The mechanic that reinforces its feeling of a board game the most, though, is that I could not move through tiles I did not own, nor request a treaty for access to that land. The provinces are simply pieces that must be claimed from the independent factions that field no armies on the map itself either through bribery, quests or combat. I had to carve a literal path to the enemy’s stronghold in order to win a shard.
In of itself, there’s nothing wrong with any of that. Turn-based strategy mixed with the simplistic fun of a board game sounds like an interesting melding of ideas. But I wouldn’t want to play Monopoly for hours on end, and so I found its above issues mixed with its longer play sessions repetitive. This wasn’t aided by the fact that the quickest way to capture provinces is often through its combat.
Eador’s combat is one of its weakest aspect. Similar to Heroes of Might and Magic, battlefields are laid out in a hexagonal grid with opposing units on either side. Each army takes turns in moving and attacking with their soldiers. But it lacks a certain spark that makes combat exciting. Animations are ponderous. Models are dull. The battlefields themselves aren’t particularly diverse. And while units do gain new abilities through level ups, the smaller size of those ended with a lot of clobbering matches in the center field. Thankfully, the F10 and F11 keys acted as auto-battle functions.
But its cardinal sin is that for a game about building an empire, I felt very little connection to my kingdoms. Hero units have no personality nor history, existing solely as character classes — Warrior, Scout, Wizard and Commander — to lead the player’s armies. They feel like little more than pieces on a board, whereas the games Eador’s developers cite as influences have unique heroes with names and backgrounds that help their worlds feel more alive. And because each shard is its own map rather than one large world, I never felt there was much of a connected identity aside from certain bonuses I could import from one conquest to the next.
It’s not entirely a lost cause. It can actually be quite charming. If the player’s army is strong enough, provinces are more receptive to negotiating their surrender or allegiance. Each factor responds differently to the player, and often through humorous dialog. The game in general is full of witty writing. Even the player’s choices to diplomatic talks or the numerous random events can elicit laughter. It’s possible to be a downright lunatic to both one’s subjects and enemies.
And the choices made affect the player’s alignment, as well. Acquiescing to a troll’s demand and sending a cart full of children in order to appease its belly may not win the favor of the people but will certainly affect the composition of your army as each unit also has its own alignment. The route taken will even alter the player’s title, icon, and reputation amongst the provincial factions and demigods.
There is a decent amount of strategy on the campaign maps despite my earlier concerns. Money is tight, and heroes, hero resurrections (there is no permadeath), equipment, diplomacy and more can be quite expensive. As only the heros are capable of leading armies, and with their purchase so prohibitive, it’s not possible to overrun the map with swarms of troops. And if I wasn’t careful about my positioning, I could — and did on an embarassing number of occasions — found myself trapped behind enemy lines with a crippled army. Thanks to the campaign movement mechanic, this often lead to certain death. When I was too afraid to venture beyond the boundaries of my own territories, I could explore each province for ancient dwellings, creating more opportunities for random events and experience. Furthermore, only one building can be constructed for the entire shard per turn, adding to the dilemma of choice.
It’s a pretty game when it wants to be, too. The campaign map is full of vibrancy and set against a quite literal stellar background. With a generation in love with realism and darker splashes of color, Eador is a sight for sore eyes.
Unfortunately, its other modes bring down whatever high I had. The Custom game mode allows for randomized matches, though without the ability to vie for control of multiple shards it’s missing what made Eador interesting in the first place. Its online mode not only requires a separate account from Steam, but the serial key to be entered each time. If that wasn’t irritating enough, the only form of multiplayer action is the game’s combat. It has no co-operative or competitive campaign. Players simply select what units they want, outfit them with equipment and abilities using a pool of points, and hack away at each other in some of the least inspiring battles I’ve played from a turn-based strategy game.
Overall, I like what Snowbird Games was trying to do with its shard mechanic. The galactic tug of war for them is grand, I only wish its execution on the ground was more engaging. As it stands, I just don’t care about my empire or its citizens. It doesn’t have the same kind of visual growth or personality that has made me so invested in its brethren. On the other hand, the writing of the random events and dialog is so amusing I want to keep playing just for them. But at the end of the day, there are simply better alternatives to scratch that Masters of Magic itch.
A copy of Eador: Masters of the Broken World was provided to us for review by the publisher.