Preview: Age of Conquest IV12 Jan 2016 0
Tokyo-based developer Christof Aschwanden has been plugging away at the strategy set for a good few years. Tableteers might know the studio from portable RTS fare like the Operation Stormfront line; looking and playing like simple shelfmates of Real War and defiantly old school. The desktop fellowship might be privvy to Aschwanden from recent Demise of Nations: Rome. Westphalian pedantry aside, it remains a gem of a 4X title and the future release of it on iOS and Android should fit the bill for those champing at the possibility of larger-scale strategising. But we're here to ogle one project nearing completion and currently undergoing the rigors of alpha-testing.
Risk has been there and certainly done that. A tried and true territory control frisson for the whole family, ubiquitous and no stranger to surprisingly snappy touch-ups. Less effervescent rehashes are legion, if a quick glance at the App Store is acceptable evidence. As such, I've been croupiering blobs across an Ancient Europe in an effort to see if Aschdwaden's inbound Age of Conquest IV is, heavens, a risk worth taking. And I think it is. At least, for those wanting a concise, pleasantly well-featured and PBEM-enabled package that'd make Albert Lamorisse nod in approval.
Keeping things snappy with a WEGO system, Age of Conquest IV has players rolling around the Old World from 337BC. Ancient Europe is segmented and sectioned as you'd expect, with up to eighteen burgeoning kingdoms to choose from and placed accordingly. The state of established expansion can be toggled in the initial game configuration, so borders can be rubbing from kick-off sans neutral territories if desired. And so begins the zythum and pretzels annexation through outright war and diplomatic skulduggery.
There are a few tasty layers beneath a straight numbers game, stemming from territory and economy management. All actions, be they conflict, alliances or fiscal, will effect the happiness of your subjects. This feeds into military and tax output. There's standing army upkeep to consider, as well. Being able to balance the festivities and soft taxation with a sprawling front makes this more than a mere Dice Wars. Much of the bean-counting appears tapped from Demise of Nations: Rome, where the components sat alongside deeper management and development options. It's not Paradox, but there are enough statistics and feedback to keep things interesting.
Combat and expansion is a known quantity. However, if toggled, you can also pleasantly throttle the upswing via action points. Players have a base two-point-two points to play with, plus 25% of any unused points from the previous turn as well as territory bonuses. It makes decisions like army recruitment and movement, fortifying and combat much weightier than simply pushing the front with wild abandon. Forging relations with neighbours comes in the form of alliances, peace treaties, demanding submission, as well as a variety of protectorate options. There's nice variety to the hand-shaking, with the AI doing a mighty fine job wielding diplomacy on higher difficulties. It feels almost as fluid as playing against human opponents.
Speaking thereof, the online multiplayer component is currently looking super-robust. PBEM tailoring is detailed, allowing for the configuring of player turn-triggered updating or server-side turn rollovers every minute, hour, day and so on. Heck, it even accommodates a turn update limit of two months. Roman, built, day; the aphorism is catered to. There are also options for ELO rating requirements, clans, tourney play, sponsored matches.
Age of Conquest IV is, like other Noble Master games, free to play with an in-game currency system. Wait! Come back! Like a lot of other titles out there, the base game is free with no limitations. Two maps will come gratis -- Ancient and Medieval Europe -- with historical and geographical expansions available as discrete purchases or as a premium bundle for twenty American bones. These packs include wars in the Americas, a colonial era expansion, Empires of Asia and so forth that range between four to six dollars apiece. In multiplayer, you're free to join as many games as you like, but hosting one costs five in-game currency coins. I'm told this is a preventative measure to avoid the creation of excess and unused games clogging the servers. Coins can be purchased as one would expect, but players accrue them via logging in or winning multiplayer matches. Some might find it contentious, and it's a system that has been abused in the past -- looking at you, Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes. However, given the length of time a game might take to conduct, the five-coin hosting fee doesn't seem particularly egregious when coupled with potential winnings. In-game currency can also be used to purchase the expansions, so potentially, cunning strategists could snag a lot for naught bar victory.
For the visual enthusiasts, Age of Conquest IV has certainly cribbed a few graphical upgrades from Noble Master Games' recent titles. The prior Age of Conquest games were poster-children for the graphically spare, and with the fourth take, there's a little more life on the board. I'm uncertain if there's much to add beyond the alpha, but it's a clean and colourful game with a slick UI. The lack of zoom on touch devices can make delegating troop movement sometimes finicky on smaller screens, but that speaks more to my Neanderthal dexterity than anything else - and given that this is an alpha build, could be mitigated down the line with a pinch and zoom.
For an alpha, with business model reservations aside, things appear rosy. The Risk we know and respect is here, with some tidy twists that add enjoyable managerial ballast to proceedings. Moreover, the generous online component bodes well for both short throwdowns and the longer, more languid affairs. The second alpha for iOS, Android, PC, Mac and Linux is currently ongoing, so if you're keen to throw down the gauntlet, head on over the Age of Conquest site and get your annex on.