aNewDomain — Whether played on console or PC, many video games these days require players to act and react quickly to whatever is happening in the game. It’s a sign of the times and ability of current technology, but there’s a lot to be said for the venerable turn-based strategy game.
Turn-based strategy and text-adventure games were how I earned my gaming credentials way back when, and truth be told, they are still my preferred genre. I’m usually knee deep in a game of “Civilization” — sometimes they last for months.
But my latest turn-based passion is an updated version of a gaming franchise first introduced in the late 1990s, “Age of Wonders.” The latest title in the series, produced by Triumph Studios, is “Age of Wonders III.” It’s about about as good as any turn-based game can get.
The Wonder of Wonders
“Age of Wonders III” is set in fantasy world of wizards, monsters and demons. The universe is populated with a least a dozen races, including elves, orcs, dragonkin, goblins, giants, dwarves, halflings and humans. All of these races compete for control of their world, fighting amongst themselves and with the ever-lurking evil that often motivates them. Alliances are made, broken and made again as the player navigates political intrigue and military conquest.
There are two campaigns to follow, one from each side of the pending war: Sundren from the elf side and Edward from the human side. I don’t wat to spoil the story, so let’s just say that the conflict is not as straightforward as it seems. There are also options for new scenarios, random maps and multiplayer matches.
Using the standard and familiar hexagonal mapping system, players will establish bases, acquire resources, make alliances, declare war and build units. Each step in the campaign has a different objective, but the basic formula is the same.
Along the way you will pick up heroes to help you complete your quest. Each hero has different skills and abilities that you must assess, develop and use to your advantage. Some of your companions will be dependent on magic, some on stealth and others on brute strength — all fairly standard for your fantasy turn-based world. How you mix and match these skills will determine how you proceed and how successful you will be.
The maps in the campaigns are absolutely huge. I have logged over 100 hours in “Age of Wonders III” and I’m just now starting on the final map of Edwards’s side of the campaign. That’s just one campaign!
One of the most important factors in a successful campaign is determining when and with whom to pick your fights. On any given map, diplomacy can force you to take a path you did not intend to take. Even in a fantasy universe, the old war axiom holds true — you can’t pick a fight with everyone. Of course you can try …
Much of your strategic thinking time in “Age of Wonders III” will be used to manage your cities. The economic concept of deciding between “guns and butter” production comes into play here, and the game forces you to do it well. You can’t just endlessly produce units; sometimes you need to find and exploit resources by creating specialized buildings in your cities. Juggling all of these factors successfully is where the real fun begins.
When circumstances do force you into a battle, you will be dropped into the combat screen. At this point you are required to formulate and execute a tactical strategy that ensures the opposing side’s defeat while at the same time keeping your casualties as low as possible. Each unit you control will have skills and abilities that you must use to your advantage. Depending on what units are available, you may have to get very creative with your tactical decisions.
In many ways, “Age of Wonders III” is a return to the old-school turn-based strategy game. From a purely mechanical standpoint, there is no new ground being broken here. This is what turn-based strategy games are and always have been.
And that is what makes me like “Age of Wonders III” so much. This is a game that makes you think, and think hard. It’s the latest “one more turn” game — a game where you say to yourself at 10:00 in the evening, “one more turn before bed,” and the next thing you know it’s 2:00 a.m. and you’ve forgotten about work and what hunger is.
That’s the best recommendation I can give for any game. Seriously. “Age of Wonders III” makes the grade with flying colors (or dragons if you prefer).
For aNewDomain, I’m Mark Kaelin.
All images are screenshots captured by Mark Kaelin
Featured image courtesy of Triumph Studios