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Mobile - Review: Egypt: Old Kingdom

#1
Review: Egypt: Old Kingdom

Ancient Egypt has always been a popular setting for games. It is hardly surprising, as with its distinctive art and lavish customs the Land of the Pharaohs is a rich source for game designers seeking inspiration. However, a quick look at the app store reveals that the most popular Egyptian-themed games devote themselves to matching tiles, playing slots or dressing-up princesses. Thankfully, Egypt: Old Kingdom takes a more scholarly approach. As an incarnation of the god Horus, your task is to work alongside the pharaohs in order to overcome the mighty Seth.

Seth is a bit of a pain and as the god of chaos, he is eager to unleash a catalogue of disasters upon the land. We begin our journey in Memphis, but this is Egypt, not Tennessee, so the job is to build pyramids rather than Graceland. However, it isn’t wise to attempt to run before we can walk like an Egyptian. The Old Kingdom was around for hundreds of years and before we can even think of building mysterious pyramidical buildings we will need to first establish our tribe.

Old Kingdom 4Initially, Egypt: Old Kingdom seems rather complex and intimidating; it feels like a crash course in ancient Egyptology. However, settle into the game’s steady flow, and it soon becomes clear that the game isn’t actually that daunting at all. The tutorial introduces you to the bare basics and then leaves you to discover the rest as you play, but that’s OK because the range of available options never becomes too intimidating. It turns out to be a Civilization-style game that does away with a lot of the micromanagement aspects and instead focuses on the deployment of your workers.

At the beginning of the game, the map is shrouded in fog and you will want to send out workers to explore new areas. When a worker is sent to a new region their choice of actions will be limited by geographical constraints. Hills are great for constructing barracks, new homes and numerous other types of buildings. Fertile floodplains will yield a choice of extra crops. Some areas will already have resources that you can gather or packs of wild beasts that you can either hunt or worship.

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Success depends on efficiently acquiring and managing supplies of the game’s six resources. Food enables you to feed and increase the size of your population; spend ten food and you will be able to place a new worker. The chief sources of food are cultivated fields and fish from regions near the Nile. Production points are mainly used for constructing new buildings; workshops will help you increase your production. Luxuries are usually acquired through trade; they keep your population happy and help pacify angry neighbours. The game’s abstract approach extends to military strength, which just like any other resource is represented by a single number. An effective way of improving your army is by building barracks. Culture points can be used to make new discoveries, with advancements following the usual technology tree approach. For instance, once you have established the local cults advancement, your people can then discover tomb building, which is a great way of improving favour with the gods. Favour points allow you to worship the various gods, each of whom will provide you with a time-limited bonus.

After a few turns, your people will stumble across other tribes. Now you will have the option to forge new friendships or make new enemies. Peaceful options include setting up a simple trade agreement and maybe greasing a few palms. Once relationships get really good you will be able to assimilate the people into your society. Aggressive options include subjugating a tribe in battle or launching a raid but remember that enemies have long memories and they can unite against you. Combat is very simple, just challenge a tribe and wait for five turns, then the army levels are compared. There are no differing units or tactics, but you can call upon the favours of some gods to enhance your combat abilities.

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It is odd that the version of the game available depends on your device. On Android, you can download the game for free. This lite version gives you the opportunity to dip your toe into the Nile by playing through the first 50 turns. If you want to see more then you will need to pay to open up the rest of the game. On iOS the lite version seems to have been replaced by a full version that requires a one-off payment.

In the full game, the number of options available is very impressive. Games can be set up that follow the course of history, or you can create your own history in the appropriately named sandbox mode. You can add more micromanagement elements, reduce the influence of the gods in various ways and make things even tougher by limiting your options to save progress. Conspiracy theorists may like to try a game in which the human race is enslaved by aliens, whilst B-movie buffs can create a game in which evil mummies are invading the world. The later options sound like fun additions, but they do cheapen the authenticity of the game. Otherwise, you have to admire the amount of background research that the developers have incorporated. The end result is a richly thematic game that is also educational in an entertaining way. There are even optional quizzes that test your new-found knowledge of all things Egyptian.

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Egypt: Old Kingdom has simple but still very thematic graphics. The easily identifiable icons ensure that the screen remains uncluttered whilst the neat animations show at a glance what each of your workers is up to. The full game lasts 300 turns, this seems like a lot, but as there isn’t that much micromanagement to worry about, you can often burn through turns at a rapid rate. Events drive the narrative forward; some of these will be small random incidents like an attack from a pack of hyenas. Others are based on specific historical happenings and the fallout of not dealing with these can be very harsh. Some may feel that the way that these scripted events push you in a certain direction make progress feel too linear. Others may find that the random events are too frustrating; an unexpected famine can really set your plans back. Sometimes these events can be mitigated, for instance, if you have the resources, you may be able to build damns before a flood hits and so avoid the loss of key buildings. Of course, you can always use the options to play a more open-ended game at the expense of historical flavour.

If you have even a passing interest in Egyptology then Egypt: Old Kingdom comes highly recommended. The streamlined civilisation building works well, although Civ veterans may find the range of control too limiting. The main choice appears to be between focusing on using military strength or diplomacy to bring the other tribes under Horus’s wing. With only six resources to worry about, it is easy to quickly assess how much you are producing and spending without the need for complicated menus. Furthermore, since the options in each region are limited by geographical constraints, the range of choices never becomes overwhelming. In fact, the exhaustive historical setting can make the game seem deeper and more complex than it actually is.

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