Game Review no image

Published on May 17th, 2003 | by Matt Haberfeld


Age of Wonders

Developer: Triumph Studios
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Genre: Turn Based Strategy
Platform: PC
Publisher: Gathering
Release Date: 10/31/1999

What is Age of Wonders?

Age of Wonders is a turn based strategy game in a fantasy setting. What makes this game different from all the other TBS games is that combat is handled like a tactical simulation, where you can move all your units on a combat grid.

What does this game do well?

Age of Wonders gives you a lot of options to help tailor the game to your personality. You can choose from many different races, which determines what units you can build and how you relate to other players, and you can also choose your spheres of magic so you can customize which spells you will be able to research and cast. All of the races and spheres of magic are viable, and there is no “best” setup, so players are free to choose which options they prefer.

There are many factions in Age of Wonders, and each faction has a unique style and units. They all have a unique relationship with each other as well. For instance, the dwarves and elves have good relations with each other and poor relations with goblins and orcs. These relations are important on both a unit level and a player level. Each player is a unique individual, but he also represents his entire race for the purposes of diplomacy.

On the player level your relations affect whether other players will declare war on you or offer you an alliance, and these decisions have a big impact. For instance, allying with the elves will give you a big boost with other good races, and a big penalty with evil races. Your actions affect your entire race, and sometimes you’ll have to choose a few allies and stick with them for the entire game.

On the unit level, your relations affect the morale of your units and whether it is even possible to have units of another race. For instance, any race can capture a goblin city. If your relationship with goblins is good, you can build and use their units in your army no matter what race you are. If it’s bad, the units will desert and the city will eventually rebel. You can raise your relations with goblins by improving the city, such as building city walls, or through diplomacy with the goblin player and other evil races. Alternatively, you can choose to kill all the goblins in the city and replace them with another race, which has an extremely negative effect with all goblins and the goblin player.

It’s a very simple yet interesting diplomacy system which really shapes the whole game. There are the characteristically good and evil races, but there are also many neutral races such as humans, lizardmen, etc. With these races it’s possible to maintain decent relations with almost everyone and thereby have access to a much more diverse army. This is a precarious balancing act, because other players can declare war on you and hurt your relations with that race as a result. Through no fault of your own, all of a sudden your cities are unhappy and units are deserting. You have to decide whether you can repair relations with that race or disband those units and change the population of your cities, ruining any chance of peace with that player and giving up the ability to use those units for the rest of the game.

Heroes in Age of Wonders are also really cool. Your heroes gain experience and you can choose which abilities they learn as they grow more powerful. There are also dungeons which contain items that only heroes can use, boosting their attack and defense or giving them abilities that they normally would not have.

One of the nicest things about this game is that there is no correct “build order” and there is not an obvious “best” series of actions to take. You do not always have to follow certain steps to achieve victory, players can win through a variety of strategies which really makes this game shine.

However the best part about Age of Wonders is that a sufficiently clever player can worm his way out of any kind of situation. I have had fights where I was outnumbered 32 to 6 and still won through superior tactics. I have destroyed armies 10 times my size by carefully picking my battles and using hit and run tactics. People that are very good at strategy will excel at this game, even against superior forces and it is great to see a game that will reward a player for his intelligence rather than how fast he can click the mouse.

What new and innovative ideas are implemented in this game?

Age of Wonders has a lot of little features that really extend the replay value. For instance, you can play classic turn based mode where player 1 takes his turn, then player 2, etc. Or you can play simultaneous mode where all players take their turns at the same time, and when all players have ended their turns a new turn is generated. Simultaneous play is much faster, and also forces the player to prioritize which units are the most important to move at the start of the turn. You can also play with kings, where if your primary hero is killed, then you lose the game. Having this option is extremely simple programatically but extends the life of the game by quite a bit.

Age of Wonders is often compared to Heroes of Might and Magic, and there are definite similarities. Personally, I like Age of Wonders more because of the tactical combat. Both games feature tactical combat, but in Heroes of Might and Magic the combat does not require much in the way of strategy. In general it is very obvious what is the best action to take and it is rare for the weaker army to win no matter how clever you are. Age of Wonders is completely the opposite. Strategy plays a huge part in combat and the weaker army can often win if they use superior tactics. Players that build lots of the “best” unit and sending it mindlessly into combat will lose to more clever players (and they should).

What could this game have done better?

There are no glaring errors that hurt this game, but there are a few things that could be improved. First off, there are some hero skills that are pretty much useless, so most of the time you will build all your heroes in the same way. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it would be nice to have many hero skills that are different but equally effective in different situations. They do a great job making the rest of the game with this idea in mind, but with the hero skills you always tend to want the same abilities.

The thing that bothered me the most was that there is no random map generator. If you want to play an 8 player game, there are only 2 maps that you can play. The developers say that it is too hard to make a map that is both random AND fair to all players, and they are probably right. So I understand why there is no random map generator, but it limits the replay value somewhat. Fortunately, there are a lot of good multiplayer maps available on the internet.

The other thing that many people complained about is that the units are extremely small, almost like tin soldiers. This didn’t bother me personally, but many people that I have talked to were hoping that they units were bigger so you could actually see them move and fight with each other.

Should I buy this game?

A good game strives to do one thing well, but Age of Wonders is two good games seamlessly rolled into one. To be perfectly honest, this is my favorite turn based strategy game, even more than Civ III (Age of Wonders is a much simpler game) and even more than the sequel, Age of Wonders II. Age of Wonders II does not improve greatly on any aspects of the original, but they changed the tactical combat and made it much worse. I highly recommend this game to anyone that likes strategy games. Even though many games have come out since its release, Age of Wonders provides a unique experience that you will enjoy for a long time.

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