Let's get this out of the way right from the start. Zaticon is an ugly looking game. It's about as attractive to look at as a bulldog chewing a bee. A java application that opens up 3 windows that on my cramped 1024x768 desktop all overlap each other. Yeah, I know it's probably time to invest in a new monitor, but not even my 5 year old monitor is going to save Zatikon from the ugly basket, I'm sorry to say. The sprites that denote the pieces are basic, the animations are next to non-existent, the colour palette is limited and the action is presented in a clear, yet bland top down 2-D perspective.
Now that I've got that off my chest, let me tell you what a brilliant game it is. It plays as a turn based strategy game on an 11x11 board. At each end of the board, opposing castles face each other, and only one of them can emerge victorious. Players take turns to deploy pieces from their hand onto the squares surrounding their castles, and can subsequently move them around the board attacking the other team's pieces, and defending against reciprocal attacks from the opposition. Each piece has a limited amount of actions it can take in a turn, as well as there being an overall command limit which restricts the army as a whole. Also, a turn timer ensures that the game is reasonably fast-paced, by forcing the player to complete all his moves in one and a half minutes per turn.
The player that can ultimately move a piece onto his opponent's castle square is the winner, no matter what the outcome of any previous skirmishes on the board. It is possible (although fairly unlikely) to beat a player that has far more powerful and numerous units in play by using skill and cunning to storm the castle. The number of units available is staggering, and the diversity of their attributes and skills ensures that truly no two games will play out the same way. Some are stationary fortifications, like the tower, that once placed cannot be moved. Some units feature as support to front-line troops (such as summoners and engineers). There are mounted troops and an arsenal of foot soldiers with both melee and missile weapons, as well as plenty of spellcasters.
At first you will only have a limited amount of troops available from which to construct armies. As you beat opponents, either human or AI, you receive gold, which can be used to buy new units. These are selected at random, with the more elaborate ones being fairly hard to aquire without outlaying significant amounts of cash. Luckily, unwanted units can also be sold back and a portion of the purchase price is refunded to the player. I like the save/load slots that can be used to preserve your favourite army compositions, so that they are ready to rumble with just a few clicks of the mouse.
Start off by having a few games against the AI. It's not particularly clever, but it has unlimited units at its disposal and will send them at you wave after wave unless decisive tactics are employed. It's an easy way to build up a bit of gold to buy some more advanced pieces. Every piece in the game relies heavily on situational usage for best effect, and nearly all strategies that I have come up against will have a counter. This is primarily why the game is a big winner in my view.
There's a little bit of luck involved in so far as the player has no idea before the match starts which of the numerous possible strategies an opponent will use. Therefore, even as choosing the makeup of your army will dictate your playstyle for that game, it may also mean that you are hopelessly mismatched depending on what your opponent comes at you with. I like that too, as it means there's a bit of scope for a lower ranked player to worry a significantly better one with a bit of luck. To this effect, one of my favourite features is the random army game, where both players are arbitrarily awarded an army that may have any combination of pieces (to roughly the same value on both sides). Not only does this force some interesting choices, but it also seems to remove veteran players from their comfort zone.
There is a mode of play to suit all players. Standard 1 v 1 play with hand picked armies is probably the best test of raw skill, even though I normally seem to get obliterated in around 10 moves. The cooperative mode that sees two players attack an aggressive AI castle with a combined army and tactics is my favourite multiplayer mode (mostly because I can enjoy the feeling of winning a game every now and then).
Chess players and wargamers in particular will have a distinct advantage in Zatikon as skills and techniques used in both will be utilised heavily. In fact, it would be extremely interesting to watch a veteran chess player challenge a diehard tabletop wargamer who were both new to Zatikon, as I suspect that they would both bring a different yet equally important bias to the game. Understanding the geometry of the board and having good positional play is just as crucial as exploiting mixed arms tactics and overpowering weak points in the enemy defence. To its credit, Zatikon is more fun for me to play than chess, yet certainly easier to pick up and play than a complicated hex-based conventional wargame.
A bit of nitpicking. The sound and music is generally fairly good, but the sound effects volume could use a little equalising. For example, the sound played when buying a new piece is much louder than most others in the game and scared the living daylights out of me late one night (with my headphones on). The game did freeze up twice during testing forcing me to ctrl-alt-del and force the application to shut down. Another of my pet hates is when games offer no offline capability at all. You must be connected to the Zatikon server at all times to be able to play. It seems like all data and stats are stored server-side, but it sure would be nice to play a few skirmishes vs the AI when on the road on my notebook and without internet access.
The online community seems refreshingly polite and mature, and have been quite helpful in assisting me to learn the ropes. There's nearly always somebody online to play with or against at any hour of the day or night. Zatikon is a highly replayable and addictive game that rewards thoughtful play. The last Bytten gold star that I awarded was in June, but I think it's fairly safe to say that despite a few shortcomings that really don't affect the gameplay that much, Zatikon is a very worthy recipient.
Keywords: zatikon review, chronic logic llc reviews, chronic logic llc games, zatikon scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.