Sunday, October 29, 2006

The complete opposite to a blood-thirsty game

And so here's the second game I wanted to write about. It's a German one, actually, called "Anno 1701". Unlike "Jaws Unleashed" which is rightfully not for anybody under the age of 18 (that's the highest level anything can get in Germany), "Anno 1701" is free for everyone from 6 years onward. I'd say that a 6-year-old kid may find the game quite difficult, but I can go wrong about that.

"Anno 1701" is the third game in a series of games in which you have to build up a settlement. This seems to be what German game designers are best at, as the other widely known game from Germany is "Die Siedler" ("The Settlers" would be the best translation). In such games you have to build up a settlement by creating production chains. For example to get bread you need a few farms, a mill and a bakery. The game has been one people here in Germany have been waiting for a long time, especially since the second one of the series ("Anno 1503") had a lot of rather useless features and was hard to play.

"Anno 1701" is much better, it's easier to build up a working settlement with houses for the settlers and production chains than it has been before. You still get to build tools yourself quite early (that's important because you need tools as a material for all kinds of buildings and you don't get that many of them in the beginning), but a lot of the production chains have been made a bit easier. In addition the realistic, but rather useless idea of sending a scout on the islands to find out what to harvest or mine there (certain things like cocoa, tobacco or flowers are harvested while gold, iron, marble or clay are mined) has been cancelled. You only have to approach an island with your ship (and not even that if you play without the fog of war that's usually covering the parts of the map you have not been to) to get all necessary information.

The game looks extremely good, too, you only have to play the free demo to find out about that. If your computer is up to it, you can get very realistic oceans with waves slowly running up the beaches, the palm trees of the southern islands move in the breeze, the animals run around and feed - until you build up a hunter to get food, that is - and your settlers gather in the village square to buy stuff or chat, sometimes also to watch or meet a special guest. This isn't just so the designers can show off how good they are, though, but it's useful. You see, while playing a game like that you'll always have some times when you can't really do a thing, because you still lack enough building material to build the new marketplace or to build a harbour on another island to be able to farm for certain goods there (you have to do that sooner or later because you'll never find an island you can harvest everything from). With game graphics like those you can spent that time watching your settlers or your workers or - later in the game, once you've established trade routes - your ships zooming in and out of your harbour to deliver or pick up various goods.

You don't even have to wage war - though keeping a couple of warships is nevertheless wise because of the pirates - to win a game. You can train and command troops, but that's just secondary to your other tasks. Once you've got enough noblemen (and -women, of cause) in your settlement, you can gain independence from the queen and start your own empire. You can later on build an enormous palace if you want to, fill your main island with a teeming city holding over 100.000 people, make a lot of money or just become a master of trade. The game offers a lot of different goals you can either define at the beginning of a new game or just set up for yourself.

"Anno 1701" is the anti-thesis of everything computer game critics go on about. It's not violent, it makes you think about and calculate your actions (which island to build a harbour on first, strike that deal with the pirate or rather risk more of your ships being attacked?), it's very nice to look at and it's something you can spent a long time with before you might get bored.

No comments: