Wargaming Tradecraft: REVIEW: War Room app from Privateer Press and Tinkerhouse Games


REVIEW: War Room app from Privateer Press and Tinkerhouse Games

Privateer Press has taken a step that we probably all would love to have for any of the various games we play - Developed by TinkerHouse Games, they've released an app that provides the rules for each army you purchase, provides a rules reference for the game system itself, allows you to generate and email army lists and acts as a helper during games by displaying quick stats, letting you mark your health, time your games / turns and interestingly lets you read your opponents cards when you connect your game with someone else.

War Room is available on Android and iOS (iPhone / iPad) phones and tablets. I'm running Android on a Samsung Galaxy S Captivate phone. It's been out for a little while now, there have been some bug fixes, and I'm comfortable posting the review now. There's a whole 'lotta good but some serious bad, so read on...

*DISCLAIMER - My phone loses the red spectrum when taking screenshots... I assure you, all images within the app are beautiful, high-quality, and look just like you were holding the cards yourself.

The Good

There are a lot of great features in this app, built in to an easy to use and straight forward interface.

As a card reference and army builder, it's fantastic. This isn't some cheap text-display - you see the whole card as if you were holding it in your hand. Arrows to the sides let you flip front / back and to extra cards. (Like spells or feats.) Text is large enough to easily read and scrolls if there's enough of it.

If you tap on a card once it's open, it brings you to a rules reference screen that shows every rule mentioned on that card (including special icons like "Reach" and "Pathfinder") and lets you select any of them to read the rule. (Though sometimes it only displays rules from the section of the card you tap on.) If you tap on a rule you're reading, it references every rule mentioned in that rule, and so on. You can also access this rule Reference from the main menu.

To create a new army list, you pick an army, name it and choose or enter a size. (Which also increases accordingly once you choose a caster) This takes you to a list of your army. (empty if you just created the list) Adding models and units is super-easy - scroll through the headings, (Casters, Warbeasts, Solos, etc) tap a card to view it or the "[+]" plus sign to add the card to your list. In the army display, beasts show up under their Warlock and Unit Attachments show up under the unit you attach them to. If you take more units than their Field Allowance, the entry turns red. There is also a section to enable / disable theme lists to get their bonuses.

This interface is so easy to use, reading cards and adding units, that it's helping get me out of my comfort zone and want to experiment with some other casters and models I haven't used before. That's good for both players and Privateers business alike. Worth noting is that on my wife's tablet, it uses all the display room, showing cards on one side and lists on the other.

It really is that easy to find units and create a list with them.. being able to tap entries to see their cards is incredibly handy. Instead of a stack of cards, you're just scrolling through a list. I'm not sure the list-building portion of War Room could be laid out any better.

 If you don't own an army, it'll prompt you to purchase it - $6.99 [CAN] is a reasonable price, (discounts for buying sets) BUT these are FACTION ONLY and don't include Minions / Mercs. A rep from Privateer told me this is a bug, but later I found a FAQ that says this is as intended. These decks are tied to a user account you create with Privateer and can be active on up to 3 devices at a time. Worth noting here that buying decks is buggy unless you're doing it from the "Store" interface on the main menu.

The "Fight" link on the main menu opens a game aid section with some slick features. Clicking on cards here also displays quick information on models stats, weapons, animus - the things you'd need to reference faster during a game.

You can also keep track of damage using the app, easily marking damage boxes and columns, which roughly show in the full army list. The tablet version also lets you track status effects like "on fire" but this doesn't seem to be implemented in the phone version. What's really neat, is you can actually play a game against someone else running War Room, connect, view their army list AND all their cards / rules! That's a big time-saver when you're not sure what your opponents cards do.

When a model is killed, it stands out - personally, I think it'd be nice if dead models were also moved to the bottom of the list, just to de-clutter. Either way, you won't mistake the dead as still part of your list.

There is a clock built in, but it doesn't sync up with your opponents Warroom. Still, it's another handy feature to have built right in to the app.

The Bad

There are some minor issues, which I'm going to quickly list here from most to least annoying... the major issues are after:
  • Mistakes in rules
    • Not being WAAC or a rules lawyer, I can't tell, but apparently there are mistakes on cards... not sure how wide spread this is and I don't feel like comparing every line of text.
  • Crashes when emailing lists
    • EVERY time I tried emailing my army list, War Room crashes to desktop. (But I got the email) If you just built your army and hadn't saved it yet, you're starting over from scratch.
      • This stopped after I updated my phone's OS, but others might run in to it.
  • Small "tap zones"
    • The "tap" areas are kinda small and sometimes obscure until you learn them. Sure, I'm using a phone, but my fingers aren't that sausage like that I should be having problems clicking the "+" to add a unit to my army.
      • Tape zones are fine on my wife's tablet.
  • Lack of button integration
    • Button integration with your device isn't complete, which means pressing your "menu" button won't open their menu and pressing the "back" button won't always go back a screen... which gets annoying when these are natural to every other app out there.
  • Miss-taps
    • When scrolling through the army list, it also likes to miss-tap. Like, as you're scrolling, it suddenly opens the rules for a model as if you clicked it. My phone's in good condition, and I don't have problems like this with any other apps.
  • Un-intuitive unit attachments
    • When you add a unit attachment, it isn't smart enough to know what units the UA could attach to, so it displays everything. (A cabar thrower for my Champions? Don't mind if I do!")
      • Not a big deal, just don't expect the app to hold your hand the whole way.
  • Doesn't save your password
    • Most of the time, I have to log in when the app is started and there's no option to remember my password.
  • Spelling mistakes
    • Spelling mistakes here and there and rules references don't always show all the rules.
      • Privateer Press is working on this and there are often updates to download when I launch the program.
  • Long / multiple load times
    • The app can take a while to load, long enough that my screen will turn itself off. Once the app loads, it has to load again to open an army list.
  • Laggy scrolling
    • Scrolling through rules and army lists can get pretty laggy, but not consistently.
      • This isn't as bad with the new phone OS.

The Ugly

There are what I'd consider some larger issues with the app that anyone looking at spending money should be aware of before hand. It comes down to you trying the app and seeing how it works for you.

Lack of Support

This app isn't perfect, and it's now been weeks since I sent Tinkerhouse a few support emails with NOT ONE response; not even some sort of generic auto-responder. Customer service is important to me, and ignoring emails regarding serious problems is a fairly serious issue. Privateer Press has a forum setup, but most threads seem to go unanswered.

I ended up updating my phone's OS to resolve some problems, which would have been the sort of thing Tinkerhouse could use in an auto-responder to their support address.

Minions / Mercs have to be purchased separately

When I bought my Trollbloods pack, it didn't include any of the minions I can take. It displays them in my list builder, but tells me to buy the Minions pack if I try to add them. The app wasn't very clear about this.

Someone at Privateer who helped me when I was double-billed said this is a bug, no response from Tinkerhouse, but I later found in a FAQ that for minions / mercs, you have to buy their deck separate.

So if you have a Hordes army, you're looking at buying 2 decks... if you have a Hordes and a Warmachine army, 4 decks. I caved and bought Minions once the app was working better because I REALLY do like War Room. I believe Privateer needs to rethink this cash-grab... since playing with options in the app, I'm planning on buying more models. This might turn others away from experimenting with Minions / Mercs.

Trouble purchasing packs

They had a bug at first (that may or may not still exist) that causes the packs you buy to not properly add to your account. They suggested re-installing, but that just charged me a second time for the pack. At least when I was double-charged, Privateer Press responded to my email pretty quick, reversing the extra charge. I've since tried uninstalling and re-installing the app, and it recognized my pack right away... so maybe this bug is no more.

When I bought the Minion deck, the app kept crashing - I finally was able to purchase it through the "Store" link on the main page, instead of the "You don't own this deck" prompt in the list builder. (Again, there's nothing from Tinkerhouse to help people experiencing these issues.)

Army Lists don't sync between devices and are easy to lose

Army lists are tied to the device you build them on, NOT your War Room account. Supposedly they're working to sync them, but nothing yet.

Reinstalling the app deleted my army lists... that's a pretty huge pain. If you replaced your phone for any reason, (lost, stolen, damaged, upgraded) you'd have to rebuild everything. If you have War Room on multiple devices, like on a phone and a tablet, your lists don't transfer. For us list-builders out there, this is a LARGE problem. According to people on the PP forums, they've had their lists disappear just by updating War Room.

Limited battery life

Not directly a War Room problem, but smart phones batteries aren't great. Since we all have smart phones now, I think most people will be running this on a phone, rather than a tablet with a larger battery. If I'm going to rely on it in the field of battle, then I'll have to bring a power cord. (Which isn't convenient at a table in the middle of a game store) Normal use of my phone finds me recharging by late evening, while the days I've used War Room, I have to recharge by the afternoon.
I'd brush this off as just an issue with my phone, except reading the forums, battery use seems to be a common problem as others are noticing the app draining their battery really fast as well.

But here's the show-stopper:

The "Pull the battery" lock-ups

I'd say at least HALF to three quarters of the time I'm using the app, my phone freezes so bad I have to pull the battery from my phone to reset it. NONE of my other apps have ever crashed like this. Where and why it freezes seems to be random, and having to reboot my phone instead of crashing back to the desktop is getting frustrating. You could be loading an army, going back to the main menu, opening a rule, or clicking a heading like "Solos" while building your army... poof, battery time. I've had to pull my battery often enough that I'm beginning to wonder if I'm damaging my phone.

Currently, it's annoying when I lose the list I was working on, but it happens outside of list building too. What if it happened while you were in the middle of a game and using War Room to track your health or as a timer? (Or the fact that for work, I'm on call, and _really_ don't like having to reboot my phone.)

I can't stress enough how often my phone locked up on my while writing this review... I don't have problems with any of my other apps crashing. From what I've read, tablets do well while phones, including common models, seem to have the most problems. (My wife hasn't run in to these freezes on her tablet.)

Since writing this review, but before posting, I've updated my phones Android OS and the frequency of freezes has diminished significantly. They're not gone completely, but the app is now usable. Could I have thought about doing this earlier? Sure. Should Tinkerhouse have actually responded to an email and suggested this? Absolutely. I'm also still going to list this bug as reviewed, because other people out there could be encountering the same problem.

3 / 5 stars

I see two very strong, primary uses for this app.

First, this is a FANTASTIC list building tool. It's very easy to use and provides you with literally everything you need to read cards and make a list... then pull up these lists before a game and quickly figure out what physical cards you need to play. Because of battery limitations, I don't see using War Room while playing games unless you have a tablet. Even then, because of possible mistakes within the app, you might still be better off playing with your cards.

Second, if you're mid-game and need to check on a rule, the reference system is fast enough that you're not interrupting the game too long to look it up. (and therefore don't have to lug the rulebook around with your army)

Don't get me wrong, this app is worth more stars than that, but Tinkerhouse has some serious problems and missing features to deal with before I'd rate it better. Their support also seems to be non-existent, which is something Privateer Press should be following up on. The cash-grab on selling Faction and Minion decks separate also irks me.

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