There are sentences I never thought I’d write. Here’s a good example:

My current favourite game is a turn-based play-by-email strategy game on the PC.

Here’s another:

I have fallen in love with a game with no single-player component and which I play against total strangers.

Yet both those sentences are true. My current favourite game, by quite some way, is low-budget indie title Naked War.

I’ve mentioned it before, but not in any great depth. I’m going to write more now, though, because this isn’t a game that you’re going to be seeing everywhere. For starters, you won’t find it in the shops. No adverts on the sides of buses. No flash ads on IGN or Gamespot. No front covers on the magazines in your local newsagents.

This is because the world is very, very wrong. Naked War is simply one the best-balanced and most fun strategy games I’ve ever played. It’s up there with Advance Wars in terms of… of… well, everything. And what it loses in portability, it makes up for in human opposition. Yes, this is a game where playing random real human beings is a good thing. This is not a game crawling with cheaters, stat-whores and quitters. I don’t think anyone’s managed to cheat so far, at least not intentionally. Everyone I’ve met so far is after a good game, rather than a certain and easy win. And anyone who stops replying to turns to avoid a loss is out of luck – their opponent can, after a week or so without reply, choose to end the game and take the win.

It’s also a very simple game, in terms of rules, but endlessly varied in terms tactics and how games develop. It may take a couple of games to really get to grips with things, but the current players are very helpful to newbies and your first game or two will usually be free, so you’re not losing money when you’re learning.

Which seems like a good time to mention the payment structure. It’s easy. When someone challenges you to a match, you play for free. If you want to challenge someone, you have to use a credit. That’s it.

You get one credit free when you download the game and can buy more from the web site. They cost a dollar each if you buy twenty, but cost less if you buy more at one time. (If you’re worried about burning through the credits, then you’re guaranteed at least twenty hours of play if you buy twenty credits. And that’s a worst case scenario. I’ve still got half my credits left, five or six games on the go and I’ve played for over fifteen hours.)

And you can get free credits if you top the various charts each month, or even if you’re on the winning team. (When you create an account you’re assigned to the red or blue team. If you’ve been playing the game one month and your team wins, you get a free challenge credit. Generous, don’t you think?)

Now, you may be thinking that you don’t know anyone playing the game so you don’t have anyone to play. Wrong. First off, you’re welcome to challenge me. My username is therev and that’s all you need. Secondly, you will probably get a challenge from one of the developers when you register. Thirdly, you can look on the web site for player names. Fourthly, you can issue a challenge to “Anyone” and someone will pick up the game. (There’s also the special case of “Everyone”, but I don’t want to muddy the waters too much at this point.)

When someone challenges you or replies to your challenge you’ll get an email. You’ll open the attachment, Naked War will start up, you’ll play your turn and Naked War will close and you’ll just wait for the next email. And wait you will. During a particularly tense game you may well find yourself hammering your email client’s Send & Receive button, hoping for that next email… And at other times you’ll be content to play a game over several weeks, with turns being swapped every day or two.

You’ll grow very attached to your cartoon soldiers. You can name them yourself, so my team consists of Ventress, Dooku, Sidious and Maul. (Star Wars names, if you’re looking blank.) You give them orders – move, fire, use an upgrade, jump into a vehicle, etc. – and then choose to play your turn. It’s sent off to the server and then you watch everything unfold. Which is incredibly tense when you’re not sure if you’ve got quite enough firepower to kill the final enemy…

Everything’s so well-balanced, that’s the nicest thing. Not in a rock-scissors-paper way like, say, Pokemon, but just in the way that everything has strengths and weaknesses. Turrets are immensely powerful, but static and you need to have four shots to fire them. Helicopters pack a punch, but have very weak armour. Boats can zoom around the waterways, but don’t have much firepower. And soldiers on their own start weak, but can become powerhouses if you promote them up to Sergeant-Major level. Every turn has you wondering where to go, whether to use a vehicle or stay on foot, whether to use the cover of the forests or stay out in the open where you’ll be better placed next turn if you survive and a whole galaxy of other choices that come from the simple rules and finely-tuned maps.

In short, it’s a great game, everyone playing is very nice, you won’t have any trouble finding someone to play and there’s no complicated network setup or anything. So what’s stopping you following the link up above and downloading?

Maybe you’re rubbish at strategy games. Well, so am I, and even I have won a few games of this. And it’s still fun to lose, amazingly. The game’s been successfully designed to always be fun and to never get dull – it’s always possible to come back and win, right up until the end.

Maybe your PC is rubbish. Well, this game runs on terrible PCs. I should know. I’m playing this on a PC with everything set to minimum and it still sometimes chugs when it plays back a turn. But when I’m ordering everyone around, it’s absolutely fine.

Maybe you have a Power PC Mac. Well, then, yes, you’ll have to grit your teeth and wait for a Mac version. Or you’re using Lunix, or some other operating system. BeOS, maybe. You have a reasonable excuse.

Really, though, if you’ve got a PC with any sort of 3D capability, you should try this game out. It’s far less intimidating than it sounds. It’s cute, friendly, easy to pick up, often tense, sometimes hilarious and, most importantly, never boring.

As I said, it’s my current favourite game.