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Occasionally a video game will come along that does something entirely unique and different. Sometimes these are art games and other times they bring fresh new mechanics. iOS is a great place for these as it has a low barrier of entry, typified in games like Year Walk [$3.99], Sword and Sworcery [$4.99], and others. Empire [$2.99] is one of those games. It is pushing boundaries by combining two different genres: 4X (think Civilazation) and rogue-likes. What emerges is an experience entirely its own.

So far Empire seems hurt by some very bad marketing. It is a called a 4X, deck building game, and while those are mechanics used in the game, it is truly a finite survival game (rogue-like) . Each play-through you will try to hold out as long as possible but ultimately you will fail.

In the quick tutorial you learn that you are part of struggling empire. Only a few cities remain and they are one by one being swallowed up by something corrupting the land called the desolation. Represented by purple squiggly weeds on the game map, it is constantly growing. If it grows to much it will become a monster nest which can either be attacked or will occasionally launch attacks on your cities.

screen1136x1136-84Like the classic Civilazation you will found new cities, harvest resources from the land, and use those resources to raise armies to defend yourself and stage offensives. Within each city you can add up to three upgrades. The 4X-ness then shifts. You can only have three cities and they slowly deplete the resources around them so you will have to abandon one city and find another. It is a cool mechanic but may be annoying if you were planning on really founding an empire.

Combat in the game is a mix of deck building and lane positioning. Your forces start on the board in random positions and each turn will move one step closer to the enemy. Using the cards in your deck you can move your forces to new locations or slow the enemy. The cards you put in your deck will determine your options allowing you get avoid enemy archers or get the first swing on the enemy. While it is stressful and sometimes random, I really enjoyed the combat. The deck building choices you make will determine your typical strategy. My favorite I call “ The Enemy’s Gate is Down” (to borrow from Ender’s Game) where I push all my units to one side and then try to dodge all enemies and just head for their side of the board where I can damage their camp and win. It is hard work, but you these earned strategies are rewarding.

On top of these new mechanics is an interesting art style, positioning itself as a fantasy universe you can’t quite pinpoint. The effect of seeing the board slowly consumed by desolation, as things get more and more dire, is very powerful. It maybe a generic style is some senses but I think it changes enough to feel different.

If you are expecting a streamlined version of Civilization, this is not it. Empire is a rogue-like that uses the 4X genre as its base. I enjoy it for what it is, an experience that is both singular and innovative. Seriously, if you like strategy games, this is not one to be missed.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Frank Hopewell-Smith

    Any chance of an android version?

  • torm3ntin

    I'm in love with this game. The more it spanks me, the more i play. I'm a long way from a good score but my empire shall resist. or not...

  • https://www.facebook.com/DigitalDistillery Scot Damn

    This was an excellent game, until it was solved. Now it can be exploited over and over which makes it WAY less fun. Tis a shame.

    • RellekWVU

      Care to elaborate?

      • http://rekzkarz.com/ REkzkaRZ

        Yeah, that's hard ... "Now that I've mastered it, it's simple" but then not even a touch on the spoiler?!?!?

      • https://www.facebook.com/DigitalDistillery Scot Damn

        I'd hate to put said strategy in comments of the game review. Check out the thread in this forum though. Theres a link to the exploiting strategy.

      • https://www.facebook.com/DigitalDistillery Scot Damn

        Sure! Naschfischer has provided a link to this issue. This is taken from the dev blog about the upcoming update:

        "I keep in close contact with our best players, like Mercviper, who got a whopping 559 points within the first couple days. Guys like him have been interacting with us on the forums and letting me know about the balance exploits they’ve discovered. Part of this stage of development is a bit of a special “whack-a-mole” game where we try to knock down every overpowered strategy, without harming the ability for players to make interesting, dynamic, creative decisions."

  • http://nachtfischer.wordpress.com/ Nachtfischer

    I still wonder why anything with permadeath and randomly generated levels is considered a "roguelike" these days, when it's not like Rogue at all. Anyways, it's a GREAT game!

    There are interesting decisions to make all the time. It's something genuinely new and definitely fills a need in the gaming world for a quick and efficient 4X-game. It basically throws out the dragging end-games, the often dicey and uninteresting combat systems and focuses on the constant tension usually present in the early to mid-games. The deck-building combat feels great, too. It's so much more rewarding (to me at least) to receive a "meteor" card after winning a tense tactical battle against a horde of monsters than getting a "+293 more damage" sword or a cryptic "+10 % attack". Empire opens up new tactical options all the time. But your deck also becomes less efficient and less focusedover time (just as decadence may rise in a growing empire). But then again, you can take counter-measures to that (by "purging" your deck).

    Don't try too hard to compare Empire to games you know. It's something totally new. There is obviously some conceptual overlap with the 4X genre in general, but it does so many things almost the opposite way (mainly broken genre tropes, that it fixes), it's pretty amazing.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      It's mostly to fish out people who like arguing what roguelikes are in comments.

      • shaver

        MY ASCII ART!!!@!!

      • http://nachtfischer.wordpress.com/ Nachtfischer

        Sure, definitions are nothing but dust. But using the term for anything doesn't help either. If Empire is a roguelike, then Tetris has always been one. Okay!

      • http://rekzkarz.com/ REkzkaRZ

        Actually, blaming commenters on disputing bad reviews calling something a 'roguelike' is completely backwards.

        Why not require reviewers to use common sense and logic? TA reviewers tend to call games rogue-likes, or 'have rpg elements', when they are really neither. It's a trap -- to pidgeon-hole a game into something we all know, but actually what the review does is mis-catagorize and then the reviewer gets upset when people call them out.

        If it ain't a rogue-like, ie you aren't in some way a 'rogue' character running around hacking & slashing your way thru something ... then it ain't a rogue-like!

        "Perma-Death" is not a rogue-like...

        Oh damnit, you fished me out, didn't you? heh heh

    • anabolicMike

      It's not a roguelike. Well I guess it could be a roguelike in the same way a Ford is a Mercedes.

  • dancj

    "It's hard work, but you these earned strategies are rewarding"

    Erm... What?

    • gmattergames

      Agreed, review would have benefited from a proof read.

  • shaver

    This has to be the worst-written/edited thing I've ever seen on TA. "Civilization" shouldn't be a challenge for a writer. :-/

    • cofunguy

      Agreed. If one cannot ell, get a good spell checker!!

      • Frogshackle

        "Agreed. If one cannot ell, get a good spell checker!!"

        Yes, I agree that those who cannot ell should use a good irony checker!!

    • anabolicMike

      Yeah that bugged me too

  • Josue Feliciano

    I am loving this game. I don't know if it'll have the legs to keep me entertained for the long run, but I've already well gotten my 3 bucks worth.

  • Damian Lillard

    I'm looking forward to playing this game! I'm enamored by deck building/ strategy games, and this seems right up my alley. I've never before played Civilization, however I've always heard excellent things about it.

EMPIRE: The Deck Building Strategy Game Reviewed by Brad Cummings on . Rating: 4