While replaying Imperialism II recently, I realised how it illustrates the role of complexity within strategy game design. For every game there is a “right” amount of complexity, and it’s up to the developer how to allocate it.
The key is that simplifying one aspect of the game frees up complexity to be used elsewhere. Imperialism and Imperialism II exemplify this. On one hand, they make city management much simpler than in other 4X games: there is only one to manage, the capital. On the other hand, their resource model is much more detailed. Instead of generic “production”, every unit needs specific resources, such as steel, bronze, and cloth for uniforms. Every one of these has its own inputs, and every input resource (coal, iron, timber, wool, multiple types of food…) is represented on the map. They need to be discovered, exploited, and connected to transport; and then there have to be enough ships to bring the resources back home. Going to war has a real opportunity cost; every ship carrying troops or participating in a blockade is one ship that can’t feed the capital.
This principle can be seen elsewhere. Civilization famously has no tactical battles, because they would interrupt the broader flow of the game. Master of Magic and the Age of Wonders series look very similar at first glance, but playing them back-to-back reveals the extent to which Age of Wonders streamlines city-building in exchange for much more detailed combat.
Even Sid Meier had to watch out for this. As recounted by Soren Johnson, he realised “it’s better to have one good game than two great ones” after falling victim to this when developing Covert Action, a spy game whose management and action layers distracted from one another.
Ultimately, just as the player has to manage finite resources within the game, complexity is a finite resource that the designer must manage outside the game. And as with other types of resource management, the benefits are substantial when done well.
The twoexpansions to Age of Wonders 3 have brought new races, a new character class, and (together with patches), assorted features and balance tweaks. They have also addressed my single biggest complaint with the game: the victory conditions (and their effect on pacing).
At launch, there was one way to win AoW3: destroy all opponents. This made the endgame a slog. Now, there are several other options:
Beat down the AI players to the point where they surrender (added via patch). Per the developers, this is meant to happen after the “epic final battle… in situations where the AI is substantially outmatched and just lost a great number of its forces in a battle.” Based on the two AI players who surrendered after I crushed their multi-stack main armies, this works as promised!
Territorial control, added in the first expansion. Similar to the Thrones mechanic in Dominions 4, this requires the player to take several “seals of power” defended by independent monsters, and hold them while progress towards victory ticks up. As the monsters periodically respawn, the seals have to be garrisoned – I suspect this is a risk/reward mechanic. Do you grab many seals, and risk spreading yourself too thin? Encouragingly, AI players do realise the importance of the seals; I lost my second game post-expansion when the AI flattened my armies and then captured the seals.
A new, Wonder-style victory condition, added in the second expansion. I’m still getting a handle for this one; the developers describe it as “a great option for more defensive players”. Unlike the seals victory, aiming for this will provoke the AI players into declaring war, so it’s a defensive victory rather than a peaceful one.
Welcome back to another Game of the Year list. This year, I’ve tweaked the format again — many of the games I played in 2014 were released in previous years. Sometimes, I played the old game “as is”; sometimes, I played a new port or an expanded version of the old game. So I’ve broken this post down into two parts. First, I review the accomplishments of 2014. And second, I take a look back at the notable games I played, whether or not they were originally released that year.
This is it, the biggest battle of this map so far. On my side, four towering giants – amongst the most powerful units in the game – backed by the fruits of military technology: cannon, musketeers, flame-throwing tanks. Against this, the computer’s forces are inadequate. Its giants are frightening, but outnumbered by my own. Its use of battlefield magic – “Wind Ward”, which weakens ranged attacks – is clever, given my overwhelming superiority in ranged troops, but not enough. Its regular soldiers? Pfft. A flame tank explodes beneath an enemy giant’s fists – but I have more. The enemy army dwindles. Their giants stagger, pelted by bullets and flames and magic. The last enemy giant turns toward his tormentor. I check the tooltips. The moment is ripe. My general storms in with “Charge” and “Flanking” bonuses. The giant falls.
At this point, I notice my general is riding a giant boar.
Welcome to Age of Wonders III, the upcoming fantasy turn-based strategy game from Triumph Studios. I’ve dabbled with the previous AoW games, and after interviewing designer Lennart Sas when AoW3 was first announced last year, I jumped at the chance to try out a preview build. After a number of hours, I’ve now finished two maps — the first mission in each of the game’s two campaigns – and spent some time with a third, random map; here are my impressions.
As promised, here’s the Age of Wonders IIIQ&A with designer Lennart Sas of Triumph Studios!
By way of introduction, Age of Wonders is a high fantasy, turn-based strategy series that has been around since the late 1990s. In AoW, players build up their cities, recruit armies of soldiers and elves, cannons and dragons, and then pit them against rivals in a tactical combat minigame, a la Master of Magic. Fond memories of the earlier games, Triumph’s promise of further improvements, and gorgeous early screenshots all piqued my interest in Age of Wonders III; and it didn’t hurt that the most recent AoW game, Shadow Magic, held up well when I replayed it to prepare for this interview. Sadly I wasn’t able to include every question sent in (I received some separately from the comments to my original post), but I hope this Q&A will address some of what you guys (and I) had in mind. Read on…
Age of Wonders is a long-running and much beloved fantasy strategy game series, and last week, many of you guys would have seen Triumph Studios’ announcement that it should release Age of Wonders III later this year. I reached out to Triumph to secure an interview, and designer Lennart Sas said we can submit up to five questions! I’m coming up with a few of my own, but it’s been a long time since I played an AoW game (notwithstanding I recently reinstalled the most recent, Shadow Magic), so this is your chance. If you have any good questions in mind, please leave them in the comments below, and I’ll pick the best to send across!