TABLE OF CONTENTS:
1602 A.D. is a real-time colonization game. As its title suggests, it is set in the early modern period, and the colonies are located on a series of small islands that appear to be the Caribbean although this is never explicitly stated . Similarly, while the introductory sequence includes selecting flags that appear to represent France, England, Holland, and Spain (and the names generated for new settlements suggest these national origins), the nationality of the colonizers is not made explicit.
The graphics of the game are superb and navigation into the program is well laid out. The gameplay is rich in options and details, and for the most part the game interface is easy to understand and use. Nevertheless, during play this reviewer found that he frequently did not understand exactly what was happening in his settlements or why, and overall the experience of play was unengaging when not frustrating. Having developed games himself, this reviewer tried hard to get into the game -- being reluctant to put down something that obviously took so much effort and devotion to create. But the game failed to convey much understanding of the period’s history and failed to draw the gamer into an engaging experience. Someone who loves SIM CITY, CAESAR and AGE OF EMPIRES may enjoy this as a variation on the theme or a teenager might get drawn in as his or her first real-time empire-building game, but this reviewer was simply left cold.
The game includes a 72-page manual which gives technical instructions, quickstart instructions, a series of chapters on the mechanics of gameplay, a chapter on setting up the multiplayer mode, a long chapter on the editor, information on obtaining technical support, and an appendix that includes descriptions, statistics, and charts of interrelationships of some game elements. The text is clearly written, well laid out, and illustrated by numerous black and white screen shots and occasional pictures to add period flavor. In addition, an extensive on-line tutorial is included.
While the documentation is thorough, this reviewer was surprised at how little understanding he had of the game after reading it once play began. One knew how to make things happen pretty well, but did not have much sense of what was necessary for optimum growth. Even worse, it was difficult to understand why things were happening in the settlement. For example, sometimes little question marks appear over the buildings. Looking up "question marks" in the index means either that there are not enough raw materials available OR that its stocks are full. If there are not enough raw materials available, "feeder" establishments (like grain farms for the windmill) are not producing enough (nothing is said about why stocks might be full, or what to do about it). The manual goes on to say that there is a number given for the efficiency at which the building is operating, and advises "Draw your conclusions, correct the problem, and the question mark disappears." Well, thanks, but the section does not really say how to tell if the stocks are full or the supplies are low. If stocks are low, a solution may be to create another "feeder" building, but it may not be possible because building capacity or the land available is limited, and perhaps the problem is really that the existing "feeder" buildings are operating at low capacity themselves. To determine this means tracking them down on the map and figuring out what is occurring with them. All the while, of course, time is passing, and by this time the question mark may have gone away by itself. Or maybe the problem is that stocks are full, so does that mean the player should set up a delivery route for one of the wagons associated with the marketplace, or will one of the little men with the handcarts automatically take care of this? This critique goes beyond the documentation, but it conveys something of the frustration one may feel while playing, and somehow, despite the volume of words in the document, questions seemed to multiply during actual play more than they were settled.
The graphics in the game are superb. The wrapper screens are attractive and clear -- there is an impressive animated introductory animation and the game screen itself is a brilliant isomorphic view of the island chain to be colonized and the surrounding waters. Whales and giant squids break the sea’s surface periodically, water cascades down mountainsides, and little people scurry between the buildings in the island settlements. The buildings are rendered in exacting detail, and the elements of the landscape are clear and colorful.
The sounds are also first rate, with a deep, rich voice announcing major developments, various sound effects to illustrate key events, and tasteful music that plays softly in the background.
The game is entirely mouse-driven. For some things one may click directly on the map, but most game actions are controlled via a sidebar that displays one of a number of specialized control panels. A nice touch is that all icons are identified on rollover by a word or phrase in a status bar below the map. The only problem with the controls was that one is not always sure how to change from one panel to another or which panel the desired control is on. For the most part, this is clear, but sometimes this reviewer found himself clicking through a series of possibilities hunting for the one he wanted, and not sure which panel would come with the next click. This was not a critical problem, but it was a noticeable part of the gaming experience.
The game itself consists of four primary activities: building a settlement, diplomacy, trade, and war.
Building a settlement involves clicking to first construct a warehouse/dock (the centerpiece of your colony), and then creating specialized buildings including a fisherman’s shack, a hunting lodge, a forester’s hut, houses, a sheep farm, a weaver’s shop, a chapel, and roads to connect theml. Each building has a surrounding zone from which it either draws resources or influences; the zone of the warehouse may be extended by building marketplaces. Furthermore, as the settlement grows, the variety of buildings increases to include a number of farm types, mines and quarries, different manufacturing plants, fortifications, taverns, schools, and even a theatre. Each building requires a certain number of workers, costs a certain amount to operate, and provides some good or service to the colony, but the accounting is all handled automatically (and, unfortunately, pretty much invisibly) by the program. As the number of buildings grows, so too, the stature of the colony rises, from pioneers through settlers, citizens, merchants, to aristocrats.
Since there are four players settling the island chain, as well as pirates who sail the waters and indigenous inhabitants on some of the islands, the game involves diplomacy. A chat feature allows human players to interact "verbally" in multiplayer mode, but in terms of the game system diplomacy consists of making trade agreements, peace treaties, and paying tribute. The attitude of computer players is indicated by a thumbs-up/thumbs-down graphic, and one may choose to fight against pirates, live with them, or even use them against the other players. Similarly, one can try to get along with any natives encountered or adopt a policy of extermination (see below, "war").
Trade involves a variety of interactions by land and sea with free trading ships, other players, pirates, and natives. Some transactions can be set up to happen automatically, while others happen when the player or another agent initiates a specific deal. A ship can load up with goods and be used to visit other players’ ports, and market wagons can be used to trade overland. Because of the automatic features, a good deal of trading activity happens (or doesn’t -- I wasn’t always sure) behind the scenes.
Naturally, colonization involves military forces, both land and sea, for use against other players (Europeans), pirates, and natives. The player can raise troops and build ships, and use them to defend against bad guys or become a bad guy hiomself. Controlling troops and ships is simple, and hence rather simplified, but since the player is actually the governor of the colony instead of a general, this seems like a good thing.
The game is not very historical. This reviewer found the underlying economic model not only confusing to work with, but questionable as history. There is no real historical context (existing alliances and enmities in 1602); nor is there any relationship -- political, economic, or military -- with the mother country or events in the wider world. While the process of creating a colony conveys a basic sense of some elements of historical colonization, the elements and relationships are essentially arbitrary, based on a little knowledge of early modern colonization and a lot of "common sense."
The program has extensive editing capability:
This reviewer wanted to like this game both because as an historian he is interested in this period and as a gamer/game developer he likes the idea of "god games". Unfortunately, he just couldn’t get into it.
i. Highs/Lows: The highs are the sounds and graphics; the lows are
trying to understand what is happening and why.
iii. Tedium Level: Watching a colony hum along can be engaging for a while, but the satisfaction was counterbalanced by the frustration of trying to get a handle on the details of play.
iv. Lessons Learned/Negative Lessons Learned: Realtime gameplay is not appropriate for a game with a complex model requiring numerous involved decisions on the part of the player. SIM CITY works because all the player really does is decide between three types of development for plots of land and the computer takes care of the rest. CIVILIZATION works because the turn structure allows one to think about what’s happening and trace out relationships before implementing decisions. COMMAND AND CONQUER works because the player is just generating combat units and throwing them at the enemy. This game would have been much better if one could move at his own pace and follow the intricate relationships between the elements; then it would have been more satisfying to play and more valuable as a tool for understanding the economics and diplomacy (if not the history) of colonization and development.
Difficulty Level/Environment/Scale: Easy to play, difficult to understand / island chain in unnamed waters / scale not given, but presumably the island chain is some hundreds of miles long and wide.
RATING: (5 star maximum)
i. Game Rating (entertainment value) ***
COMPUTER: SIM CITY, Maxis,
Boxer, Charles, The Dutch Seaborne Empire (1989);
www.gtisonline.com: Official company web site
BIOGRAPHY OF REVIEWER: Edward W. M. Bever
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