Empire: The Deck Building Strategy Game

EMPIRE
Players:
1
Multiplayer:No
AI:Yes, incredibly difficult!
Universal App:Yes (there is a single app which works on both iPhone and iPad in HD)
Purchase for iPhone:Use link below to purchase universal app
Purchase for iPad:
EMPIRE: The Deck Building Strategy Game
Price: $2.99
User rating:
GD Star Rating
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Empire: The Deck Building Strategy Game, 7.3 out of 10 based on 35 ratings

Claiming to be the world’s first “Deck-Building 4X Strategy Game”, Empire: The Deck Building Strategy Game certainly lives up to its grand name. Empire is a kind of mashup of Civilization and Dominion with a dose of Plants Versus Zombies thrown in for good measure. You would think that squishing three very different game mechanics together would be a recipe for disaster, and in most cases you’d be right.

EMPIRE

But not so with Empire. Designed by Keith Burgun, the famed developer of 100 Rogues and produced by Crazy Monkey Studios, this seemingly bizarre hybrid game is utterly brilliant. It really works well; it shouldn’t, but it does. If you’re looking for a bit of strategic empire-building with quick-fire combat in a mobile game that won’t take you hours to complete, this game will scratch that itch.

Your empire begins with just one city.

Your empire begins with just one city.

GAMEPLAY

Empire is a punishing game. It’s very easy to pick up and after a few play-throughs you’ll have a firm grasp of the game. But you must accept one inalienable truth: you will lose. Every single game will end in failure and crushing defeat. It is designed to destroy you eventually, no matter how hard you try to win or how experienced a strategist you are. The AI – a powerful corruption called “Desolation” which is reminiscent of the Zerg from StarCraft – is simply far too powerful for you to win, and this is by design. Whilst this would be a turn-off in a lot of games, it works well in Empire because the object of the game is to fight for survival, to see how many weeks you can last, how many cities you can build, and most importantly, how many victory points you can rack up in one session before Desolation overpowers your empire.

Those victory points were hard won!

Those victory points were hard won!

Once you’ve completed the tutorial (which is advisable), you start each new game from scratch by founding your first city. Every week (i.e. turn), your city gathers resources from the lands directly around it. These resources are made up of food which unlocks city upgrades (a maximum of three expansions per city) and materials which pays for your army. Materials are limited to 200 in the kitty at any time and your army can consist of no more than 6 units at once (warriors, archers and cavalry). Growing your cities to include farms, training grounds, academies and shaman’s huts rewards you with cheaper armies, powerful spell cards and help to boost your post-war booty. Even when a city is fully upgraded, you can still gain from it by holding feasts (which give you 3 victory points), settling new cities and harvesting materials. When a city ceases to wield any output (due to the ever-encroaching Desolation corrupting the lands), you can choose to abandon it and regain your settler so you can build another city in pastures new.

The Desolation will attack you relentlessly, damn them!

The Desolation will attack you relentlessly, damn them!

Settling new cities brings in bigger bounty for your campaign. You can also explore and clear the fog of war by spending materials. Doing this is a good idea, as it gives you a heads-up of evolving Desolation nests. Attack is the best form of defense; whenever possible, it is better to attack known Desolation nests before they attack you. Doing so will result in a better chance of winning, for when a nest attacks one of your cities, their army is considerably stronger than yours.

Various city upgrades are available.

Various city upgrades are available.

When you are attacked, or when you attack a nest, battle ensues. Turn-based and working on a chess-board style grid, your army starts on the left and the enemy on the right. Combat is bolstered by your deck of cards, which you build up as you play, discarding your hand of 4 cards at the end of each turn. These cards give you special commands and buffs, and the cards you get dealt depend greatly on your city configurations.

The movement of troops is very limited, but this can be changed by using cards. Actual combat is automatic. If any of your troops make it across the board to the enemy starting point, they will inflict damage on the enemy base (a la PvZ). The outcome of the battle is decided when one side has lost all their troops or their base is destroyed. For every unit you lose, a Strife card is added to your deck – useless cards which clutter up your deck. If you win a battle, you will be awarded hit points and offered a choice of a few cards which you can add to your deck, and some of these are pretty sweet.

Let battle commence!

Let battle commence!

IMPLEMENTATION

The interface is intuitive and the whole game feels solid, which did surprise me, considering this is version 1.0 of the app. Having played the first time for over 3 hours pretty much non-stop (and many more hours since!), I’ve only encountered one bug: it is nearly impossible to change the default names of the cities. For some reason, the name field is unresponsive to the keyboard. However, the automatically generated names are imaginative so this is no big deal.

What has delighted me is the fact that there’s no IAP, no annoying gems or gold for buying the game piecemeal, no irritating iAds. Empire is a good old-fashioned premium game; buy it once, up front and it’s all yours. How refreshing, in this freemium, IAP-hungry age.

Intuitive interface.

Intuitive interface.

A charming interactive tutorial makes learning the game a piece of cake, and there is a detailed rule book available in-app too, which is essential for quick reference in your early games.

The artwork is stunning, especially the cards, which bring an epic fantasy feel to the game. The sound effects are pretty good, as is the background music. However, as in many games, this becomes monotonous rather quickly. Fear not, for the game allows you to mute the music so you can listen to your own albums. Personally I’d recommend any of the several superb albums by Two Steps From Hell for the perfect medieval fantasy soundtrack.

Gorgeous artwork complements powerful cards.

Gorgeous artwork complements powerful cards.

According to the developer’s blog there are a number of improvements and new features in the pipeline, which is great news. Hopefully this might include options like multiplayer, a mode where you can play to win against the AI (perhaps in a tournament style) and maybe even the ability to have more control over your armies. Only time will tell.

VERDICT

9/10: A superb title. For me, this is the iPad game of the year. Highly polished. Exquisitely difficult. Frustrating but satisfying at the same time. Addictive survivalist game with plenty of Game Center achievements to strive for. Quite simply a must-buy.



  • Stephen Thompson

    Fantastic review – thank you very much.  I’m going to give it a try.