Whether they're behind museum glass or on a late-night TV special, from the East or the West or anything in between, let's face it: ancient empires fascinate us. They developed brilliant technologies, fostered rich cultures, and invented things like the concept of zero. The concept of zero, people. I still struggle with the concept of things like donuts. And the wars they waged! Oh, how their troops would blot the skies with clouds of arrows, and roaring fireballs would rain down to punish the unworthy. For all of you who don't remember that chapter of the textbook, the fine folk of Cave of Wonders Studios have decided to educate you with a historical, strategical free-for-all of the ages: Civilizations Wars.
Most levels consist of a rustic landscape, replete with uninhabited pieces of ancient real estate, plus an opposing army who feebly stands in your path to conquest. You're usually given a humble fort or two at the start which will generate reinforcements at a constant rate, indicated by a little number above the structure. Click on whichever outpost you'd like to deploy soldiers from, and then drag the cursor to your target and release. Half of that outpost's forces will be sent out to occupy the object of your ire. If the enemy resides within , the numbers will cancel each other out until either the building is successfully defended or your own subjects set up shop. In other words, the bigger number wins the battle, as long as stats (such as strength, defense, etc.) are equal. Mousing over many of your installments at once will result in coordinated attacks, which are often essential for overpowering a well-defended base.
There's more than just forts on every level, though; clever tacticians will make use of watchtowers to snipe at incoming foes, or crystal formations to increase your production of crystals, the mystical resource that powers spellcasting. Magic covers a wide range of uses, from natural disasters that scour the battlefield to enchantments that can protect property or defect enemies' troops to your side. All of these spells are learned via experience that is accrued at the end of every battle, which can be spent on mightier magic, garden-variety stat upgrades, or nifty passive abilities like faster magic cooldown.
The game's adventure spans many, many skirmishes, plus a few boss encounters with colossal creatures that ought to give your hard-trained military a run for their antique currency of choice. And even when you've felled the grandest of beasts, your campaign stretches on, until you'll find yourself pitted against some civilizations that you definitely don't remember from high school history. I won't give away anything else, but know that surprises are in store for the persistent general. To battle!
Analysis: We may have seen this mechanic implemented before, but Civilizations Wars pulls it off with pizazz to spare, plus some new ideas that help keep things fresh. The sorcery adds another dimension of strategy, and with structures that DON'T keep regenerating soldiers (like towers and crystal shrines), a player has to wonder whether sending more men to protect them is necessary or not. There are also multiple playable races; though their differences are mostly cosmetic (aside from slightly shuffled stats), it's little variations like those that add a unique flavor to the game, distancing it from its predecessors.
The difficulty curve, however, could have done with some tweaking. This reviewer staunchly refused to learn a spell other than the starter fireball for the entire game, and was able to steamroll over the opposition just fine on stat upgrades alone. There's really nothing wrong with that, but one wishes that if magic was going to be one of the defining facets of the game, that it would feel a little more vital to the process. I suppose you could call my approach one style of many, but conjured tornadoes and meteor showers just seemed so frilly when I had an army that could cleanly and efficiently reduce the enemy's army to nothing.
This is also a game with a very forgiving level select, which allows you to replay battles you've already trounced for more experience in case you've come up against an insurmountable foe. At certain experience milestones, new self-handicaps are unlocked (such as no spellcasting or poor visibility), and each one adds a healthy multiplier to your experience points at the end for your trouble. This is another mechanic that throws the difficulty curve; once you've become only decently strong, you can beat the first level with your eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back. You can heap on as many inconveniences as you like, and then reap a gigantic experience bonus at the end. Again, this doesn't affect one's enjoyment of the game, but it doesn't give the player much incentive to replay any level for experience other than the first one with a ton of handicaps.
Still, this is a well-made strategy game with some adorable art and very appropriate, "ancient-y" sounding tunes. There's a cartoony charm in the game's world, which is usually (and understandably) absent from games that deal with historical fare. And even if it's not absolutely essential to the success of a campaign, the arsenal of spells is a ton of fun to monkey around with. So be done with your history textbook, because it's time to re-learn world history with a front-row seat.