History Egypt: Engineering an Empire Review – Built for Fun & Value
History Egypt: Engineering an Empire is the second Mini from Slitherine Software. Like the first, it’s based on a History Channel property, but this one is more typical of their productions, a historical based strategy game.
Rather than actually being set in Ancient Egypt, it’s set in the Eastern half of the Mediterranean, circa 600 to 250 B.C. or so. You control one of several would be empires. Just which depends on the scenario you pick, there are nine of those to choose from. They range from rather small maps, with only a few opponents, to huge ones, with fifteen other competing nations.
Gameplay is turn based. It’s essentially an Empire descendant, you have a world map littered by various cities, owned by various powers. You generally start with 1 to 3 of them. Essentially the goal of the game is to capture all the other cities on the map by sending your armies forth to conquer them. Each scenario does have specific goals which are usually less than conquering completely, but in practice you’ll always have to take over most of the cities on the map.
Besides needing them to actually win a scenario, cities provide you with more gold and more military units. They don’t do this automatically though, you need to decide the makeup of each city. Each city has up to eight slots for buildings (with one taken by the city hall). Each building can then be upgraded twice. These buildings can create military units, give you gold, or have other effects (like improve building time of buildings or units).
Because of the limited number of slots for buildings, you need to specialize cities – have some that are devoted to generating as much gold as possible, while others concentrate on producing military units. There are four types of units: light infantry, heavy infantry, mounted, and ranged. Each requires a different building to make, so you likely won’t be able to make all in one city. Some buildings are needed in combination to make units. This is one part that is slightly buggy, sometimes the text that explains what is needed to make a unit is obscured.
Once you’ve amassed an army (you can have up to six units formed into one), you can send them off into battle. Combat is fought on a very small tactical map, only 8 hexes in each direction. You move your units first, then the AI does. It’s very simple, but at the same time, more complicated than it looks. Terrain is extremely important, it can dramatically increase or reduce an unit’s effectiveness.
Although units have stats, they are rather abstract and learning which units are best to use is really a learning experience. Especially as mentioned that terrain affects them in different ways. In the old days, games like this had big thick manuals complete with charts explaining the effects. In this you have to sort of play it by ear, you on the combat screen you do get a chart showing the modifications.
Non-combat interaction with other cultures is pretty limited. You can pay money to spy on them, which shows you their army makeup and how developed their cities are. Or you can bribe them to like you. Which hopefully means they won’t attack you. You can tell when they are thinking about it, by how they mass their armies near your border. You can hold it off for a while, I’ve found, but eventually they will declare war. But it can buy you time to arrange a defense.
We’ve seen some Minis have multiplayer modes where you pass the PSP around. This features that, you can play 6 of the scenarios that way, either against the other player or with co-op. If you don’t want to spend hours doing that, but want something quick, there is also a mode where you can fight tactical battles against each other.
For the most part, the user interface is extremely well done, if a little quirky in places. For instance, you move your army next to a city, rather than onto it, to move your units into it. Or if you order a city to repeat build a unit, you use the square button to cancel (drove me crazy until I figured it out, since it doesn’t appear to be explained anywhere).
The graphics are nicely drawn, but at the same time, very simple. Each culture looks the same in terms of cities, buildings and units, just a different color. There’s music, but no real sound effects that I really noticed.
While it’s certainly the most robust Mini by far in terms of depth and amount of gameplay, at the same time, I wish you could pick any side to play in each scenario. Sometimes you have a few choices, but mostly you are stuck with the same few. It would have been nice to be able to play some of the lesser cultures, like Cecil Terwilliger’s favorite, the Cappadocians, who appear in this as an AI culture.
City management is also a bit bland and repetitive. Civilization addressed this by adding an AI governor to handle it for you. And many Empire type games would add some slight variations to each city. Here, every city is the same, be it Troy or Jerusalem or Memphis or Babylon. As these are some of the most legendary cities of the world, you’d expect them to look a little bit different. Indeed, all the cultures are identical, the only real difference is the name and appearance of the great monument they can build.
Still, I think these things were probably aspects cut in order that this could be a Mini, as opposed to a full fledged and full priced title. So I can cut them a lot of slack in that area, along with the nonexistant animation of the units in combat.
If you like strategy games at all, this is a must buy. Twice I’ve played until my PSP’s battery ran out. The PSP isn’t exactly swarming with such games, but even if it were, it would still be worth a look. Hard core fans of the genre might find it somewhat simplistic, but the quick pace makes up for it. And casual fans might find some parts confusing, but in all it’s quite accessible.
It’s a harder sale if you don’t like such games. This probably won’t convince you that such things are fun, but it’s probably the cheapest way to give the genre a try.