It’s about ten years since the tower defence genre made it big, first with Desktop Tower Defence on PC in 2007 and then with Fieldrunners on the newly released iPhone in 2008.
This cleverly devised sub-genre of strategy game was perfect for touchscreens, presenting you with tough tactical challenges that you could solve with nothing more complicated than a tap of your finger (read: “10,000 taps”).
Caravan War is a nice demonstration of how far we’ve come in the last decade. While it contains exactly the sort of tower of defence gameplay that early iPhone gamers lost so much sleep over, the tower defending is just one part of a much bigger, richer experience.
The gameplay revolves around caravans (not a sentence you expected to read today). These caravans contain cargo that you’re trading for profit, and you have to complete trades with your caravans to earn gold, as well as raiding rival caravans for extra cargo, gems, and even more gold.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
You start with an empty isometric square of territory. Dotted about this square are patches where you can construct buildings. These include a Headquarters, where you despatch trade caravans, a Mill, where you make stuff to trade, a Tavern, where you organise troops, a Weaponsmith, a Warehouse, a Garage, and several other types of structure.
Each of these structures can be upgraded, though only to the level of the Headquarters, and upgrading them has different effects depending on what they do, larger Bandit Camps holding more vehicles, larger Headquarters allowing more simultaneous trades, and so on.
Not only that but the contents of structures can receive upgrades of their own. Bandits and Guardians can be promoted, towers can be upgraded, vehicles can be enhanced. You get the idea.
Defend for your life
To improve your chances of a successful defensive operation you need to optimise your caravan. This means kitting out your vehicles with guns and surrounding them with the most powerful guardians you can, all of which is made easier by attacking the convoys of other players to speed up the rate at which you can embark on trades (because you nick their cargo.)
And now, finally, it’s time to talk about the tower defence. Ambushing enemy caravans involves placing towers and troops in dedicated spots along the routes they take. Before each ambush begins you get a little preview of your quarry (you can pay a fee to skip an enemy if they look a bit daunting), so you always know what’s coming and can arrange your towers for maximum impact.
There are the usual tower types, firing long range, short range, magical, and historical projectiles, and the number of towers available grows as you make your way through the single player campaign.
This mode involves charging through a number of stages across ten different worlds, with each world yielding a chest (full of character cards) and a new item.
At first these stages are trivially easy, and you don’t have to think too hard about where to place your towers and ground troops. They get harder, however, and you need to get cleverer about how you deploy your forces.
Towering above all
In any case, it’s well worth completing the campaign in order to unlock all of the towers to use in the multiplayer game, which is where all the longevity is – particularly if you choose to join a clan.
Outside the tower defence – which, if we’re honest, is where you’ll spend most of your time – Caravan War is packed with things to do: trades to conduct, buildings to upgrade, characters to promote, and achievements to claim. Even when you’re not playing, notifications will ping on your phone to let you know that one of your caravans is under attack or a trade has been successfully completed.
While frantically deploying towers and troops is a big part of the action, Caravan War is about maintaining a mini empire. In that respect it has a lot in common with recent hits like Clash Royale, though its tower defence gameplay is a welcome twist.
Caravan War isn’t necessarily the most original game of the year, and in terms of graphics it’s functional rather than exciting, but if you’re looking for an accessible, deep, well-balanced mix of strategy and resource management you could do a lot worse.
If you’re looking for an accessible, deep, well-balanced mix of strategy and resource management you could do a lot worse than Caravan War