The drug war in Mexico has been raging for over 40 years now. Police throughout the country have waged bloody battles against cartels for control of money and power in the region. Developer Auroch Digital has partnered with Gamethenews.net to utilize this conflict as the basis for a Risk-based video game: NarcoGuerra.
As a political statement, NarcoGuerra (Spanish for Drug War) works well. You play as the police and must fight various drug cartels for territory, while quelling internal corruption and monitoring local politics. Within the game’s main menu, you’ll find links to several websites that you can visit to educate yourself on the effects of the drug war. I love the idea of turning current events into a video game, and I found this to be an interesting way to raise awareness to an important issue. As a game, however, I wasn’t as impressed.
The menus are reminiscent of the Modern Warfare series. They’re done in a black and white style, which works well for a game based on the news. Within the game itself, the regions change color based on the faction controlling it. The battles are shown using cards. Considering how basic the rest of the game is, I wanted a little bit more out of the battles. This is where many Risk games impress, and this game just didn’t. Instead of just showing cards cross the screen with the dice roll value attached, it would’ve been nice to see actual battles. I found that by turning the battle animations off, I wasn’t missing anything.
While playing the game, Mexico is divided into different regions and it plays very much like Risk. You take turns with your opponents in a build round and an attack round. In the build round, you strategically reinforce your numbers in each region by either purchasing units or moving them from adjacent territories. You also have options to lower corruption and perform recon missions on your opponents. Each of these actions requires money, and money is hard to come by. This adds a level of difficulty to the game, but it can also be quite frustrating. If you allow your corruption to get too high, random territories you control will suddenly create their own cartel. If you spend too much money keeping corruption low, you won’t have enough left to reinforce your defenses. I get that this is supposed to represent how frustrating the real drug war is, but I’m not sure that making a game frustrating for players is the best way to get them interested in the issues you’re promoting.
During the attack round, you invade enemy territories while being careful to leave enough in your regions to defend from enemy attacks. The best strategy is to keep a higher numbers of reinforcements in the outside of your territories, while leaving just the single required army in your interior territories. Your first attack is free, and each additional attack gets progressively more expensive. This mechanic was annoying. It feels as though the programmers were focusing so hard on turning the game into a journalistic statement that they forgot to make it fun.
I like what NarcoGuerra is trying to accomplish. It shines a light on an important issue. The few flaws it has can be fixed with a patch. A few AI tweaks will make the random events more intuitive, smooth out the difficulty levels, and improve the overall playability. Where many Android games feel like advertisements trying to milk money out of players while providing very little in the form of entertainment, the game is a breath of fresh air. NarcoGuerra works as an educational experience, but needs a bit more work to become a truly hardcore Android experience.