Friday, June 01, 2007

Facets of Empires

So what can I say about Age of Empires III that you haven’t read elsewhere?

The Appalachian Gamers had a six-player game of Age of Empires III last night. This was my second game; I played a two-player game with Ted Cheatham to learn the rules (Good thing, too; I got so many rules wrong that we quit in mid-game and started over).

It might be nice just to be different and say that our group didn’t like the game, but that would be a lie. We must join the chorus of praise that has greeted the arrival of Age of Empires. There may even be one or two members of our group who will buy copies of the game for themselves.

So what observations can I make about Age of Empires III?

1) The three in the title sounds silly when it is the first edition of the game. Yes, I know it is borrowing the title of a computer game, but the title requires an explanation for anyone who doesn’t follow computer games.

2) Dave Gilligan observed that missionary position jokes will probably become as obligatory in Age of Empires as “I’ve got wood for sheep” jokes are in Catan. I believe he’s right. Good to know there is a new game that can release our inner ninth graders.

3) Age of Empires seems to me to be a sister game of Martin Wallace’s Struggle of Empires. This is hardly surprising. After Warfrog published Struggle of Empires, Glenn Drover became such a fan of the game that he arranged for Eagle Games to take over publication of the game. Mr. Drover then made sure that Conquest of the Empire, Eagle Games’ reprint of the old Roman Empire game, had a set of Martin Wallace-style rules based on the Struggle of Empires rules. So it is only natural that Glenn Drover has grafted a Caylus-style worker placement mechanism and a set-collection mechanism onto the Struggle of Empires model to create Age of Empires.

What interests me the most is that although Age of Empires is about the same level of complexity as Struggle of Empires, it seems easier to learn than the earlier game. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Both Age of Empires and Struggle of Empires have special ability tiles, but these tiles seem much more digestible in Age of Empires. In Glenn Drover’s game, players only see five tiles every turn, and the explanation of how these tiles work is usually clear and simple. In Struggle of Empires, players have the option of purchasing all the tiles from the very first turn, and how all these tiles work often requires a complex explanation. The number and complexity of these tiles is one large reason why Struggle of Empires seems to have an unusually steep learning curve.

Age of Empires may actually have a wider variety of sub-systems in the game than Struggle of Empires, but most of these mechanisms will seem familiar to experienced Euro-gamers. Anyone who has played Caylus or Pillars of the Earth will recognize the worker-placement mechanism at the heart of the Age of Empires. The trade goods set-collection mechanism will also be an old friend to many gamers. Together these mechanisms may add more complexity to Age of Empires than the detailed combat rules do to Struggle of Empires, but a whole collection of simple sub-systems may actually seem less complex than one mechanism that contains a lot of detail that needs to be memorized.

In short, Age of Empires seems more user-friendly than Struggle of Empires without actually being less complex.

The flip side of this observation is that if you like Age of Empires, then there is a good chance you will like Struggle of Empires. The only exception might be if the battle and war mechanism is the one aspect of Age of Empires that you don’t like. Struggle of Empires is less Euro and more wargame than Age of Empires, and Euro-gamers who have a low tolerance for combat will not like the Martin Wallace game.

Although the first and last games mentioned in this sentence had different designers, I will probably think of Struggle of Empires, Conquest of the Empire, and Age of Empires as an empire trilogy.

Unless of course Mr. Wallace or Mr. Drover want to make them into a quartet.


huzonfirst said...

I'm still not seeing the commonality between AoE and Struggles, Kris, but I'll have to wait until I finally play Drover's game to really be able to comment. In the meantime, it's nice to see a game that seems to be living up to its hype.

Anonymous said...

AoE is brilliant but RTW-Barbarion Invasion is beyond that: stunningly, amazingly good. What I miss in both AoE and RTW? Historical facts like “biological” weapons as used by the ancient cultures. Defending your city from an attack with clay-pot bombs filled with scorpions, venomous snakes and other creepy insects gathered from the surrounding desert. Or using toxic smoke against the infidels.

Anonymous said...

Nu is het 16:29

Anonymous said...

I can't remember any game using clay pot bombs, but it sounds interesting. Sounds a bit like Indiana Jones or some other adventure. They call it Alternate Reality Game if remember well ??
You have any more information on that plz?

Anonymous said...

Those items are indeed missing to stress the reality factor. Did you know about the Greek fire, an ancient predecessor of napalm? Pressurized distilled naphtha was pumped through bronze tubes aimed at ships. The delivery system was capable of shooting liquid fire from swivelling nozzles mounted on small boats. Talking about real mass destruction...

Anonymous said...

Scary. But I think historically one-on-one poison was used more often. Poisoning spies was a very common thing to do in the ancient days. Games like AoE/RTW should have A. more strategic and diplomatic items such as spies and allies and B. weapons like rings, or clothes with poison to kill possible spies and C. special items such as secret scrolls and scripts.

Anonymous said...

Greek fire could vanish a whole troop in one bash. Just by putting grease, oil, sulfur, and saltpeter from the desert together. Mass destruction is sometimes nothing more than putting 1 + 1 together, apparently. Sometimes with earthly substances, sometimes with unearthly substances. Therefore a big cheer for the user created mod units with a spaceship and a hero that changes ownership when units move near it.

Anonymous said...

I was working on a user created mod for RTW where the barbarians were Russian troops coming with thousands over your "limes" and leave only smoking ashes behind.

Maybe a nice one for AoE as well: Ages of Siberia!

Anonymous said...

Interesting concept. Maybe we could combine the two: extraterrestrial forces trying to whipen out humanity, including the Russian troops? Or helped by the Russian troops? I'm stalked by the eternal light so I blind my chambers now to create a a new mod in which we can combine our thoughts. I might need your guidance on my journey. Please follow my efforts live with the language spoken in the land of punt. I have left you my final notes on lat=52.31134833, lon=4.84646

Anonymous said...

You will find mine on lat=52.35658833, lon=4.87968333. Whenever you feel you get lost, I'll guide you. It's sometimes not easy to maneuver through the city but you can use the significant user generated discoveries like the new terrain templates, a 'triple hitpoint' mode and map size editing.

Anonymous said...

Ian, I hope you will reed this in time, I see we are having severe difficulties with our original plan to outsmart Hikari. Saw she almost got you, glad see you got away. Follow my hints on this location to find me. This is urgent! Good Luck,


Anonymous said...

What is "RTW" short for?