Monday, November 15, 2010

Bronze Review

Bronze, developed by Dreamspike Studios and published by Shrapnel Games.
The Good: Simple but deep rules, challenging AI, diverse nations with different strategies, quick games with random maps, helpful tutorials, several campaigns
The Not So Good: Lacks online play
What say you? This territory-based strategy game features unique, interesting gameplay and very competent computer opponents: 7/8

The Bronze Age, the period from 3300 BC to JUSTIN BIEBER RULZZZZ!!!11!!11 (source: Wikipedia), was an era of intense…bronzing. I’m assuming that the lack of modern suntan lotion lead to widespread tanning (or “bronzing”) during this time, eventually leading to an outbreak of skin cancer among the human race. History is so much more fun if you make it up as you go along! I think this brings us to Bronze, a turn-based strategy game that’s a battle for territory across Mesopotamia (from the Greek, meaning “is it always this hot out?”), which has absolutely nothing to do with skin cancer in any way. Hey, “poorly written introduction”...what do you expect?

Bronze is a 2-D strategy game, and it looks, well, like a 2-D strategy game. The game features tiles that are easy to identify but simple in detail, along with the various buildings and their designs. There aren’t any special affects to see, but at least Bronze features good tool-tips and clearly indicates territory ownership. While simply functional, the graphics of Bronze never negatively impact the gameplay. The sound design features very minimal effects for things like building conversion and good background music. There’s not much to report on the graphics and sound front, but true strategy fans will be able to look past the simple presentation and direct their attention towards the gameplay.

Bronze has features out the wazoo (technical term), with one notable exception. To start off, the game features three campaigns covering the early, middle, and late Bronze ages. Each of these start you off with one territory and you can attack any adjacent province. If you own more surrounding territory, you get additional starting spots to decrease the difficulty level. In addition, you are given an extra spot in provinces where your civilization was historically strong. If you play the game on “easy” difficulty setting, the approximate difficulty level is also displayed (in addition to getting an income bonus). The semi-linear format of the campaign works well: even though the scenarios take place on scripted maps against pre-determined opponents, you can go through them in an order of your choosing. The campaigns will keep players busy for a while, especially on higher difficulty levels where further attempts at a single map will be required.

But wait: there’s more (if you call right now)! Bronze also includes custom matches and multi-game tournaments, using random maps or any of the scripted affairs from the campaigns. You can set the number of rounds, starting funds, and AI difficulty. Hotseat play is available for the custom games, but Bronze lacks online play of any kind, a disappointing limitation. Additionally, there is a survival mode where you must win as many randomly generated maps in a row as you can, and a comprehensive tutorial that comprises of three lessons and five practice matches to ease you into the game. While all of the game’s basics are covered between the tutorial and the manual, I would like to see a condensed rundown of the traits of each civilization. Bronze has very quick games (usually less than ten minutes, if not less) that make it a good pick-up-and-play solution for busy strategy fans. In short (too late!), the features of Bronze are quite satisfying.

Games of Bronze are won by claiming the most territory, and that is done by placing any of a number of buildings in each tile. You can claim any tile that touches your territory, allowing you to section off portions of the map from enemy expansion. The most basic is the farm, essentially an empty tile that gives one gold and can be expanded later with other buildings. What other buildings, you ask? Villages can bring in more income when placed next to mountains, trade outposts earn more money with each one placed, towns claim any surrounding neutral tile (very useful for early expansion), a ziggurat converts any adjacent enemy farms to your side, an army converts and enemy buildings to your side, a citadel prevents army conversion, an embassy prevents army and ziggurat use for six turns, and a palace is an expensive combination of citadel, army, ziggurat, and town. All of the buildings (except for the farm and village) cost money to place, so you must alternate between money producing and money consuming structures. The buildings offer pleasingly varied strategies and counter-strategies, since each structure has a specific role and cost associated with it. On top of that, there are eleven different civilizations, each of which has different prices and different buildings available. This really increases the strategic variety Bronze has to offer, further increasing the replay value of the title.

The terrain is also important for overall victory. The maps are populated with different tiles, including “normal” fertile land, rivers that must be traversed by building bridges, seas that cannot be passed, desert that doesn’t allow for farms, swamps that don’t allow for anything, mountains that give villages resources, and hills that automatically protect against enemy armies. Bronze is ripe for strategic variety thanks to its easy-to-understand rules and varied structures and landscapes. The AI is a fantastic opponent, taking great advantage of their civilization’s strengths and your weaknesses (like putting a lot of buildings on the border when your armies are more expensive than normal). The computer also seems to have many overall strategies up its sleeve, picking a different one for each game that keeps you on your toes. Strategy veterans should find a lot to like here thanks to the quality AI and unique mechanics.

Bronze takes a straightforward premise (territory control) and incorporates simple mechanics (place buildings) with enough variety (building types and civilizations) to make it quite an interesting little game. Each civilization has its own strategy: taking over buildings with armies, conquering neutral territory with towns, converting farms with ziggurats, or simply cornering off large sections of the map. The key to Bronze is to take advantage of which buildings are cheapest for your civilization and can’t be countered by the enemy, since most civs have one or two structures they simply cannot build or are prohibitively expensive. The AI is quite excellent, taking advantage of their side’s strengths and capitalizing on your weaknesses; it almost makes up for Bronze lacking online play (almost). The game features three map-based campaigns, along with custom matches and survival modes on random maps, so you can play the title for a long, long time. With unique mechanics, diverse civilizations, and quality computer opponents, those looking for something a bit different in the strategy genre should take an extended glance towards Bronze.