Reading the title of this game, you’d probably think it’s the tale of multiple heart-rending stories of a polyamorous utopian community torn asunder. Of course, that’s wrong, because it kind of undermines the definition of utopia, so this game is about a country with many different confronted tribes, including yours. Polytopia tasks you to take a tribe and expand it to build the highest score you can in 30 turns essentially making this a 4X speed-run with cute pixelblock animation. It is the 4X (Expand, Explore, Exploit, Exterminate) experience fine-tuned and narrowed for mobile, and as it turns out, a challenging and rewarding take on the traditional 4X game.
Your world in Polytopia is a 15×15 square grid and you take charge of one of four tribes. You have two modes, Perfection, and Domination. In Perfection, you have 30 turns to make the most of the randomly generated world you are given. There are no victory conditions, there is only the quest to get the highest score you can in whatever way you can or want. In Domination mode, there is no turn limit, and the game ends when you have defeated all your opponents. Speaking of opponents, you can play against up to nine, although the default is at four. The total depends on how many of the available Tribes you’ve purchased beyond the basic set—more on this below. Difficulty ranges from Easy to Crazy and a standard game takes about 15 to 30 minutes.
Polytopia visually stands out among mobile games, even those similar in genre. For example, the official versions of Civilisation for mobile looked unpolished and felt tedious because of the miniature size of the units. The visuals in Polytopia have more in common with the retro aesthetic of Crossy Road. The colors are vibrant with glowing pinks and greens. It would be wrong to say this game is a work of art, but it definitely shines where it needs to.
Each map is made of randomly generated 256 tiles, which keeps the game fresh and forces you into new strategies. The tiles range from deep water to tall mountains, with forests, deserts, and fields in between. Landscapes are blocky, a little like those of Minecraft, but viewed from a distance. Every detail matters, even little ones like the cubic trees and whales. For example, if you find yourself trapped on an island, sailing should be your first goal. The setup keeps maps quite small, so you’ll encounter enemies very fast.
There are four tribes you can choose from, and each is vaguely inspired by a real-life ethnic group. Xin-xi are influenced by Asians, Imperius looks like Romans, Bardur are apparently Norse and Oumaji are Middle-Eastern and North African. You can buy other six options, which adds fantasy and South American- like tribes. Each tribe has different specialties, for example, Xin-xi are experts in Climbing, Bardur are Hunters, Imperius have a knack for Organization and Oumaju are Riders. Other than your starting tech, your choice of tribe also influences the type of terrain your first city is built on, but this doesn’t have as much of an impact as you would expect. After choosing a tribe you pick the number of tribes you want to fight against (from 1 to 3) as well as the difficulty level (Easy, Normal, Hard and Crazy).
Your empire expands through conquest, either by subjugating defenseless villages or by capturing cities that belong to the other tribes. There are no Settler units in the game so expanding your empire is a sure way to ignite the anger of your neighbors. Building villages is one of your primary goals and can quickly change your game plan based on their numbers and distance from your starting city.
Fans of the Civilization series will feel right at home in the Battle of Polytopia. You start with a single village, the view of the world around is obscured, you have resources, represented by stars at the top of the screen, and a single low-level unit with which to begin your conquest. You can spend resources on additional units or upgrades. There’s a difference, though, because you also need to spend resources to gather materials from the landscape. Materials upgrade your town and allow you to support a larger population of military units. Managing your meager supplies is the essence of this game. You have to balance the investing in new tech and improving your city, against creating units to conquer new lands or defend ones you’ve taken by then. To add some more difficulty, the cost of technology rises with every turn, so you cannot race up the tech tree and trample over enemies using super advanced units.
The Battle of Polytopia is a great game because it’s so direct with its approach to 4X games. It looks clean and it’s easy to learn, and it’s very addictive. This charming game is a simple but still-challenging mobile take on classic strategy games such as Civilization and StarCraft II. What it lacks in deep, broad play and multiplayer modes, it makes up for in sheer, addictive enjoyment.