Empire: Wargame of the Century (Second Review)

Title           Empire: Wargame of the Century (Second Review)
Game Type       Strategy
Company         Interstel
Release Year    1988
Players         1-3
Compatibility   OCS, Kickstart 1.2 or above, 68000-68060,
                screen can be promoted to gfx card
HD Installable  Yes
Features        supports play by e-mail, comes with a map editor
Submission      Thomas M. Beck, tbeck@BACon.de

'Empire - Wargame of the Century' by Interstel is one of my favorite turn
based strategy wargames on the Amiga. It is part of Interstel's Star Fleet
series of strategic simulations where the player takes the role of a
(would be) planetary conqueror, with air, sea and ground forces, and can
be joined by up to 2 other players.

The game starts with a simple intro picture of the colorful game box cover,
a commander holding his hands over an invasion scenario, accompanied by
a simple rendition of Edvard Grieg's 'Hall of the Mountain King'.
After that, a word has to be looked up from the thick 'Star Fleet Planetary
Task Force Command Manual' to proceed with the planetary landing. Besides
that, the game is pretty self-explanatory and you do not need to read the
complete manual.

When a new game is started, you are presented with some option screens
first. The number of players, the difficulty level and the map to play
can be configured here.

The planet or world map is organized in 60 rows by 100 columns and is
presented in top down view. It consists of land and sea squares with a
varying number of up to 99 cities sprinkled over the islands. The game
comes with some predefined maps and features a map editor with a random
map generator. So, the number of different maps that can be played is
almost unlimited.

Empire can be played by 1-3 players, and of those 2 can be controlled by
the computer. A computer player's skill can be set to normal or expert.
While Empire's computer AI is limited even on the expert level there are
two other options that can be adjusted to make the game unplayable. One is
the combat efficiency of the units and the other is the production
efficiency of the cities. Both can be set from 0-100% for all 3 players
separately. The default setting is 50% for all, and that gives a
difficulty rating of 50%. If production efficiency is decreased to 25%,
the cities of that player will produce new units at half the rate that the
cities of another player whose settings are 50%.

If combat efficiency is increased to 100%, the units of that player have
doubled their probability to score a hit on a unit of another player whose
settings are 50% only. Setting combat efficiency to 100% additionally
gives a big advantage if attacking cities. An army will always succeed in
capturing a neutral or enemy city then. When playing against computer
controlled players, the game becomes very difficult and long if the rating
exceeds 60%. My last game with a difficulty level of 62% percent took 660
game turns and about 60 hours playing time before the last of the two
computer controlled expert players surrendered. The chosen rating also
contributes to the statistics that are stored for all human commanders.
The commander history contains the overall rating of played games, the
number of played games and the number of wins and losses.

Finally, after you have chosen a map or have let the game pick a random
map for you the game begins. The player starts at a random position on
the map with one city producing armies. The map is covered in black and
only the 8 squares around the first city are visible. Even if a square is
uncovered once a unit moves to the adjacent square, it just gives a picture
of the time it was uncovered. Later in the game crucial squares have to be
monitored permanently by patrolling fighters, armies or ships to give an
accurate sight of the battle field.

After some time, depending on the chosen production efficiency, the first
army is built. If the production is not changed, it will take less time to
produce the next army in that city. The first army is used to scout the
island and attack the next city that is found. If it is a coastal city, it
has a port and ships can be built. The first coastal city conquered should
produce troop transports. The starting island usually has only 2-3 cities
on it, so a troop transport should be available early in the game to be
able to continue expansion. If I play with combat efficiency set to 100% I
switch production to transport in the first city as soon as the first army
is built.

Here is an overview of the units available in Empire. The values given in
brackets are movement per turn, hit points and production time for the
first unit for a 50% production efficiency setting.

In order of production time there are armies (1/1/6), fighters (5/1/12),
submarines (2/3/24), destroyers (3/3/24), troop transports (2/3/30),
cruisers (2/8/42), aircraft carriers (2/8/48) and battleships (2/12/60).

The army unit although week and slow is a very important unit in Empire.
It is the only unit that can attack and capture cities and besides the
submarine it can attack all other units in the game. An army attacking a
city either is destroyed if the attack is repulsed or if the attack
succeeds the army forms the new defending garrison that is no longer under
the player's control. Armies need troop transports to be transported to
other islands. A troop transport can carry up to 6 armies. If a transport
is damaged it can carry less units. If the transport was fully loaded with
armies when ist was damaged, excessive armies are automatically destroyed,

The fastest unit in Empire is the fighter. It can stay in the air for 4
game turns moving a maximum of 20 squares in that time. Therefore, it is
best used as a scouting unit to discover the next island and the location
of the cities on it. Later in the game fighters can be used to patrol the
sea in front of your cities, to intercept incoming enemy troop transports
before they unload their armies. Fighters can either take off and land in
cities or on aircraft carriers. Aircraft carriers can carry up to 8
fighters, unless they are damaged. Carriers and transports are not suited
to attack other ships despite their many hit points. They have only half
attack capability. The transport is even more vulnerable, like the
submarine, it has only half the standard defense capability. To compensate
that, the submarine scores 3 damage points per hit like the battleship.
Another advantage of the submarine is that it is invisible to all units
besides destroyers and cruisers. A submarine entering a sea square
adjacent to a city will become visible however.

Destroyers are the fastest ships. They can be used to explore the unknown
world, search submarines and sink transports. They should avoid combat
with all other ships.

Cruisers are the all-purpose ships in the game. They have the best
combination of production time, hit points and attack factor (2 damage
points per hit). They are capable of detecting subs and are able to attack
armies stationed on the coast. Attacking armies is a good job for cruisers
and battleships since armies have only half the defense factor if
bombarded. Cruisers can be used to attack all other ships besides an
undamaged battleship. They are good for leading convoys and escorting
transports and carriers. They only have to fear the most powerful ship in
the game, the battleship. With its superior attack capabilities of 3
damage points per hit and 12 hit points it can stand the attacks of many
fighters, armies and other ships. Unfortunately, it takes a very, very
long time to build.

If a ship has only half (or less) of its total hit points it slows down to
moving only 1 square per turn. If it is computer controlled, it stop
attacking armies or other ships. This is a good indicator how severely a
ship is damaged. Now, it is time for a chase to make an easy kill.

In phase 1 of the game you explore the world and try to conquer as many
cities as possible before you actually encounter the enemy.

Phase 2 starts when you encounter the enemy. Now, the exciting part
of the game begins. Have you built up production so much that you
can stand the enemy hordes and hold a stable front? If not, are you able
to delay his troops until your big ships back up your defending cities?
If you encounter the enemy very early in the game, by no means try to
throw all your forces against him. Keep back a small force to continue
expansion at another place in the world.

If all neutral cities that just defend and do not produce neutral units
are conquered, phase 3 of the game begins. The game action concentrates
at the front line. You have to defend against the massive enemy attacks
and at the same time you have to build up an invasion army. A good invasion
fleet would, for example, consist of a battleship and a cruiser leading
the convoy, two cruisers escorting the flanks and two fully loaded
transports in the middle. City based fighters can patrol the sea to
detect enemy ships.

Invasion gets more complicated if the enemy island you wish to conquer is
far away from your nearest island. In that case you have to build a
carrier to increase the fighter's range or you have to sacrifice them
sending them on a mission of no return. Unfortunately, the ideal invasion
fleet at that stage of the game is unlikely to exist, since you have not
got the time to wait until these ships, armies and fighters are built.

You have to find a compromise between time and speed. The sooner you
attack, the less defence you will encounter and the less enemy ships will
'pollute' the sea. So, pick a nearby enemy island as a target and 1 or 2
cruisers, a transport loaded with at least 4 armies and 2-4 fighters
should do the job. If the leading ship reaches the island, it clears the
coast around the target city of armies. The fighters do the same for the
land squares around the city that cannot be bombarded by ships. In the
same turn the transport will unload its armies directly in front of the
city. That means that the army unloads and attacks in the same game turn,
leaving the enemy no time to destroy the army before it reaches the city.
All enemy units that were in the city will be destroyed at once.

Now, you should think about fortifying the beach-head. The enemy will
switch production of the other cities on that island to armies soon. This
will happen either immediately, or after an almost complete ship or
fighter has been built. So be prepared for some massive counter attacks.

Possibly the best thing you can do is to move the damaged ships and at
least one cruiser or battleship of the invasion fleet into the new city.
Each game turn a ship stays in a city one point of damage is repaired if
it spends one of its two movement/action points for repair. The remaining
fighters and ships patrol the sea, so that no enemy transport can reach
the city unnoticed. The cruiser or battleship in the city defends against
the hopelessly inferior enemy armies. A computer controlled player is not
clever enough to intentionally attack with more than two armies in the
same game turn to force a withdrawal of the defending ship that can only
attack two armies per turn. The remaining armies also in the city just
wait for the next invasion or help out the defending ship in a critical

It is not advisable to move the armies over land to the next enemy coastal
city. Most of the time they will be defeated by enemy armies and
fighters. The new city should produce armies, fighters or cruisers. It
should produce armies if there is no way to get reinforcements from your
other islands. It should produce fighters to keep up the radar effect of
patrolling fighters to protect the ships in the city from incoming enemy
transports. It should produce cruisers to further build up the city's
defense and to build up the next invasion fleet.

If the next coastal city on the island is easily reachable by sea it is an
easy catch. Such a city is an even better target if it has not switched
production to army and still is building a big ship. By the way, the
production project of an enemy city can be discovered by a scouting

Another tactic is to move the invasion fleet to another island and just
hold the beach-head city on the first island. If you are able to conquer a
city on another island, the same will happen for the other enemy cities on
that island as before, sooner or later the production will switch to
building armies. Therefore, the enemy's production will suffer more than
had you just conquered another city on the first island.

If you can take some cities in that way without getting into trouble
somewhere else on your other islands, you are left in a very strong

Now comes the boring part. It can take hours and hours until you have
conquered about 80% of the cities and a computer player finally
surrenders. To speed up the game you can switch production of the cities
far away from the front to fighters. The game has a nice feature to
install flight paths between cities. A newly built fighter will fly to the
last city of a flight path automatically. Another good feature is, that
you do not have to enter every move for yourself. All units can be told to
move to a defined position. They will be moved automatically then. If they
encounter an enemy unit on their way control is transfered back to the
player. All orders that are given can be cleared at any time. So, a unit
told to do sentry duty or to patrol to position x can be interrupted and
given new orders.

If the computer wishes to surrender you can accept or continue until
he is totally crushed. I would accept, since it would take another
hour or two to capture the remaining cities. At the end of the game
you can view the enemy's game view and statistics and see where his
remaining troops are. So, there is no need to play until the bitter end.

Empire is a game with simple computer AI, simple graphics and even more
simple sounds, but hey, this is a very playable strategy game. With its
unique features like separate production and combat efficiency settings
for all players, reduced production time after the first unit is built,
flight paths, sentry, escort and patrol commands, units that can carry
other units, many combat affecting factors (hits to destroy, damage per
hit, attack factor, defense factor, combat efficiency), some units
cannot attack other units, some units cannot see other units, ...,

Empire was far ahead of its time and is highly still addictive today,
especially in two player mode. If you can buy it somewhere, by all means
get it.

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