HISTORY Egypt: Engineering an Empire – PC Game Review
HISTORY Egypt: Engineering an Empire. PC Game. Developed by Blooper Team. Published by Slitherine Ltd.$12.99 boxed, $9.99 download.
Passed Inspection: A solid basic strategy game, with more depth of quality than expected.
Failed Basic: No turn counter, very light cosmetic elements, no game editor.
The challenge of combat is still here and is on the right level for the game HISTORY Egypt is meant to be.
Everyone has to start somewhere, right? That includes wargamers. Many of us got our start playing something simple, like Stratego, Battleship, Checkers, or Go. Those games all have a common element: they are relatively easy to learn, yet the varying strategies hold up well no matter how many times they are played. Games like this make it easy for long-time strategy gamers to keep coming back to, but more importantly, they give new strategy gamers a good place to start.
That is the main draw for Koch Media and Slitherine Ltd.’s newest game, HISTORY Egypt: Engineering an Empire. Designed in conjunction with The History Channel show of the same name, HISTORY Egypt grants gamers an ancient Egyptian territory to manage and protect, and hopefully build into a thriving empire. The most basic tools for a rise to power are here, including economic, military, and political avenues. Restricting the game mechanics to these essential items helps players focus on just what is needed to begin a fledgling community and attempt to turn it into a grand empire. The beauty of HISTORY Egypt is that it does a very good job of providing a wide range of strategies to consider within those basic elements.
The game is set in the ancient days of the pharaohs, putting players into sand and sandals during one of the most recognizable eras in all history. Fans of prior empire games, like Sid Meir’s Caesar series, or Sierra Entertainment’s Pharaoh, will not find the same level of grandiose gameplay here. There are no needs-of-the-people to track and fulfill, no vast zones of housing, markets, and industry to build, and no empire wonders to perform, like building a pyramid. Instead, players have to juggle population control and military enlistment with developing a balanced economy to pay for it all. Don’t fall into thinking that simple premise means the game is a pushover. On the contrary, the depth of strategy here just may surprise even hardcore strategy gamers.
For example, the tutorial covers twenty-five sections of game play, with only a few of those directions on the interface, which is plain yet effective. Everything from managing cities and training and deploying troops to diplomacy and spying are examined with simple text tips, and most come up the first time a player attempts the given action.
Game play occurs on three maps: campaign, city, and battle. The campaign map shows the region of the world where gamers attempt to construct an empire, along with neighboring cities, friendly and hostile. Deployed armies not in combat are handled here, where they may be stationed as city buffers, moved close to other nations’ units and cities for spying, or marched to the same to engage in warfare.
The city map is where the bulk of the game takes place, although each city has only six lots upon which to build. Gamers must decide on the best use of those lots, depending on the needs of the entire empire. There are only two categories of buildings: civilian and military. Civilian buildings include housing, a well, a market, and more, while military buildings include barracks, an armory, stables, and an archery range, among others. Cities come with a town hall, which doubles as a garrison, already built.
Much of the strategy comes in careful selection of which type of building to build, factoring in the required time and cost in relation to the benefit gained. Is it more important to build housing in order to increase population, build a barracks to train soldiers, or build a mine to increase income? Furthermore, each building can be upgraded to level 3, boosting its particular benefit, but adding to its costs. Thankfully, buildings are not permanent, and can be sold off their lot to make room for another building, giving gamers yet another strategic element to ponder.
Military units that can be trained depending on what military buildings exist within the city. Barracks allow for only the most basic infantry, though they do gain strength as the building is upgraded. An armory allows for stronger troops, stables allow for the training of mounted units, and an archery range opens up archers.
Once combat is initiated, game play switches to the combat map, starting with a deployment phase to allow gamers to place units in advantageous positions before meeting the enemy. This phase also gives a player time to scout out the battlefield, as terrain does have an effect on warfare. Is it better to move part of your troops or all of them forward to meet the enemy—or is it better to wait for the enemy to come to you? What formation is the enemy advancing with? Are the flanks covered, and the archers protected? Combat here moves rather quickly, depending on how well a player’s forces are matched against the enemy.
When compared with other strategy and wargames available, the AI here seems more than a bit lackluster. However, on its own, and as a game for beginner strategists, the AI can be said to do exactly what is needed. Combat is more akin to the combat of the Civilization series than to The Operational Art of War series, but whether or not it should have more bells and whistles in battle is primarily a matter of personal preference. The challenge of combat is still here and is on the right level for the game HISTORY Egypt is meant to be.
The campaign takes a player through a good many scenarios, including Egypt (of course), Macedonia, Assyria, Babylon, and others. The main goal in many of the scenarios is to prosper an empire, usually within a certain number of turns. Other scenarios’ goals, like the one named Peace or War, are to simply survive while under assault by an overwhelming force.
As stated earlier, HISTORY Egypt was designed as a strategy game for newcomers. To that end, the game is rock solid, with nothing that could actually be listed as "missing." However, a couple of items could have been done better—adding a turn counter being the most prominent. This would especially come in handy on the scenarios where game conditions require a player to accomplish some goal by a certain turn. Another beneficial addition, albeit mostly a cosmetic one, would be to have the graphics for buildings change according to their level. Also, no editor with a strategy game greatly limits its replay value. Once gamers feel they have completely run through all the tactics of each scenario, they are forced to wait for a patch or a full expansion that may never come, or just move on to another strategy game.
HISTORY Egypt has the basics covered and covered well. It achieves its goal of being a great game for gamers who wish to step into the world of strategy gaming. Let’s hope any future games in this series are as well done as this one.
Armchair General Score: 90%
About the Author:
Jim H. Moreno is a long-time contributor to ACG’s game reviews and forums.