Bronze Review

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Bronze Publisher: Shrapnel Games
Developer: Dreamspike Studios


Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium-class processor or better, 128 MB RAM, DirectX 8.0 or higher, 140 MB HD space, Windows XP or more recent operating system

Ancient Mesopotamia was a land of contrasts, with the fertile lands around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers providing a rich bounty while nearby harsh terrain could be as deadly and barren as the Fertile Crescent was rich. Bronze has players taking on the role of different Mesopotamian civilizations in an effort to colonize the land, conquering or assimilating those who resist.

Rating:
Kyle Ackerman


How many times has Mesopotamia been conquered? Ten, over the course of the last week, a few minutes at a time (at least by me). Bronze is an elegant turn-based strategy game, falling somewhere in between classic board games like Reversi and the high-concept German games that dominate the board game market today. What Bronze lacks in polished production elements, it more than makes up for with straightforward rules that are easy to learn yet harbor enough complexity to invite seemingly endless play.

Initially, Bronze is extremely intuitive. Maps are eight-by-eight grids, and each space has one of nine terrain types. For the most part, these break down to various types of open land (ranging from arable land to inhospitable desert), or impassible mountains (that can be mined for resources and water). Each of the twelve civilizations can place up to 10 different types of tile on these spaces. These tiles can provide resources with which to build (farms to mining camps), claim swaths of land with towns, capture tiles owned by another civilization, using armies and palaces, or even protect other structures from capture, using citadels. That creates a basic-seeming game, in which up to four players take turn placing tiles to see who can capture the most territory.

Things get interesting as you discover that different civilizations have different strengths. Each construction has a baseline cost. For example, farms are open spaces that generate one resource for most civilizations. For the Egyptians, those farms generate two, yet Egypt has weaknesses to offset this. The Sumerians will convert swaths of farmland by constructing inexpensive ziggurats; the Elamites are superior miners; and while most civilizations pay to construct citadels that protect nearby resources, the Kassites receive resources from littering the landscape with citadels. Still other civilizations prefer to erect embassies to ensure peace (so that their tiles cannot be converted) or build trade outposts along rivers to generate resources.

This gives each civilization a very distinct style and feel, despite similar maps and playable tiles. Rather than focusing on the obvious strategic choke-points on the terrain, it pays to learn your civilization's strengths and balance resource acquisition with aggressive expansion, lest another civilization build palaces deep within your territory and turn massive expansion into defeat.

To keep things more interesting, Bronze offers ten campaigns of various difficulties. These are all played on an overarching map of the areas near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Typically, civilizations start in different corners of each map, but maps can be made easier to win by conquering nearby territories, thereby gaining more starting corners and eliminating the competition. Some maps start off as virtually unwinnable, but become simple after conquering nearby territories. Difficulty also depends on the civilization, as a map that is easy for accomplished miners may be hopeless for a civilization that depends on rivers for trade. Each time you attempt to conquer a map, time passes, and your civilization is evaluated at the end of a campaign based on the amount of time that passes before the Bronze Age is over. Easier campaign difficulty levels just give you more tries to conquer the map.

I really enjoyed the game, and couldn't escape the pleasant feeling that I should be holding stylized cardboard tiles and conquering a box full of maps from the Fertile Crescent. That said, Bronze absolutely should be played on the computer, as it automates the otherwise cumbersome tracking of resources and various civilizations' construction costs. Furthermore, while the strategy is just as good with the sound turned off, the soundtrack is excellent.

I won't critique Bronze's historical basis beyond saying that its reliance on the outdated stone-, bronze- and iron-age chronology is unnecessary, given the simple power of the title and the subject matter. The graphics, while passable, are disappointing. Bronze would have been better served by simpler, more stylized and evocative graphics for the terrain and buildings. The art for the various civilizations is gorgeous, but lower resolution, simpler graphics with brighter contrast would have served the game well.

The campaigns in Bronze are an interesting introduction, but the meat of the game is in the configurable games that support up to four players taking turns hotseat-style (any of whom can be substituted for by an AI). Human players are the ultimate competition in this game, if you can find friends to sit around the screen with you, and are very much necessary to extend the life of this game beyond playing each campaign once.

There is also a "survival" mode that is an entertaining form of solitaire. It pits players against an onslaught of random maps with different civilizations. I found it a welcome diversion, but once you've conquered the AI, these maps are either winnable or near-impossible, depending on the randomization. They are, however, exceptional training for play against other humans.

Certainly, try the demo, to see for yourself the elegant design that underlies Bronze. If that's compelling, the game offers a deep strategic experience once you peel away some minor rough edges.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on November 8, 2010 8:32 PM.

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