Review: Pre-Civilization Marble Age06 Jan 2015 0
Picture a Paradox grand strategy with the map and minutiae stripped away, with naught but the sliders left. Douse the remains in graphics salvaged from lighthearted Evony clones and you just might get something along the lines of Pre-Civilization Marble Age. Sounds rather dreary, doesn't it? And yet, I've been punching that End Turn button with far more vigor than I ever expected when I first saw this game's graphics, which seem to have been stolen from an ancient Powerpoint presentation.
What dopamine teat is this curiosity tickling? Is it massaging those tracks left by my childhood Settlers addiction?
In a strange, passive way, yes. In Marble Age, players manage a classical Greek city by shifting an expanding population across production, culture, fleet, army and financial assignments. Anyone who has played a Masters of Orion descendant will be immediately familiar with distributing their peons into the best possible position for growth, and the same occurs here. Marble Age is wholly dependent on finding a balance across all sectors of society and being able to reassign their population towards particular objectives or threats, with the overarching aim to unite or annex the known world.
Beneath the simplistic growth management, your culture has particular traits and perks. At the time of this review, Athens is the sole choice, with Sparta promised to thunder in at some point in the near future. Athens tilts towards the sciences and culture, with appropriate bonuses applied to buildings, technologies and outputs, encouraging you to settle those helots and be prepared to do things a little more diplomatically.
Much like The Settlers, it all begins with a clutch of peasants and an open field. Location-specific developments are triggered when technologies are researched and put into practice. Culture drives the engines of innovation and the flow-on effects boost your economy. Population explodes, the labour forces allow for bigger and faster developments and baby, you've got a stew going.
Regional diplomacy begins to roll out with emissaries and trade negotiations, and for a game whose interface of city management is markedly simple, there's a lot going on under the hood with pacts and alliances, colonies and exploration. Overland and maritime exploration often reveals quite tidy little financial or cultural injections, providing a fine little quandary of opening the map versus not stepping on the toes of rowdy neighbours.
Your adversaries won't sit by quietly while you grow into an Agean super-power, though. Sparta pops up, as do the Macedonians, which will demand military intervention on your part. True to Marble Age's spreadsheet sensibilities, successful combat is simple matter of having enough troops to field against an enemy, and when not invoking a diplomatic pact to heave friends into the sarissas, it's a question of fighting or flight. There are a few more options in dealing with an aggressor, but for the most part, this is not a military strategy game in any way, shape or form. But in the same way that The Settlers featured armies, but was never about the legion, Marble Age hooks a fellow with its strange mix of uncomplicated interface, hidden depth and kisses blown to critical pathing. Every player action has an immediate and easily parsed outcome, inscribed via its positive and negative effect on the webbing of society.
Relocation of agricultural labour drops and raises any number of stations about a player's province, and while there's only one main city-state to develop with any attention to minutiae, your decisions make ripples felt in nearby settlements that you can see immediately.
The visuals do leave me conflicted. Marble Age has a fine managerial granularity beneath the surface, but the complete lack of classical veneer makes me wonder why the developers bothered to even set it in the ancient world. At a glance of anything but the world map screen, you would be very lucky to guess it was anything even remotely Hellenic. Marble Age proffers a strange, simplistic art style that just doesn't do any sort of justice to the material. That said, it is all relatively inoffensive, and the blandness is ameliorated by the menu-driven gameplay.
I was somewhat suspicious of PreCivilization: Marble Age when it was handled down from PT High Command, primarily due to the art. Thankfully, the Facebook game trappings stop at the aesthetics. Marble Age can sit alongside other quirky tactical takes like Empire: The Deck Building Strategy Game and provide a snappy, short-term bit of strategic jerky.
Reviewed on iPhone 5S.