Updated: February 1, 2010
Last time I was in the States, I entered one of the Fry's mega stores and headed directly for the Computer Games section, hoping to find some decent bargains. Indeed, one of the boxen seated on the shelf was 1701 A.D., including the Sunken Dragon expansion pack, for just USD14.99. Not the latest and greatest game, but I have never cared for game age. Needless to say, I bought the game, not really sure if it were going to pay off its very humble price. It did. 1701 A.D. proved to be a really lovely game. Hence, this review.
1701 A.D. (also known as Anno 1701) is a real-time economy strategy, focusing around naval settlement and culture class expansion of a small village somewhere in the New World, governed by you and sponsored by the Queen. Your task is seemingly simple - make your colony prosper. Well, it gets a little more complicated than that.
Your settlers are a demanding lot
Yes they are. The very first thing they'll want is community, so you'll have to build them a village center, where they can chitchat and trade goods. And once in a while, Guests of Honor will arrive, entertaining your folks or perchance helping your artisans. Bands, smiths, jewelers, peddlers, they might all come by.
While your villagers gossip, you will have to make sure they are properly clothed and fed, and this where it gets complicated. With no less than five levels of cultural advancement, from Pioneers to Aristocrats, you will have to work very hard to make their demands met. At first, you will manage along fine with basic goods, like fish, wood and wool. But then, you will have to start providing better and more exotic goods like rum, lamp oil or candies. Your people will ask for more and more as your city grows and flourishes. Very soon, you will have to meet some very obscure and exotic demands.
To make things worse, your island will provide only a limited subset of desired goods. You will have to expand. Send your scout ship into uncharted waters, looking for islands that could be inhabited. Once you find suitable ground for expansion, you will have to ferry basic goods over and build a warehouse at the far island, then establish a trade route, carrying either raw materials or final produce to your settlement.
|You will have to spread your base of operations across several islands, building rich industry centers there and then using a fleet of cargo ships to ferry the goods home.|
As the game progresses, you will discover that you will have to expand to as many as three or four different islands to meet all the demands of your people, with easily a dozen cargo ships working their away across the sea lanes. For instance, you may have clay pits or iron mines on your island, but fruit and tobacco will have to come from another piece of land. Whether you establish the workshops on the far islands is up to you.
Then, there's entertainment and education, plus research of technologies that should better your population, including maritime secrets, better weapons, medicines, spy skills, all of which are critical for the success, health and prosperity of your settlement.
And you're not alone ...
You share the world with other civilizations, including New World cultures, other European settlers, as greedy and aggressive as you, and roving bands of pirates led by Ramirez, who are after easy kills and lots of loots. To survive in this big, confusing world, you will have to trade with the other nations, fraternizing and insinuating your way into trade agreements and alliances. Your Queen will send you help when needed, but once you get on your feet, she will demand tribute in return. Ramirez might become your friend if you prove cruel and treacherous enough. Lastly, the Free Trader will offer lucrative business deals, which you will have to meet in time. Usually, the deals will include some kind of quest or help to one of his ships, in return for money and tools.
Without a strong focus on maritime activities, you cannot succeed in the game, no unless you play on the easiest level and disable all other nations. But with a map teeming with friends and foes, your navy will have to powerful and protect your colony from raiders. And you will need many cargo ships to maintain a steady and an increasingly difficult flow of goods to your burgeoning town.
Balance and patience are the key
|Trade is the key to your success. Without a powerful navy of galleons and cargo ships, you won't stand a chance.|
Playing 1701 A.D. as any other, typical strategy would be a grave mistake. You have to be slow and patient and make sure you do not rush into danger. The military aspect of the game is very underemphasized, save for some rather exciting and colorful naval combat. But there's nothing to keep your village from dying if you miscalculate the supply and demand. While you can tweak the taxing level, money will usually not be a problem. Your biggest concerns will be a smart distribution of roads, industries and warehouses, maintaining sufficient levels of goods inside them, expanding wisely without getting into war with other nations, and rationing the use of raw materials on your islands. Some of the goods will be of unlimited supply, but others will not.
Diplomacy is also very important. You should never cross the Queen. And you probably do not want to betray your neutral neighbors. With care and time, they might become valuable trade partners. You do not wish them as your enemies. Avoid Ramirez if you can, but if you fight him, be brutal and merciless. Don't let him recover once you send your fleet against his hideout.
In addition to being a very unique game, unlike most RTS titles, 1701 A.D. also comes with a superb set of graphics, including the magic Screenshot button. Hit Scroll Lock on the keyboard and the game will switch from its classic pseudo-3D view into a panoramic movie-style screenshot mode, allowing your take superb images of your play. You've seen a collection above, and here are some more:
A mighty fortress and some troops:
Fighting Ramirez to death - his:
From a hamlet to a majestic town
If you play it by the book, your little hole will grow into a fine city, with villas, fortresses, splendid cathedrals, and even a huge castle, with its own garden and maze, an envy of all the ladies in Europe. Once you get to the aristocrat level, you will be able to start building the palace, placing the individual bits any which way you like, so no two towns look alike.
A word of warning: Do not try to play the game like Caesar or maybe Age of Empires. There's no meaning to how you place your buildings. Road access is not important, except your industries, however proximity is important. Do not rush things, because you will overexpand too early, waste all your money and achieve nothing. Playing 1701 A.D. requires that you play in a centric fashion, on several islands at once. It's kind of a paradox, which makes this game so fun.
To win the game, you can play the campaign or set yourself a series of tasks in the single-player scenario mode. You can win by any number of means, with the best being winning Independence from the Queen, which requires that you defeat her navy, twice. Once you do this, she will grace your city with her presence and once she's gone, you'll have your independence, followed by some spectacular fireworks.
1701 A.D. is a striking, beautiful, compelling game with many unique features. It's slower than most RTS games, but it's also more complicated in a way. What makes it unique is the emphasis on trading for survival rather than profit, which is an unexpected twist, plus you must make some drastic non-linear decisions. The Soviet-style brute force buildup that works so well in many games like Red Alert or Warcraft will not help you at all.
You will have to manage economy, culture, politics, diplomacy, and naval trading, all finely balanced to your budget, tight time schedules and demands from the Queen. Throw in pretty graphics and the super-cool screenshot mode, and you're in for a tremendous treat. All combined, 1701 A.D. is a game you will spend many hours playing, until you feel the cramp in your muscles become unbearable.
If you have the chance to buy this game, do that. It's really nice.