Developer: Crazy Monkey Studios
Price: $2.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.0
App Reviewed on: iPhone 4S

Graphics / Sound Rating: Rating: ★★★★½
Game Controls Rating: Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: Rating: ★★★★☆
Replay Value Rating: Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Before I write anything detailing what the heck Empire is, I need to say this: it’s a really weird game. Talking about it in more conventional ways or just describing how to play it undersells what it actually is. All of this is to say that Empire, in being a mash-up of popular mobile and indie game tropes and genres, is an experience that is more than the sum of its parts.

119107To describe Empire in a more clinical way, the game is a civilization management game with a card/deck-building component, turn-based strategy battle mechanics, and a focus on 4X objectives (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate). All of these components combine into a game in which failure is inevitable, and learning how to survive just a little bit longer is the driving force behind Empire‘s appeal (I guess this feature makes it a bit of a roguelike, too).

From the very beginning, the developers of Empire want to make it perfectly clear that players will never “win.” Empire is a game of standing in the face of overwhelming odds that no heroes, tactics, or singularly epic protagonist can overcome. Each game session is procedurally generated, with players establishing a settlement and then gathering resources, upgrading cities, exploring the land, and training an army. The army is necessary because there is an otherworldly army spreading blight and destruction across the land – an army that will eventually destroy everything.

To ensure survival for as long as possible, players must send their armies to enemy settlements and engage in turn-based combat to help stem the tide of annihilation. Much like the worlds of each level, combat randomly places armies, and players can manipulate units via a deck of cards. These cards are earned through player actions, city upgrades, and victory in combat.

106122In the face of inevitable defeat, players may not think there is much motivation to push on in subsequent play sessions of Empire, which is probably Empire‘s biggest drawback. This can be especially frustrating in games where players have barely squeaked by in a battle, only to be placed in such a weakened state that recovery is impossible and the only course of action is to press the “next week” button until becoming overwhelmed. Fortunately the developers have promised continued updates for the game, which include balance patches, a victory condition, and more.

All of these promised features don’t change the fact that the current version of Empire is a really tight amalgamation of a strategy game. It simply delivers on all fronts, and is as compelling as it is challenging; which is to say extremely. Best of all is that Empire manages to be all of the things it borrows from, and yet none of them at the same time.

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