There’s a powerful appeal to commanding an empire. For some, the joy lies in overseeing the growth of fledgling villages into bustling cities and maintaining the happiness of their people. For others, it’s raising an army and seeing it conquer their enemies. Civilization and the Total War series have long melded those two aspects into wonderfully rich titles, but there are a certain few, similar games from days past that hold a special place in my memory. Master of Magic and its spiritual successors allowed for me to conquer more than just the kingdoms of man. Ripe for conquest was a world of fantasy, with dragons and goblins and elves, and unique hero units to recruit and control. They felt more alive than anything else I had played from its genre of grand turn-based strategy. But unfortunately they’ve become something of a niche market, with worthwhile titles few and far between.
Thankfully, this fantasy sub-genre refuses to die. Stardock is set to release its latest edition of Fallen Enchantress this year, with a dense beta already available to those who pre-order. And Age of Wonders, a series I greatly enjoyed more than a decade ago, is returning with a third sequel this Autumn. 2013 is looking to be a promising year for armchair generals, be it of the sorcerer variety or otherwise.
Enter Eador: Masters of the Broken World, a recently released remake of a Eador: Genesis. From its footage, it and its predecessor look like everything I could want from a title following in the footsteps of Master of Magic: a colorful world of fantasy with provinces and resources to capture, strongholds to strengthen, hero units to command, quests, ancient tombs, turn-based strategy from campaign and combat maps, and multiplayer options to battle with friends. Nothing could excite me more.
Eador is not exactly that game. It instead takes those pieces and molds it into something similar but also quite different, playing far more like a board game than Civilization with magic. However, Eador commits to neither format completely, resulting in play sessions that can be reptitive, grindy and lengthy.
There are three game modes out of the box — Campaign, Custom, and Multiplayer. Campaign is where the bulk of the content is located, and also where Eador’s more unique features lie. The player controls a disembodied entity whose goal is conquer the Astral, a realm of shards that seemingly float in the vastness of space. These shards, once captured, reward the player with flat bonuses, new buildings to construct, technologies and other riches. It sounds and looks exciting, but its execution is less so.
Each shard is its own map. The player and his or her enemies control a single stronghold upon them, with the ultimate goal being their capture. Conquering provinces along the way increases gold and gem income per turn, the former necessary to maintain the player’s stronghold and armies and the latter for casting spells. It’s easy enough to play, but not necessarily as a result of an intuitive interface. Rather, the actions that can be taken are more limited than what its screenshots and advertisements proclaim.
One reason is that there’s very little empire management to be had. The bulk of management is instead focused on the stronghold. It’s from there that the player constructs most of their buildings – though some limited options can be placed in provinces to improve growth or quell unrest, once unlocked – and only from there where they buy equipment, recruit soldiers, and equip spells.