Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Jon Shafer’s At the Gates Gameplay Review

I'm playing Jon Shafer’s At the Gates, a turn-based 4X strategy game by Conifer Games.

In this single-player game, the goal is to build a thriving kingdom that can succeed the Roman Empire. The random map generator is fantastic, offering up realistic terrain (mountain ranges, rain shadow, coastal areas) and granting a limited selection of surrounding resources. The resources that are immediately available will drive early production, and the remainder must be traded for. The art style is striking, and while the tool-tips are fantastic, the interface lacks several features, such as a list of all buildings and clans, plus easy switching between the settlement and research views. The first difference between At the Gates and traditional 4X games is the use of towns and citizens. First, there is only one settlement that can train workers in new jobs and research new professions. This significantly reduces tedious city micromanagement (especially late-game) while making decisions more important. A single clan of workers can undertake one job, which either takes place on the map or in the settlement itself. Professions fall under several categories: honor (military and hunters), agriculture (farmers and gatherers), livestock (ranchers), metalworking (miners and smiths), crafting (wood cutters and stone carvers), or discovery (explorers and traders). Clans can have preferred jobs and personality traits that can make them clash with others.

Resource locations on the map deplete over time, until permanent stone structures to collect food, wood, or minerals are built. Because of this, the settlement location can be moved until it is established as a kingdom in a lasting location. Areas outside the borders can only be foraged, but borders can be expanded with watchtowers. A caravan arrives three times a year so that goods can be swapped for others. Seasons significantly impact resource income; makes sure all the foragers and explorers are inside the settlement once winter strikes! Research involves unlocking and improving jobs for your clans. Some are better than others (crafting stone blocks is a must, for example), but the research choices are largely determined by what resources are available nearby (no reason to research beekeeping if there are no bees). Diplomatic options are extremely basic: only alliances and wars are available, with limited gifting options to adjust relationship levels. The environment provides the strongest foe, as the AI is very passive and easy to defeat with a strong economy. At the Gates is a truly unique 4X game that is a couple of minor improvements (interface, diplomacy, AI) away from being phenomenal.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Chieftain Gameplay Review

I'm playing Chieftain, a 4X strategy game by Splout Ltd..

Utilizing randomly generated terrain, the game is turn-based on the map with real-time battles. Different races give varied bonuses and drawbacks. Resources can only be collected in specific tile types: gold from towns and villages (which can only be founded on fields or plains), food from farms (again, only on fields or plains), wood from lumberyards (only on forest), and iron from mines (each nation start with one mine and there are no neutral locations to capture). Builders can construct new farms and lumberyards, while settlers establish villages. An army can consist of five different units (each unit is a group of 30 individuals). There is only one unit allowed per hex, which means you can block opponents from accessing parts of the map (and vice versa). Units cannot be told to guard their location and skip every turn until attacked. The real-time battles have some minor adjustments in stance and formation, but usually just involve moving towards the enemy. Diplomatic options are extremely basic (just declare war or sign treaties). Because you cannot change the terrain (turn forests into plains, for example) or trade resources, success in Chieftain is primarily determined by the luck of the map generator instead of skill. Because all nations start in very close proximity to each other, the number of available tiles to scavenge is very low, meaning you will likely be short one or two resources and can’t do anything about it other than invade adjacent nations and hope your army is superior. Due to the rigid nature of the map tiles, Chieftain lacks the flexibility to allow the strategy to overcome the luck of starting positions.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Medieval Kingdom Wars Gameplay Review

I'm playing Medieval Kingdom Wars, a real-time grand strategy game by Reverie World Studios.

The game features a campaign mode where you select a lord from one of the European countries during the Middle Ages. In addition, there is an online skirmish battle mode and a story-based tutorial. On the map of Europe, you will expand your lord’s territory by attacking nearby hostile factions. Units can be recruited from your various villages; towns can contain a number of upgradable buildings that produce resources or units. Income is earned from both taxes and buildings, and structures can be built by using silver from the main map screen or resources collected in the city screen. Trade goods produced in each town can be used to conduct research and unlock new abilities, while simple diplomatic options to increase or decrease relations are available. Battles are played out in real-time, involving up to 30 units (a single unit can be one peice of siege equipment or a large group of infantry). Additional units can be constructed by building new structures (if they aren’t already present, or if you are storming an enemy town) and paid for by resources collected from the surrounding area. Each unit can have a researched special ability with a variety of formations and stances. Combat relies on countering unit types (blunt weapons for heavily armored opponents, slashing or piercing weapons for light armor) and constructing walls to keep invaders at bay, although wall construction is completely automated once the command is given. The AI is generally effective at using appropriate units and attacking weak points in defenses. Medieval Kingdom Wars is a mostly effective mix of chaotic real-time strategy battles and grand strategy, serving as a streamlined combination of both genres.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Inclement Gameplay Review

I'm playing Inclement, a farm management strategy game by Killed Pixel Games.

Operating a farm in northern Europe in the 1800’s, the side-scrolling game features retro graphics with a hard-to-read font. Each area on the farm can be selected to clear, plant fields, or construct buildings; these produce more or better grain, raise animals, or produce oil. Buildings can also be upgraded to increase their abilities. Grain is sold through town, where additional workers are hired. The game features very small profit margins, which results in a fairly static build order in order to turn a profit. The difficulty comes from figuring out which buildings need to be placed before expanding to the next level (such as hiring an additional worker) in order to not go bankrupt. Because of the inflexible “correct” build order, Inclement is enjoyable for really only one successful playthrough, but it does offer some fun, light management gameplay.