Preview by: James Kinnear
The game's concept sounds like a promising one. Evil has swept the land. Demons and their minions have taken over the kingdom and left it in ruins. The people are now in need of a king - someone with great strength who can rid the land of the hordes and build a mighty castle. And guess what? You are that king...
When I first heard about Age Of Castles, I imagined an action packed strategy game. I could see myself constructing impressive castles, converting locals in to busy fighting units and using my mighty warriors to fight in exciting battles against all sorts of bad guys. Maybe my thoughts had been slightly far fetched, or maybe I had been misled. Whatever the case, the game actually turned out to be far from what I had imagined.
Although an incredibly simple concept, the gameplay in Age Of Castles is fairly hard to summarise. Players don't take the role of God in the way that they do in management games, even though this is the initial thought that I had on the game. There are no moving units on the screen, no building at all involved, and not even a physical world to explore. Age Of Castles is in fact, put simply, a decision making game built up from random events, a basic turn-based strategy game.
When you launch a new game, the first thing to decide is which type of king you want to play as. There's the Dwarf, the Wizard, the Prince, the Knight and the Warrior. After you've made that all-important decision, it's straight in to the game.
The game is separated into days. When you start on your first day you give jobs to the people in your kingdom. Using arrows on the screen you can choose what percentage of the town's population are merchants, clerics, builders and soldiers. Across the top of the screen there are several icons with numbers next to them. These tell you how much gold you have, how much building material you have for your castle, how many people there are in your town, how much magic you have, plus the amount of attack and defence in your force. And that's pretty much all there is to it.
After you have chosen who does what, you simply click START DAY and read the random messages that appear in the message box. Each day, a maximum or four different events will happen, some good, some bad. You may be simply informed: "The weather is dangerous today". On the other hand, some messages will affect the amount of supplies you have. For example you may be informed "Peasants sell some delicious wine: +5 gold" or "The town requires a donation for witch burning: -10 gold".
However, you soon realise that the game relies more heavily on luck or chance than it does on skill. Although you can change the work of the people in your town, or buy a few "magic spells" if you have enough funds, the game is pretty much based around the player clicking START DAY and END DAY and waiting to see what happens in their town. Eventually, after doing this enough times, when your castle has been built up big enough, you will be informed that you have moved on to the next level.
On some days, you will get more than a couple of messages on your screen. Instead, you will take part in a battle for the day. Whilst there was hope for a little more action here, I soon realised this was not going to happen. The battle screen loads up and informs you that it is a battle of YOUR NAME vs. RANDOM ENEMY NAME. There is a variety of enemies, including giant bats, orcs and gremlins. Having said this, it really doesn't matter who your enemy is because all you see is a cartoon picture to represent it.
As with the main game, there are no animations involved, no moving characters on the screen - even in during the battles. You simply click ATTACK and find out whether each side got a HIT or a MISS. After ten clicks or so, you find out whether the battle was a victory or a failure. A successful battle will result in the gain of funds such as gold and magic, and as expected a failure will result in a loss.
The only other major feature which needs mentioning is the "Ye' Olde Magik Shoppe", where you can buy new spells, potions and items to help your kingdom. These can be bought with the magic that you have collected during the game. Buy the Magic Chest for example, and the amount of existing gold in your treasury will be multiplied by ten. The Scroll Of Luck on the other hand will bring luck to your kingdom, generating 5 more gold daily.
You will not get access to most of these items until you are well in to the game, since many have high requirements. The Lucky Clover for example will give you "luck beyond belief", bringing you 10% more gold daily. However, you need at least 500 people in your town and at least 100 in magic.
Although very simple in appearance, Age Of Castles is presented nicely. It has a very cartoonish feel, with very colourful buttons and icons on the main menu. The only proper moving in-game graphics are those on the backdrop. For example, in the first level set in the town, you can see various units working around a castle structure. The image is not interactive, and simply provides a basic backdrop to the game to give you a feel or where it's set. Personally, I would have liked to see my castle grow or watch the world change as I made new, radical decisions.
Age Of Castles is a good concept, and one that has been implemented very simply. Thanks to the wide variety of random events, the game can provide fun for any casual gamer. There is definitely enough variety to keep players interested. As you progress through the game, you will move from the town to new locations such as The Ruins, The Swamp, Skull Island, and finishing in The Underworld Volcano. These new locations offer a new backdrop and new random events. My doubt is whether there is enough going on in the game to keep people interested for a long time. Since the only main decisions that the player gets to make are what roles each of the people play in the town, and which spells to buy, the constant clicking of NEW DAY and END DAY could get a little too repetitive. Luckily, the battles provide some change and relief for this, and there is always the option to save the game and continue another time.
It will be interesting to see how the game develops go from here. I'm not sure whether Anarchy will choose to build on the basic graphics that are currently in the game, or just choose to keep things simple. Either way, Age Of Castles is not a major title, but should be a light-hearted break from the action of other strategy games on the market.