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Subject: Empire - The Deck Building Strategy Game rss

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Fabian Fischer
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I think this game is close enough to digital board gaming to deserve a thread here! You can find reviews and videos on the official site.

I'll sum up what I think about it for a start:

Empire is in my opinion the best game of 2013 yet. It's kind of an "anti-Civilization". Superficially it shares a lot of common ground with the 4X-genre: You explore the land, collect resources, build cities and fight monsters. While many games of the genre rely on a positive feedback loop (i.e. you get stronger and stronger until you steamroll everything in the endlessly dragging end-game), the opposite is true here. Once collected resources don't come back, and the land slowly gets covered by devastation and wasteland. It's a struggle to survive given the dwindling resources and the always growing monster menace. Your goal is to stand your ground, to let your empire be one to be remembered.

This core mechanic is supported by an underlying deck-building system (e.g. known from the card game Dominion). It's not some meta-game driven collectible card game, though. You simply start every playthrough with a small deck of fixed cards (which vary depending on which of the three "Emperors" you chose). These cards come into play in the sophisticated battle system: Both armies move forward every turn and each unit has its own attack pattern. You use your cards to shift your units around, cast powerful spells and cause other effects to happen. You will regularly be outnumbered by the monsters, so the clever usage of your cards is the key to victory. After you won a battle, you pick a new card that enters your deck for future fights, so you build up your deck over time. That might sound positive at first, but soon your deck will become large and unpredictable. On top of that, any lost unit in a battle will add a useless Strife card to your deck, thereby "clogging it up" even more. Therefore deck management is another important aspect.

This is when your cities and the "map part" of the game take the spotlight. Cities collect food and materials (and, built in the right spots, also rare gems, which you need to build archers or take spell cards). Materials are mainly used to build your army. Food though, lets you upgrade your city regularly (as long as there is enough food to collect around it). These upgrades, among other things, let you build buildings. Three such buildings can be built in a given city and you have to choose between two options each tier. On the highest level, you e.g. have to choose between Academy (15 victory points) and Keep (destroying two Strife cards). The game enforces nomadic beahvior, that means you'll regularly be abandoning one (of a maximum of three) cities and building new ones to "exploit" another part of the map.

Empire is an extremely elegant system: It relies on a relatively small amount of very clear rules (which are explained by a tutorial and the in-game manual), and yet unfolds quite an amazing depth of play. It's also rare to see a digital game so focused on its core (the management of dwindling resources in this case). Every other mechanism is there to support it. On top of that, this game does not waste your time: There are interesting decisions to make all the time, be it tactically in the ever-challenging battles, or strategically on the map. Any serious strategy game player looking for an engaging experience has to give this game a shot!

It is available for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, PC and Mac.
It's also on Steam Greenlight at the moment.
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