War Room review
War Room has just been released on the App Store and Google Play. War Room is an app dedicated to Privateer Press games, Warmachine and Hordes. The app main purpose is to be a card library, an in such a way, an army list manager. Of course, Warmachine and Hordes players could already use their mobile devices for their favorite games. IBodger was available on the App Store for a long time and was ported on the Android Market pretty fast. Its main purpose was to be an army lists manager. Of course, as an non-official work, there where limits. First, the visual design was pretty poor. Second, players didn’t have access to profiles details, I suppose for a question of License agreement. Although, the app did what it was designed for and did it right.
As Privateer Press decided to edit it’s own app, they requested the author of iBodger to stop working on it. So, War room was awaited since last january. Lets see what it does have to offer.
This review vas written shortly after the release. Privateer Press was really reactive on some defects of the app. The article is kept as it was written, but to be fair with their commitment, edits are added where some negative points where corrected.
Getting and launching War Room
War Room can be found on the App Store and Google Play as a free app. I have downloaded War Room on an iPad trough iTunes on a WiFi connection and started to download it on an Android phone trough 3G. From the App Store, War Room is a big 150 Mo app. From Google Play, I downloaded less than 1 Mo but on the first launch, the app asks to download other data. I didn’t noticed a warning message that this would be a huge download, neither I saw some kind of check is I was on WiFi or not. For a huge download, the device should check that the download would not get an extra cost to the user. So on Android, the experience does not have a good start.
Once installed, you need to download the stat cards. For that purpose, you will need an account to access the in-app store. The stats comes in faction decks, just as your decks. Thus, you can buy any faction deck you want or a bundle of all of them (which will provide you a little discount). You can still have a basic usage of the app since the profiles available in the rule book are available for free with the app. Your account can register 2 devices, so once you bought a faction deck, you can use it, let’s say, on a tablet and on a phone.
This is certainly the best choice of monetization of the app. Of course, we can argue that you will have to buy a virtual deck even if you possess the stat cards. Yes, but as always, those are two different products and this is understandable.
War Room features
War Room as a card library.
The first feature of War Room is to act as a knowledge base about any Iron Kingdom profile. The card library contains all the references of the game (or at least, all those you have purchased). Once you choose a profile, you can view his profile card, both sides are displayed on the screen. If the model does have other cards, you can see them by a swip. The cards are a copy of the cardboard cards so you will find every information at the same place you are used to. But as you use an interactive device, you can tap some element on the card to bring up rule references. so lets say you tap the abilities list, this will bing a list of all the abilities of the profile with their rule definition, as we did for the Alkemy Companion.
War Room as an army list manager
As stated from Privateer Press, War Room allows you to gather reference cards in an army list, but it is not exactly an Army List manager. It does just offer a basic calculation of the Army List point cost and nothing more. So, what is this feature good for ? Well, of course, you can use those lists in play. During a game, you will have a view on you army list, display quick stats, or the detailed cards. You will also be able to keep track of the health status of the models. The quick stats may only disply the stats, but a tap on them will display a list of the specific rules.
So, maybe War Room does require a knowledge of the building rules, it seems to be a good companion during gameplay. Actually, we planned something like that for the Alkemy Companion.
War Room usage
Having some nice features does not make an app useful. It has to be pleasant to use.
App appearance and behavior
War Room is at first a nice looking app, thanks to the artwork. But this nice look is inconsistent. There may be an awesome background artwork on the main screen, the other views (except of course the card screen) are black. This may be a detail, but it has to be added on the app design. All user interaction which should be dialogs appears as full screen views, overlapping the main view. This should also be another detail if there wouldn’t be this bad interaction design, and the wait. Every screen to be loaded take time. The data load and parsing really need to be improved.
War Room seems to have been designed by desktop users and need a lot of difficult interaction for every action. As an example, if you check a stat card, you have access to a usage help. This will overlap hints over the stat card. In fact, it is not an overlap, it is another view with a specific card but this is not important. To dismiss that help, you have to tap the close button, which is a small button displaying an Windows’s fashioned X on the upper right corner. The rules details list does have the same behavior. This draw the user attention to useless action and slow him down. Being able to dismiss that screen with a tap anywhere or a bigger button would have been a far better idea.
Another example of poor design is in the health status record during play. If you have to record a would or a healing, you have to check or uncheck all the little squares. Checking the fifth square will not check the first four.
But the worst may be the general view of the app. The app is displayed in landscape mode and it is impossible to switch it to a portrait view. This is really boring on smartphones which are usually held in portrait orientation. Even worse, as in landscape, stat cards are displayed two on a screen side by side, and are nearly impossible to read. The interaction problems are worse in those devices since all the active areas are smaller.
Actually, I am not exactly fair about the screen orientation, at least for Android. On Google Play, there are two version of the app : War Room and War Room Handheld which is designed for handheld devices and can be used in portrait mode. What ? Come on guys, Android offers you the ability to adapt to the device, what is this ? Well, even if I download this app, the additional download notification is still in landscape mode. And of course, the armies I have designed in the other app are not available…
Edit for the update of August 15th: if you use an handheld device, delete the other one. Both apps display the same icon and share the same name, so unless you are careful, you’ll never know which one you are launching. It seems to me that they didn’t shared the same name before the update. Oh, and you are good for a new massive download before launching the app.
Android, the big fail
War Room was designed to look the same on iOs and Android devices. The problem is that Tinker House Games didn’t take the platform specificity into account. Android devices does have two buttons, Back and Menu, and both are disabled. As the app need a lot of back action, an Android user first action is to press the back button, for nothing to happen. During a Fight, there is a menu to be opened, a button is displayed on the screen. Same reflex, same disappointment.
Edit for the update of August 15th: With the update of August 15th, the app supports the hardware buttons on Android. The Menu button works fine, the Back button need some fixing especially while in the Card Library. This is a good start, even if now we can argue that there should not be a software button on the app. I hope that those kind of things will be fixed, others are more important for now.
But there is a good point on Android for this app. Today, we are concerned about our privacy, and War Room does not ask for more permissions than he really needs.
War Room and it account
As War Room need an account, and as an account may be shared between two devices, you could expect to design your army on your tablet and then use your smartphone during a game. Well, no. Armies are not shared trough your account. Designed on a device, the army is available only on that device.
An account allows you to buy the stat decks. But even without the decks, the library lists all the profiles to date. If you select a profile you haven’t bought, you will have a warning message inviting you to buy the deck. Nothing unusual here unless that nothing in the interface does show you if you have bought the concerned profile or not.
Edited on August 15th
So, War Room is a nice card library. It does have good ideas. But on it first release, the app is poorly designed. Other problems does exist, and Privateer Press is aware of. They have taken the users opinion seriously as they posted on their website. They keep a road map of the improvements and corrections. By referring to their updates, they are reactive on bringing a correction of the defects.
So, we can’t really say that Privateer Press and Tinker House Games have taken the app development at the state of the art. They released something which looked more like a beta rather a finished product. There seem not to have been any user testing, and the consequence can be seen on the comments on the App Store and Google Play. Nobody knows if Privateer Press contacted iBodger creator Wendell Hicken, which is a computer software architect, to take part on their project, and if not, why. iBodger wasn’t an exceptional app but it did worked fine and War Room should have found some inspiration in it. Actually, it would have been more efficient than relying on a company specialized in games. War Room is not a game, it is a management app.
But what now ? Should the app be downloaded and money spent on the stat decks ?
The day after the release, I would have said that if you are a Warmachine or Hordes (or both games) player willing to use a modern device for your hobby, you should. War Room will be the only app to provide you those possibilities. War Room is not pleasant to use, especially on Android devices.
Privateer Press have taken all feedbacks seriously and is improving the app. It may take some time to have a really good app, but as they have great table top games, they may not let their reputation darkens on just an app.
War Room is free, download it and test it with the starter stats, for any Warmachine and Hordes player, it is worth the try. War Room was not the perfect app at its release, but its getting better. Most of the flaws of the app in this article are technical, from a user point of view, this app really deserve its chance.
Have you tried it yet ? What do you think of this app ?