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Whether you're looking to challenge someone to a game of chess or go toe-to-toe in a match of phrase-based jousting, a quick trip to the App Store's overstuffed library won't leave you wanting for turn-based action. Hero Academy, a new tactics title from Robot Entertainment -- a studio formed in the wake of Ensemble Studios' closure -- is a lighthearted social strategy game that matches cutesy "My Little Tolkien" combatants with ultra-accessible grid-based gameplay.
Players pick one of two diverse "Heroic Teams" -- the conservative knight/wizard/cleric combo of the Council, playable from the get-go; or the slightly more sinister Dark Elves, available as an in-app purchase -- before taking to the battlefield, where they're tasked with protecting a precious supply of crystals from their opponent's onslaught. Each team is allotted five actions per turn, and a rotating selection of randomly chosen units, power-ups, and perks to deploy keep the action flowing nicely.
The gameplay is punchy, and the variety of unique units and power-ups creates a solid selection of strategies to try out from match to match. Carefully equipping powerhouse players with defense and attack buffs can be just as effective as making clever use of the "premium squares" scattered throughout the play field, but take it from me: strategy aside, a kamikaze crystal attack is always effective.
Academy borrows the social structure from another turn-based titan, Zynga’s ultra-popular Words With Friends, allowing players to challenge random opponents or pick fights with friends and followers from their social networks. It all works very well, although I did come across a couple of connectivity quibbles when playing on the go. It wasn't enough to deter me for long, though, and if the folks at Robot continue to consistently support it, I can see Hero Academy remaining on my Home screen for a ways to come.
The bottom line. It isn’t the deepest strategy offering on iOS, but Hero Academy is an easy-to-master, turn-based title that also happens to be rather enjoyable. Its micro-transaction mentality may turn some gamers off, but it’s hard to otherwise fault this fun, free app.
iPhone or iPod touch running iOS 4.1 or later
Colorful, cartoony characters. Solid assortment of units and power-ups. Gameplay works great on iOS devices.
Occasional connectivity quibbles. Micro-transactions may spurn some players.