Basic Advance Wars gameplay consists of players taking turns moving various combats units across a map in order to engage in combat with an opposing unit, with infantry units able to claim or capture cities, production bases and headquarters.
Advance Wars is balanced using a rock/paper/scissors methodology, wherein each unit possesses strengths and weakness in comparison to other units. For example, a Medium Tank can easily destroy most ground-based vehicles in direct combat, but can't fire upon most aircraft, some of which--in turn--can destroy it with relative ease. Anti-Air units, meanwhile, are weak-to-middling against other ground units but can swiftly take out all aircraft.
Victory can usually be attained one of two ways: either by wiping out all the enemy units on the map, or capturing the enemy HQ. A scant few story missions change it up, requiring you to protect a certain unit for a period of time, or putting you in a race to be the first to claim a certain number of cities and bases.
Just as important as any unit or structure in the game is the battlefield itself. Certain terrain types can afford advantages while others can penalize to an extent. For example, while moving infantry into mountains, their movement range is cut, but it affords excellent cover and also visibility during Fog of War. Others are more obvious, such as tanks being restricted to land movement, but able to attack an adjacent boat unit on shoal. Air units are pretty much free to move wherever.
Fog of War
Fog of War is a battle situation wherein visibility across the map is obscured and limited to an individual unit's range of vision. Ground units can remain hidden when moved into woodland areas and mountain terrain can afford infantry units high degrees of visibility, while boat units can hide among reefs. This makes movement quite tricky as moving directly in the path of an unseen enemy unit can cause your unit to be trapped and helpless until your next turn. Air units are also very valuable here for their high degree of mobility but are just as at risk.
At the outset of each mission, the player chooses a CO and acts as adviser to the CO. Different COs have different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses and affect the battlefield in different ways. Each CO has a CO Power that can be used once its respective meter has been filled during battle, by taking and dealing out damage and securing structures. For example, Andy, the first CO the player meets, retains balanced "all-around" traits. His CO Power is Hyper Repair, which restores 2 hit-points to all units immediately upon use. Max, another CO, is particularly powerful in direct combat where he deals much more damage with any unit that can attack an enemy in an adjacent square. Meanwhile, his ranged, indirect units (rockets, artillery) are less effective and have a shorter firing range than is considered normal.
In Advance Wars, the player is cast as a military adviser for the Orange Star forces. Throughout the story campaign, players battle across 4 different countries, fighting a war against 4 other armies.
The Countries of Wars World