spend extra money on land transports or wait several turns to get your army to the other side to destroy his holdouts to get the income. This means that your army is not being used at gaps in enemy lines.
These strategies are general but the random placement of secret territories means nothing works every single time. Some maps you can get a really good hand dealt and win quickly while other times, you have to attrit the enemy into submission. Lastly, keep in mind that there is no healing. Your economy is your upper bound on units and you get no more. A few games have led to a stalemate where my remaining land units weren’t enough to overcome an enemy’s guerilla units and reach the city but his treasury was depleted so he couldn’t build units and get my navy.
Game AI: The AI in this game is really dumb. On random battles, you can usually get in a few strategic moves that allow you to win quicker. When being dealt worse hands, the AI is dumb enough to give you a win provided you devote two hours to the back and forth attrition.
However, the AI isn’t dumb enough to allow anything goes. On quite a few games, I invaded as soon as I could with every disclosed territory and most of the time I left myself spread so thin that the invading army got destroyed and the rear guard was not enough to stop the opponent. I found myself losing several battles in a row and had to go back to basics.
There is no storyline mode to the game though there are several set maps without random territory placement with a beginning dialogue. The game gives you challenge in these not by AI but by giving the enemy enough numerical superiority that you have one or two options for beginning placement that will allow you to eke out a win or you get overrun in a few turns.
Best parts of the game: The background music is really good. I still haven’t gotten tired of it after several years of playing. I also like the animation when moving and attacking. The fact that you can skip enemy animation means that you aren’t stuck watching the enemy’s turn—you go right back to your turn taking into account enemy actions. With modern processors, the enemy ‘thinking’ is done in less than ten seconds so the game doesn’t drag on if you hit the skip button on his turn.
The absolute best part of the game is the randomness of territories and that none are disclosed at the beginning. This is what gives the game such a high replay value. Even though I have memorized the unit stats and know many of the strategies in this game, it’s still fun to play with the randomness factor.
I really liked the fact that there weren’t hero units that focused the entire game on leveling up like Warcraft 3. Another good point is that there were 30+ set piece situational battles. You can still purchase this game on Steam or Wild Tangent for about $10 and download it online.
What I didn’t like about the game: The fact that you can’t occupy an enemy’s hex that you destroyed on the same turn really makes the game drag out. I’d like to see some different options such as drastically increasing the economy or changing unit stats to allow different playing styles. I would have liked to see a good storyline with dialogue and characterization like in StarCraft. The multi-player option is a different application called Massive Assault Network and I would have liked to see this as part of the Massive Assault core package.
Massive Assault 2: There was a sequel published that had many of the same mechanics of the first Massive Assault. The graphics and music were worse. There was a storyline mode but the voice acting and story were really cheesy. There was some differentiation in units. Probably the biggest change was a mobile shield unit that protected adjacent land units from air and artillery. I wasn’t a big fan of the sequel.
Rating: I’d give this game a 7/10 due to graphics, music, and replay value from the ‘secret ally’ system.