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Bos Wars

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Note: The Linux version is available on the author's website.

Bos Wars is a fairly decent RTS with some balanced gameplay that lends well to multiple playing styles. I'm not sure if there is a story, as SoupHat and I only played over multiplayer; however, there is only one faction in the game, so I can't imagine any sort of in-depth narrative.

Bos Wars has a slightly different game mechanic than your typical strategy game. It's more along the lines of Total Annihilation and its successor, TA Spring. You have your usual base building and resource harvesting, but what's interesting is that there are many alternatives to the gameplay. For instance, you can build power plants and magma pumps to supply your base with resources or you can rely entirely on engineers and harvesters to gather them manually from various objects lying around the map. SoupHat and I only realized the potential benefits of a mixed set of harvesting methods in our later games.

You have an average amount of unit types at your disposal, with a handful of infantry, vehicular, and air units. There isn't a terribly huge difference between most of the units in each category and, for the most part, the largest army typically wins. What makes Bos Wars so great though is that there is always a counter strategy that will win the game for you. SoupHat and I were at first stuck on the idea that the first person with a nuclear silo typically won. Then I challenged that thought by swiftly schooling him with 5 infantrymen while his engineers hammered away at a silo that wasn't even close to finishing. Then he moved onto building his defenses up, which I quickly knocked out with a silo of my own. The point is that you really can't rely on rushing, turtling, or super weaponing your way to victory. You either have to strike a good balance or get lucky by focusing on the one strategy that trumps your opponent's.

Bos Wars features some uncommon gameplay treats that you won't find in many RTS games. Our favorite feature is the action queue. All actions in the game can be queued up while holding the SHIFT key. This is very helpful in the start of the game since you can select a group of engineers and plan out your entire base right from the start and never have to pay any more attention to them as they begin building your base in the order you placed each structure. Virtually any unit can have their actions queued up. You can use it to create a makeshift patrol route, set movement waypoints, or set which enemies to kill in what order. It's very intuitive and takes a while before you make it a habit.

We will admit, though, that at first we were a little skeptical about Bos Wars. We had trouble figuring out what to do while trying to use our normal RTS strategies and we ran into quite a few bugs. One particularly notable one is that clicking the button to close the in-game menu wouldn't reactivate my mouse. We often had to start all over due to my inability to issue orders because of this until we figured out the cause. Like most of the minor bugs in Bos Wars, there is typically a way around them. In our case, the solution is to press "escape" instead of clicking the button to close the menu. It's the minor bugs like these that keeps Bos Wars from achieving a higher rating.

SoupHat took pride in focusing on the negative aspects of Bos Wars with the following:

Man, I may have aircraft, tanks, and foot soldiers at my disposal, but I still don't have the most powerful tool of all at my disposal: love. Yes, nukes, the ultimate expression of man's good will towards another person. What better way to say "Happy Valentines Day, honey!" than to burn your sweetheart into a smoking pile of ash with a two-ton warhead? But in all seriousness, the nukes ruin the balance of the gameplay, inflicting a one-hit-kill on any building the explosion radius covers. Fog-of-war doesn't even help, because many maps are almost symmetrical in initial base placement, and many others are too small to build a secondary base on!

If you can get past this problem, though, then the sound effects are sure to get you. Many units' action sounds are incredibly annoying, such as the sound that accompanies cannon-fire. In addition to this, many of the unit voices are generated from Microsoft's speech-to-text libraries (I nicknamed one of my units "Microsoft Sam" because of this)!

Even more, while the unit graphics may be aesthetically pleasing, much of the terrain is either taken from other software or lifted directly from commercial RTS games! One map that Striker and I played on used terrain taken entirely from WarCraft 2!

On top of the balance issues, sound effects, and graphics, the AI is absolutely horrendous! In multiplayer games it literally stands around doing nothing half the time! The most trouble I had with an AI was five minutes into a game with Striker when, after I built a sizable attack force and a plethora of turrets, the Red AI (which was set to Hard difficulty, mind you) decided to produce a relatively large army of the weakest foot-soldiers and send them straight into my turrets. Even if they had managed to pass my turrets unscathed, they still would have been defeated by my offensive forces!

Bos Wars is still incredibly fun. If muted, accompanied by good music, and played without any AI players, it could make for a crazy-fun time at a LAN party.