Galactic Assault: Prisoner of Power Hands-On

This turn-based wargame is based on a Soviet-era science fiction novel.

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Galactic Assault: Prisoner of Power may have a sci-fi setting on an alien world, but this turn-based strategy game from Paradox Interactive and Wargaming.net could very well be about any contemporary industrial conflict that features infantry, tanks, and artillery. Like Wargaming.net's earlier game, Massive Assault, Galactic Assault is essentially a computerized version of a turn-based wargame, right down to the hex-based nature of the map.

Command infantry, armor, air, and artillery in Galactic Assault.
Command infantry, armor, air, and artillery in Galactic Assault.

The game is based on Prisoner of Power, a Soviet-era science fiction novel by Arkady and Boris Strugastsky. In it, a young man from Earth crash-lands on the planet Saraksh and overthrows an oppressive society. The game is set in the aftermath of those events, as the collapse of the regime paves the way for a belligerent neighbor to invade, and you'll have to command the forces of the land of Unknown Fathers in combat.

If you've ever played any kind of board wargame, then the rules for Galactic Assault will be familiar. Each turn is broken up into several types of phases. There's a combat phase where you can give movement and fire orders to your units. Then there's a recruitment phase where you can construct specialized buildings and order up new units. Once that's done, it's the enemy's turn, and the entire cycle starts all over again. The game actually models the time of day, so after each turn it may become gradually brighter or darker, depending on what side of the diurnal cycle that you're on. This has tactical implications for line of sight.

At your disposal will be a wide range of infantry, artillery, and armor that you can purchase at barracks and factories. This isn't a real-time strategy game, though, so there's no resource gathering. You purchase units with cash that's awarded between missions. Obviously, the better units cost more, so it's a decision between quantity and quality. For example, you can get plenty of low-level infantry, or you can spend a bit more and get some better-quality infantry. You can also use these structures to replace losses during the recruitment phase.

A river crossing presents a tactical challenge.
A river crossing presents a tactical challenge.

Since the units are essentially the equivalent of their modern-day military counterparts, many of the tactics are the same. You can position infantry in woods or buildings for cover, or they can dig in if in the open, providing them better cover, but at the cost of a turn to dig in and a turn to dig out should you want to move. The rock-scissors-paper relationship between units is what you'd expect. Infantry are good against other infantry, but weak against armor. Artillery is powerful against infantry, but also vulnerable to armor. Tanks can blast away, but need infantry and artillery support to be truly effective. Morale is modeled and each unit has a color-coded moral indicator. Green is healthy, yellow is danger, and red means that the unit is demoralized and is basically combat ineffective. Thus, you rarely annihilate enemy units. Instead, you just need to punish them enough so they break and run, which is often the case in warfare.

In terms of production values, the graphics and sound is fairly rudimentary. Even with all the graphical settings maxed out this isn't a flashy game, though the upside is that it should run on most systems fairly well. And judging from our time with it, Galactic Assault is pretty easy to pick up and play. It ships later this month.

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