There’s a nostalgia for playing Risk, sitting around the dining room table with some snacks and a drink, rolling dice, and pushing tiny plastic figures around the map as you try to box out Australia to get those bonus armies.
There’s a place for games that attempt to recreate that simple beer and pretzel-style game too, with many attempts to get it across on a screen. Often though, PC games add extra layers of complexity until you’re deep into complex simulation territory or at least a very long away from the simple fun of Risk around the dining room table.
Age of Conquest IV (referred to hereafter as AOC) attempts to deliver a simple, fun, and approachable game of strategy and “world domination” on the PC, mobile, and tablets. The game’s roots as a built-for-mobile property instead shine through in its appearance and cost structure, though.
AOC allows players to play a game of area conquest and empire building across almost any map and in any time period, though I will come back to that point later on. AOC is a simultaneous turn-based game, whereby players plot their moves, and then they are executed at once. This does mean the wait for your turn is far shorter and also sees some exciting intersections and meeting points between rival powers.
Typically, players start off with just one territory on the map and around a hundred “soldiers” which will allow them to expand out and gain more territory. You’ll want to grab up as much free real estate as you can because, before long, you’ll need to compete with other players which gets costly quickly!
Depending on the scenario and the settings, you’ll have access to a limited selection of other valuable units, such as boats to allow you to hop across the sea or a “King” who will boost your troops, though his death will result in defeat for your faction.
There’s a suite of options that can be switched on or off at the start of the game to suit the time period, scenario, or whims of the players. Speaking of players, you can play against the computer, online, or hotseat against pretty much as many people as you like, though it can take a while to find enough players for a fully multiplayer game in some scenarios.
The game features a simple tutorial that takes the player through how to give orders to their armies, how to build new armies and how to manage their kingdom. War is very simple, whoever has the most troops in a territory will win!
There’s also diplomacy available to you so that you needn’t fight all comers. This gives you and your allies a chance to move troops from mutual borders to take on your less cooperative neighbors.
The game also models individual province population, happiness, and taxes, though don’t fret, it’s very simple. Unhappy provinces can be made happier by lowering taxes.
Graphically, AOC is nothing to write home about, with simple pixel graphics that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a 16-bit console. The game’s default settings were relatively small for my tastes but its fairly straightforward to tell what is in which space and who controls what territory.
The game’s sound effects, such as they are, are utilitarian and will do though you may well find yourself muting them after a while and putting some music or a podcast on.
Gameplay-wise, AOC offers a simple strategy game that essentially boils down to “map painting” as you try to take over as much territory as you can and keep your borders safe from your rivals. There are not a lot of nuances but turns are fast and games end quickly.
The game is free to download, though it only comes with one scenario. You can grind games to unlock more scenarios or pay to download a wealth of scenarios and a very robust data editor that will allow you to build your own maps and scenarios.
I dabbled with the editor a fair bit and found myself immensely enjoying building straightforward and then less simple scenarios. In basic terms, the game really can handle any map, but there’s definitely a caveat around whether it can handle any scenario or time period.
The game is very binary: you win or lose, and you are enemies or allies. There’s no nuance, no critical construction depots, and no naturally rebellious regions, all armies are equal if they are the same size. There’s no real tech advantage, everyone is equal which means default scenarios aren’t very historical.
Armies only move one province at a time, too, meaning the game models a slower form of warfare. There’s no strategic movement either, so you can’t accurately model modern-day warfare as it’s hard to believe that these are “straight leg” battalions marching across Europe or the Middle-East!
Still, if you can look past this and want a “beer and pretzels” wargame to play for a short spell every now and again or for a fun, quick hotseat game, then AOC may be what you’re looking for. As you can try the game out free of charge, there’s no real risk beyond the time sink.
There are some wrinkles with AOC. The UI is small, hard to understand at times, and not exactly straightforward. Whilst most information you want is never more than two clicks away, it can be a bit of a struggle to dig things up.
The small size of the game, likely because of its roots as a made-for-mobile game, can get quite tricky at times too, especially if you don’t have superb eyesight!
The AI is fine, but very predictable. The game is far better played against human opponents. There seems to be an increasing number of players playing the game but there were issues with players dropping out without taking their turn in the multiplayer games I started, which I guess is a problem in any turn-based online multiplayer game.
As for whether the game is paying to get the rather good scenario editor, your mileage may vary. The game’s lack of depth is a bit off-putting for long-term play, but if you’ve got a few people you want a quick, simple game to play while you wait for a work call or everyone to log in for a game of Squad or Hell Let Loose.
Pleasingly, there are no microtransactions or anything like that in-game, so essentially, if you do purchase the DLC and scenario editor, you have everything that there is with the game. The player community has set up a lot of new scenarios already, ranging from the colonization of Africa and the Americas to Ancient Rome and all the way up to modern Europe, though, as mentioned above, the contemporary stuff does struggle a bit to represent the sort of warfare into the Industrial era properly.