Strategy & War
Late in my childhood, but well pre-teen NBC aired Shogun, the miniseries. Itís nearly legendary in itís production values for the time, and for the sweeping romantic story, but thatís not what caught my eye. My European history education and mindset, with conventional metal-clad knights and standard pikeman infantry wasnít ready for Daimyo, and Shogun, and fusillades of Japanese archers, much less bamboo and leather armor or the much fancier militaria that it portrayed. Of course, now itís nearly 30 years later, and Japanese culture and themes, modern and ancient are more familiar- some may say ingrained. Inbound to us on or about the 12th of August is The Asian Dynasties, for Ensemble Studiosí Age of Empires III, giving modern strategy wargamers a taste for mixing European and Asian warfare styles.
As an interesting twist in the developmental tale, The Asian Dynasties wasnít developed by Ensemble studios themselves. Rather, Big Huge Games of Rise of Nations and xBox Live Catan fame took the helm for this expansion. Having an outside developer make an expansion pack for another development teamís game is normally the kiss of death for development, but Big Huge took to the challenge well. The Asian Dynasties expansion feels right for the series overall, thereís no major overarching game mechanism changes, thereís nothing jarring about the expansion that takes you out of gameplay, scratching your head at a design choice, so to that, I say huzzah!
Core gameplay is mostly unchanged. Make settlements, build up settlements, stomp whatever bad guy that you have to deal with into the dirt. Repeat as necessary. Four additional gameplay modes, fully backwards compatible with the ďbasicĒ game and the Warchiefs expansion have been added. Treaty adds a mandatory no-attack initial game, so no Zerg rushing here. Regicide brings back the Age of Empires II gametype where you need to protect your Regent unit at all costs. King of the Hill is always welcome in a game environment. In King of the Hill you must protect and defend one particular neutral fortress for a period of time thatís settable in the pre-game. Consider the fourth mode a bonus, as I feel significant balance issues exist with it- Treaty No-Blockade mode. Treaty No-Blockade mode works like treaty, but you canít blockade other peopleís ports. Some empires just donít care and arenít affected much by blockades, specifically ones from the Warchiefs expansion, and some empires are totally crippled by this. Play this fourth one at your own risk, if you need a balanced play environment.
With most wargame expansions come the joy of additional races or factions to play. The Asian Dynasties comes with three Ė Indian (not Native American Indian, this has been covered already), Chinese, and Japanese. With all things comes balance, so these have been balanced out fairly well against most of the other races. I felt like Japan had the most change in fundamental gameplay. Shrines are the key to Japan, rather than traditional resource gathering. The Chinese have monks, which are an amazingly powerful beginning game unit, and itís interesting to see a strategically built monastery convert European gunslingers and pirates to the Chinese cause. India gets a practical never ending stream of villagers from the act of shipping, plus some big damned elephants to wreak havoc with. Each race does have more to set it apart, but these are the big draws. I canít ruin all the surprises for you!