Shenandoah Studios specializes in creating deep, engaging wargaming experiences for smartphones and tablets. By focusing entirely on classic-style wargames, the studio is able to continually build on its strengths and fine-tune each release into a tight, thrilling experience for fans of the genre. Desert Fox: The Battle of El Alamein, their third title, is now available for iOS devices and may be their most robust offering yet.
World War II history buffs will recall the two Battles of El Alamein in 1942 on which this title is based. The Allies, made up of Britain, British India, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, were able to prevent German and Italian forces from accessing Persian and Middle Eastern oil reserves via Africa. These operations marked the first major offensive action to be taken against the Axis since the war had begun and were among the most strategically significant. Fortunately, you don’t need to have any prior knowledge of the real-life events that inspired the game in order to get the most enjoyment out of it.
When beginning a new scenario in Desert Fox, players choose to represent either the Axis or Allied forces, and are dropped into a turn-based representation of the conflict in Northern Africa. The three provided scenarios all take place on the same large desert map and allow you to select which of the two battles to play through (with the third option offering a campaign mode which brings you through the entire affair). The units each side controls are represented by small iconic tiles which denote infantry, tanks, and other vehicles or pieces of equipment/weaponry. During each turn, it’s typically only possible to move a few of these units before the other side gets to go, forcing players to be extremely selective with where and when their forces advance. Compounding these decisions are many factors to consider, including the experience level of the units you are sending into occupied territories, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of heavily armored units, consideration of the harsh desert environment, and ensuring that you keep supply lines open.
As you play, time passes quickly within the game and, once per in-game week, you’re given a choice to either “refit”, or take the offensive. The former option allows you to fortify your position by laying out barbed wire or minefields, while the latter nets you initiative, which allows your side to move first in the hope of catching the opponent off-guard. Anytime that you are about to engage an enemy in combat (meaning that you have move one or more units into an enemy-occupied area) the game will calculate the likelihood you will succeed. This is helpful when getting your feet wet with the title and prevents players from making any seriously bad judgment calls. In fact, while some the finer points may not be immediately apparent, Desert Fox has an excellent set of tutorials that really make it easy to grasp, even for a first-time wargamer. The scenario-specific tips that Desert Fox offers are equally helpful and, with a bit of practice, players will be able to flank the enemy, cut off their supply lines, whittle down their forces, and emerge victorious in no time.
Somehow, Shenandoah managed to not only translate the deep experience of wargaming into an accessible, fun mobile app, but to present it with elegance. The visuals throughout are clean, detailed, and convey everything perfectly. Even set against a drab, sand-filled backdrop, there are splashes of color that really pop and plenty of subtle effects that looks outstanding. Smoke from gunshots and dirt kicked up by moving vehicles look great as do the bullet holes that dent the combat screen to show how units are performing in battle. For a genre that’s almost synonymous with a dull, stodgy aesthetic, it’s fantastic that the developers have spent so much time ensuring that the visuals are impressive. Similarly, the experience is peppered with period-appropriate music that crackles in over the radio between the ambient sounds of wind and distant gunfire.
Whether you’re a hardcore fan of wargames or fairly new to the scene (like myself) it seems like Desert Fox, and further every title that Shenadoah has released, has something for everyone. Even while occupying a pretty specific gaming niche, the tactical options, challenging AI, and perfect user-interface make this one of the best titles to hit iOS in months. It’s hard to think that any enthusiast of the genre could ask for more.