Clash of Kingdoms Review

Game Site: http://ck.koramgame.com/
Game Developer: Koram Games
Rating:Worth Checking Out

Clash of Kingdoms is an OSG set in the “war-torn plains of Ancient China” currently in beta from the company that brought you Three Kingdoms Online. The homepage reminds me of the box art from a Dynasty Warriors game, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you feel about that particular series.

It looks like Clash of Kingdoms is going to use the same OSG formula we all know and love, but with a few improvements, new features, and some unfortunate shortcomings.

At the start of the game you get to choose a starting location, which impacts things like your resource output and recruit speed in a minor way. The game uses a hero system which is becoming more common, and it works well enough. You can equip them with armor and weapons that give the squads they command boosts in power, speed and defense. You need one hero per army, but it only takes a minute to recruit one. There are several different resource buildings and a few different unit buildings, but it only takes a couple of minutes to have them all built. The layout and menus are familiar enough as well.

Alright, now on to the new, exciting features. First of all there is an “Upgrade All” button. Sounds simple, right? It is, but I never knew something like that would be so completely useful. All games need this feature, now. You also get a four slot queue, which isn’t unheard of, but the kicker is that all of your buildings build at once. Four at a time. Another little thing, but it’s nice.

The best innovation of this game, however, is the Election system. At the beginning of a new server, everyone in your kingdom (the region you chose to start in at the beginning) gets to vote on a few individuals to lead your nation. The player known as Chona is my “Incumbent Premier,” which is essentially our leader. They can leave messages for anyone and declare kingdom-wide objectives, anything like building 500 troops for the capital or focusing on expanding in to a certain direction. Anytime I look at the world map I can easily see what my general instructions are as well as what I and the rest of the kingdom should be focusing on.

This is a really cool feature because it makes me feel like I am part of something way bigger- which is important because in order to progress in the game, everyone needs to contribute to the kingdom. You can do this by sending your hero to upgrade the city walls, patrol to keep the civilians in check, by donating food, or even just money. But the point is everyone has to work towards the same goal; even if you’re not in an alliance you are still part of the kingdom.

This works really well with their map system. Unlike Travian, you can’t just send your army anywhere. You have to travel along designated roads, and will have to fight through anything that gets in your way. This makes Clash of Kingdoms a lot more like a traditional strategy board game where location and movement is actually important, and also adds to the feeling of being part of a Kingdom.

There is also a PvP system which is nice. You can jump into battles with anyone that is a similar rank as you, and you can use either your army or one that is provided for you. This would be amazing if the battle system were’nt so lackluster.

Press releases for the game also claimed it has a ground-breaking new battle system. I have to disagree. It really looks like it has potential. There is a huge movement grid and different unit types, squads, special abilities, cool magic effects and the like. By looking at it you would think the possibility for actual strategy is huge.

Unfortunately, you can’t control the squads, your heroes, or anything else. You can’t decide where to place your units, how to move them, or which squads should attack. It’s all automatic. There are animations, yes, but I have no control over what is happening. If I am missing something, please let me know.

Then again, the game is still in beta, so maybe that’s a feature that will be implemented later? A forum post by a higher up proclaimed “hero skills and abilities aren’t yet implemented.” So I don’t know. But all in all, it’s a solid OSG, and it has potential.

Cheers,>
Oliver

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Ministry of War Review

Game Site: MinistryofWar.com
Game Developer: Snail Games USA
Rating: Worth Checking Out

Ministry of War is a new Online Strategy Game from Snail Games. It is definitely an “advanced” game, offering many features and a very high level of polish. However, there are many design decisions that push the game between genres and make it a very time-intensive game.

At its core, Ministry of War is a classic OSG. Players are given a city where they will need to build mines, lumbermills, and farms to harvest resources which are spent to construct houses, barracks, a research academy, and so forth. One very nice feature is that Ministry of War has adopted a grid-based city view (like Farmville, Social City, etc) instead of the traditional slot-based city view that most OSG’s use. This means that the player has a lot more control over the look of his city and can place structures anywhere.

One of the features I was really excited to see in Ministry of War was the ability to construct your own castle. Integrated with the customized city view are walls, towers, and gates that players can use to design a fortress. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell this has no affect on actual gameplay.

As with most modern OSG’s there’s a huge emphasis on the Hero. You will need to hire a hero, equip him with items, earn experience and level him up. One interesting twist Ministry of War adds is the “Arena”. Here you can select a hero to do combat, and the game will automatically match you up with another player your level who is currently online, regardless of where your cities are on the world map. Now that you are both online, you are transported to a traditional RTS style map. Here you can select troops, assign targets, etc., just like Starcraft, Command and Conquer, etc.

This is a great feature, but it is very dissapointing and puzzling as to why they didn’t integrate this with the fortress-building aspect of the game? When I attack another player’s city on the map, all I get is a standard report about troops lost and loot.

Another draw-back of the game is that OSG mechanisms don’t really stand on their own. Primarily, there doesn’t seem to be any point to resources. The most expensive thing I can build right now is a Lvl 4 City. This would cost me 2400 Stone and some Wood. My quarries are producing over 3600 Stone per hour. It’s the same with all my resources. Indeed, it seems the only way I could properly spend my resources would be to have two tasks building 24/7. Which brings up a second problem. The majority of structures are complete in under 5 minutes. That is a terrible wait time for an OSG!

By design, any time a player is not playing Ministry of War, he is falling behind. This means that it is not really a casual game. Further, since the most interesting aspect, the RTS battles and Arena, require players to be online at the same time, why not just play Starcraft?

Now, I exaggerate. I think a persistent browser-based RTS would be an excellent game! However, what we have with Ministry of War is a decent browser-based RTS thrown on top of a shoddy OSG (don’t get me started on their tutorial system or the web of rediculous building pre-requisites). There is definitely a place, a huge place, for this type of game in the market. However, Ministry of War needs to think hard about what it’s trying to be, and then shed off all the rest. Otherwise it’s just confusing to players.

On the plus side, the game does have some fantastic tutorial text.

Cheers,
Oliver

Freeciv Review

Site reader turned contributor Ken Griffey shares his thoughts on Freeciv. This is definitely a game I wish I could spend more time with, and Ken has mainly good things to say. If anyone can’t wait another month for Civ 5, this may be the answer.

Freeciv Review
– by Ken Griffy

I absolutely love the Civilization series. I also absolutely love things that are free. So when I found out that not only can I get my fix for world domination AND pay nothing for it, I knew I would immediately have to cancel any and all plans I had going that week. FreeCiv is a 100% pro bono version of the classic Civ II, which basically means that it’s legal crack.

For free.

There’s a lot to like about FreeCiv; similar to it’s more expensive cousin, the designers give you loads of options in order to make your conquest of the world as personalized as possible. Want to have a quick game where rush tactics can net you a victory? You can do it, just make the map the size of my studio apartment. Want to play out your conquest on some kind of weird, donut-shaped planet? You can do it, along with determining the number of starting units, technologies, and much much more. Another option which I liked was the amount of countries you can choose to play as is actually far greater than in Civ 4, so if you feel the need to have the Mongolians fight against the Sudanese or if you decide to reenact that timeless struggle between the French and the Antarticans, you can totally do it. The only negative here is that unlike the rulers in Civ 4 which each have their own personalities and gameplay bonuses, the differences in nations are cosmetic only.

While customization is definitely a draw to fans of the Civilization series, the ultimate reason to boot up the game has, and always will be, the gameplay. I went into FreeCiv a little skeptical, just for the simple reason that I love me some Civ 4, and I didn’t think that it would be able to faithfully recreate the tactical and diplomatic aspects of the game that made it so addicting to me. I was totally wrong. While there may not be as many ways to win games (you win by either destroying all other nations, completing the Space Race, or simply lasting until the year 2000 AD with the highest score), as in the commercial version, the three that are available are still immensely challenging. The fans who made FreeCiv definitely put a lot of time and effort into making sure that there are several ways to reach the endgame, which means you don’t have to necessarily be a warrior nation to win. One of the great things I’ve always loved about the Civilization games is that it is entirely possible to be a peaceful nation and still come out on top. Do I ever play that way? Of course not, but it’s nice to know that players have that option.

Another big difference which I loved was the way turns are implemented in multiplayer. Instead of making it where each player waits his turn, everyone goes at the same time. Like in traditional turn based games, units have a certain number of action points, and when they are expended, the player waits until the global timer reaches zero for them to be replenished. It gives it a psuedo RTS feel, without taking away the need for careful planning. The best part is, it keeps games going at a good clip, so even if your opponent is away from his keyboard, it doesn’t bring the match down to a grinding halt. It forces you to think not only on the fly, but several turns ahead, and adds a certain sense of immediacy to rounds.

Diplomacy plays a huge role in the game, and it’s implemented well here. You can create alliances, call for cease fires, or go to war all with great ease in FreeCiv. It’s just as easy to supply allied nations with supplies as it is to demand tribute from that one ruler you just don’t like (I’m looking at you, Hammurabi). The ability to do so really makes the game feel organic, and it’s great fun to watch nations begin to form power blocs that you have to figure out how to overcome.

If I were to have any gripes with FreeCiv, it would be that the movement system is somewhat convoluted. Moving units around and having them perform key actions can be very trial and error. For example, when I wanted one of my worker units to mine a land tile for resources, there was no immediate display showing me the proper keystroke to press in order to get him to perform the desired action. I eventually had to go look at a wiki of all the available hotkeys in order to figure out what to press. Even when I did finally get the mining started, it seemed as if there was no discernible indicator as to how much progress was being made. I was left to just hope that the worker was performing his duties, and that he would be finished (hopefully) within the next few turns. The overall lack of visual cues readily available to the player can be a little frustrating, but it’s hard to fault the FreeCiv too much considering it didn’t have millions of dollars behind it’s development.

Overall, its amazing that they’ve not only been able to make a game that FEELS like a Civilization game, but plays like one too. Sure, it may not have the visual splendor or polish, and some of the more modern features may be missing, but you could do a lot worse, and be spending a whole lot more to play something that isn’t nearly as fun. Do yourself a favor and check out FreeCiv right now.

Land and Legends Review

Game Site: Land and Legends on Facebook
Game Developer: One-Up Inc / AQ Interactive
Rating: Play it

Lands and Legends is a Facebook OSG that captures a similar feel as Travian, providing clean, simple OSG gameplay to the Facebook community.

In terms of Gameplay, Land and Legends is a lot like Travian, but definitely in a good way. For an OSG, it’s relatively simple and the graphics are cute, making it easy to get into. As with Travian. there’s a very nice help page that explains game concepts and provides information about each structure. Also, unlike some of the Evony clones, it barely uses any of my CPU. Each city starts with a number of Forests, Croplands, etc., and you’ll have to build Sawmills, Cropfields, etc., adjacent to them to harvest resources. You’ll also build warehouses, barracks, a research center, etc.

As for combat, there are four main troop types (Swordsmen, Spearman, Archer, and Cavalry), each of which have a specific weakness against a different type, creating a pretty solid Rock-Paper-Scissors system. For example, Cavalry are weak against Speakmen, but strong against Archers. Each unit can also has an advanced version that can be researched, and each troop type can have its offense and defense improved in the armory and blacksmith.

One of the game’s unique features is its hero system, which takes the form of a Collectable Card Game. You’ll draw random cards of historic figures that you can use both as a “Hero” to help on the battlefield and as a “Governor” to improve your city. The governor system, although Land and Legends is not the first to impliment it, is a nice addition as it allows heros to be ued for more than warfare.

Lands and Legends has a unique map system as well. Your empire will slowly acquire Fame, which allows you to conquer more territories, but you can only claim territories adjacent to ones you already own. This provides a nice ooporunity for strategy, as you can actually see your enemies expanding their borders on the map.

One thing I really appreciate about the game is that it doesn’t fall into the usual Facebook traps. It doesn’t spam me every five minutes about posting nonsense on my wall or require me to have a certain number of friends before I can make progress in the game.

The game’s main downside right now is the lack of community. As far as I can tell there isn’t a single active player within 20 spaces of me. With a genre that RELIES on player interaction, it’s hard to get involved when it seems you’re all alone in the world. I can’t help but wonder if there’s a relationship between the lack of annoying “Share With Your Friends!” pop-ups and the lack of players…

Cheers,
Oliver

Rock Age Review

Ingle Games is fearless. After Playdom, a developer with a rather solid reputation and a fair amount of experience using Faecbook as a game platform, released a Facebook OSG using the Evony base code, most companies might hesitate before doing the exact same thing. Ingle Games, however, stayed the course, and thus Rock Age was born.

Unlike a lot of the copy-cats out there, Ingle Games made its own creative change to the game, by ripping off Farmville and including it as part of their game. To some, it may seem like this is a horrible idea. The inclusion of the Farmville mechanic (planting seeds, harvesting crops, then selling them) as an additional way to gain resources for your city and armies is merely a tedious chore to anyone who enjoys OSG’s, and in no way improves the game. But this is a short-sighted critique. What Ingle Games has done is taken the first step to creating the Every-Game.

Have you ever been playing Farmville and suddenly wished you were playing Bejeweled instead, but also didn’t want to stop playing Farmville? This is a problem that has plagued gamers for years and finally there is a solution in sight. Rock Age is currently in Alpha; hopefully by the time we reach Beta they will replace the standard OSG warfare and instead send your troops on “jobs”, such as pulling a Heist in an enemy’s city. Of course, each job requires that your troops have enough energy, which replinishes every 5 minutes, and the necessary equipment, which you’ll construct at your Blacksmith by lining up shiney jewels that fall from the sky. You’ll also gain research points directly by posting on your friends’ walls telling them how awesome the game is. Rock Age is keeping some of the core OSG mechanics though, in the form of an end game. Once the official release lands players can claim victory by being in the alliance that purchases the “Win Game” item, available for 1,000,000 Facebook Credits.

Game Site: Rock Age on Facebook
Game Developer: Ingle Games Ltd
Rating: Don’t Waste Your Time

Verdonia Review

Game Site: Verdonia on Facebook
Game Developer: Playdom
Rating: Don’t Waste Your Time

When I saw that Playdom had made an OSG for Facebook, I was quite excited. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Social City for the last couple months, and they have a few other well-polished games, so I was expecting good things. Alas, I was rather disappointed when an old nemisis reared its head.

Verdonia is Evony for Facebook. Understand that this is not a metaphor. Granted, the graphics are original and relatively well done, but it’s clearly taken from the same base code, has the same buildings, the same units, etc. Playdom has made a few changes aside from the graphics, which I’ll go over, but overall these have just made a mediocre game worse.

Perhaps the best change Playdom has made to the game is the adoption of Lord of Ultima’s Castle system, in the form of the Chancery. Basically, you do not have access to the world map until you build a Chancery. This means you cannot attack other players, nor can they attack you. This lets each player decide when he’s ready to enter the usually aggressive PVP side of the game, if ever. Until then, you can still use your military and sharpen your teeth by attacking the NPC controlled areas in your Kingdom (which each player has a unique instance of), which may be enough for some players.

Aside from this, I consider most of the other changes a step in the wrong direction. Verdonia embraces what usually passes for social interaction in a Facebook game (the sending of gifts back and forth), which is just rediculous in an OSG. That’s what the Marketplace (trade) and the March Site (troops) should be for. So instead of having players interact in meaningful ways that you would expect in an online strategy game, you are hit with a pop up window every five minutes or so detailing this out-of-game experience where you can conjure up resources for you and your allies out of thin air by posting on your Facebook wall.

Further, the price you pay for these interruptions? Verdonia uses 33% of my CPU when idle. Granted, I get a couple cool animations like smoke billowing from my academy, or a flock of birds that flies by every few minutes, but is that really worth it? This is a browser-based game afterall. When idle, Facebook, Ikariam, and Travian combined use less than 1% of my processor.

Probably more than disliking the game I’m simply disappointed in Playdom. Bringing OSG’s to Facebook is a great idea (since there are only a few so far), but if you’re just going to copy another game, why not copy a good one? Of course I understand it’s a business decision. The Evony code is clearly for sale, and all Playdom had to do was integrate it with their proven Facebook framework, draw a few pictures, and call it a day. On the plus side, hopefully the game will introduce some of Facebook’s “casual gamers” and leave them craving some deeper gameplay.

Cheers,
Oliver

Lord of Ages Review

Regan Mercantile LLC recently released a game, Lord of Ages, that could easily be considered the best OSG ever. Of all time.

Now, there might be some unenlightened that would ask “Oliver, isn’t Lord of Ages the exact same game as Evony, Kingory, Caesary, and Three Kingdoms Online? Granted, it seems that Lord of Ages might have taken a few ideas and concepts from these games, but LoA has also added a lot of its own creative ideas. For example, most of the other games show your hero’s picture on the bottom part of the screen, but LoA has brilliantly moved this to the top.

LoA also one-ups the competition by actually using the word “Lord” right in the title. Evony was only clever enough to use the word in its infamous advertising campaign and nearly make the term synonymous with the genre, but Lord of Ages took it in a whole different direction and literally used the word in the name of their game. The only other OSG’s that have managed to do so are Lord of Ultima, Lords of Evil, Lords Online, and of course, “Lords“.

Where LoA really shines is the graphics. Of course, it doesn’t actually shine… While Evony and Caesary sold out and used bright, colorful graphics like Travian and Ikariam to attract players, Lord of Ages remains committed to providing an authentic Medieval gaming experience, complete with a dark, dreary town that seems to be always on the verge of a storm or the plague.

Further, Lord of Ages has encorporated huge technological advances in the realm of flashing green arrows. While other games might have at most one arrow (and usually they’re not even green), Lord of Ages pulls out all the stops. And let’s not forget the epic quests. For example “Click the Finish button”. This is the stuff of legends.

Finally, the best for last, Lord of Ages is probably the only gave that prominantly features a “Save on desktop” button. I know this is something that fans of browser-based games have been wanting for a long time: the ability to let some brand new game from a Chinese company whose top Google search results include the terms “Rip-off”, “libel lawsuits”, and “malware” save something to their hardrive so they don’t have to waste those 30 seconds loading the graphics from the internet.

Game Site: www.LordofAges.com
Game Developer: Regan Mercantile LLC
Rating: Don’t Waste Your Time