Titles such as Europa Universalis, Crusader Kings, Hearts of Iron, Victoria II and other games which belong to so-called grand strategy wargame genre represent a special niche for those elite strategists among gamers who aren’t afraid to plunge deep into all the complexities of warfare and global politics. The games of this particular type are naturally mainly focused on military matters touching unavoidably on some other aspects of national importance such as politics, diplomacy, and economy, all of which you’ll perfidiously try to use to your advantage in order to place your nation above all other states of the world. Age of Civilizations II is an indie game singlehandedly crafted by Łukasz Jakowski which tenaciously tries to squeeze in among the big boys of the grand strategy wargame genre. Although it might seem that this newcomer doesn’t have anything new to offer, for just a €5 you’ll get a game which can easily parry the complexity of these established tiles, and also complements intricate gameplay with a number of great features, particularly a rich editor with a plethora of different options.
Grand strategy games are all about the magnificent scope and opportunities to conquer, negotiate or annex your neighbors. In Age of Civilizations II, you’ll virtually have the whole world as a playground for your war games, starting from the time of the first civilizations and spanning the ages all the way to the distant and uncertain future. At the beginning of the game you’ll choose the nation you’ll play, whether based on your personal partialities or on different perks each nation offers. The game provides you the opportunity to decide on your preferred approach which will take your nation to the top so try not to feel too overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things you’ll be able to do. Basically, just as the game is advertised, diplomacy or bloody conflict are both viable methods on your road to the global domination, so, whether you’ll choose to litter the world with corpses, or prefer a more subtle approach, it’s completely up to you – as Machiavelli himself famously said, “the ends justify the means”.
As it is usual with this and similar types of strategy games, Age of Civilizations II follows a turn-based structure, with your every major action costing you a certain number of points. For instance, to move your troops or issue other types of orders, you’ll use movement points, while diplomatic actions use diplomacy points. The gameplay is intuitive, so you’ll get the hang of it relatively easily. However, once you’ve done that and start to play a little bit more, you’ll find out just how detailed, deep and ultimately rewarding the gameplay really is.
Of course, although the fact that Age of Civilizations II is work just of one person hasn’t negatively influenced the complexity of its game mechanics, some gamers could begrudge its somewhat modest visual presentation. Here you won’t get satisfying combat animations with splashes of blood and gore, or troops proudly marching across the compliant landscape and over the terrified enemy capitals as in some other games – instead you’ll get a bunch of cold hard statistics, a somewhat abstract map presentation, and plenty of analytical and cerebral approach you’d expect only from the most demanding representatives of the grand strategy genre. If anything, the fact that it perhaps lacks in visual frills and embellishments only means that the greatest accent had been placed on the strategy itself. Besides, what there is of the graphic representations is precise and solid, so you’ll feel a bit like a master statesman or general, bending above scores and scores of detailed maps and documents in some luxury war room.
So, are all the features we’ve mentioned a good or a bad thing? Well, as usual, that entirely depends on you and your own taste. If you’re a casual gamer and the first thing that pops into your mind when I say strategy is Kingdom Rush, you’ll probably find Age of Civilizations II a bit tedious, even perhaps intimidating. However, true aficionados of grand strategy genre will certainly appreciate its uncompromising realism, the level of engagement as well as the fact that the game has more than solid foundations in history and authentic facts. If you count yourself among that selected bunch, Age of Civilizations II is a title you shouldn’t miss for the world.