Linux has many advantages. It's stable and it's free, and it has an entire social ethos behind it. But very few people install Linux for the great games that have been developed for it. Recently, a team of international developers has put together what may be the first great GPL game, and what also may join the Turn Based Strategy pantheon along with Civilization, Heroes of Might and Magic and Masters of Orion.

When I originally wrote this writeup, I said that the fact that the game was GPL was incidental to the game play. After spending more time with the game and the Wesnoth community, I found that the ethic of free software makes a big impact on gameplay. People are free to develop their own scenarios for the game, as well as make suggestions about new units or concepts. One of the most heartening examples of this is a discussion among developers of one scenario that many (including myself) found very hard and annoying, ending with the comment "I was the one who thought up this level, and I can't even stand it anymore".

The rules of the game, and the way they are implemented are as good, or better, than most commercial games. The only thing not up to today's standards are the graphics, although they are good for a turn based strategy, and for a game that fits in a ten megabye download.

The game is a turn based strategy, mixed with a role playing game, and is very good at both. In the game, you must manuever a variety of fantasy type units: elves, trolls, gryphon, merman and dozens of others, through a map. Each map has a separate goal, which is often a straightforward attempt to defeat all enemy forces, or the enemy leader; although the goal can be to move a unit to a certain part of the map, or to find an object. There is, of course, enemies to fight you, and you must choose when and where to fight them. As in many turn based strategies, the idea is to find the best terrain and time, and mix of units to attack your enemies with. Although the intricacies of that get quite involving, it is a process seen in many other games.

The RPG element comes from the fact that none of the scenarios takes place in isolation, but takes place in huge campaigns, with complicated sword and sorcery style plots taking part in the realm of Wesnoth. The plots are somewhat melodramatic, but do manage to keep the game interesting(especially for those science fiction geeks who recognize the references to Final Fantasy and The Lord of the Rings). However, the RPG element does not only come up during the cut scenes. Everytime you win a battle, your units gain experience. After gaining enough experience, they turn into a different type of unit. When you start another scenario in a campaign, you can recall your units from previous campaigns, which as the game progresses is more and more important. The roleplaying element comes in in trying to get survive each scenario, while not suffering too many casualties on your higher level units, while at the same time trying to promote other units to higher levels. In addition, some scenarios change whether you can hire new types of units. This makes the campaigns endlessly vexing. After getting 24 scenarios into the first campaign, on the easiest level, I found that I had not managed my resources well along the way, and that I had to start over from the beginning. It is certainly not an easy, or simple game.

Another thing that puts this game above many other games is that the AI actually is smart. Rather than haphazardly moving units towards you, the AI will group them and send them towards your weak points, and will retreat when it is weaker than you. It is very hard to trick it, or predict what it is going to do. The secret of the efficient AI design is the simplicity of the rule set: the rules are simple enough that an AI can be programmed to understand them. Players of the classic TBS series "Heroes of Might and Magic" can perhaps remember an opponent that would scramble around furiously, collecting resources that they didn't need, while ignoring more obvious battles. In Wesnoth, there is only one resource, so the AI is not in over its head.

Serious gamers should give Wesnoth a try, probably using this: apt-get install wesnoth The game is at release version 0.80 (As of January 2006, it is in release version 1.0 and 1.1), and can be downloaded for Windows if that is what you are into. Start playing Wesnoth now, before everyone else has. And if anyone can give me any advice on how to not lose terribly at this game, please tell me how.

The official page for Battle for Wesnoth can be found at