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Posted on Feb 3, 2011 in Electronic Games

Bronze – PC Game Review

By Jim Cobb

Bronze. PC Game.  Publisher: Shrapnel Games.  Developer: Dreamspike Studios. $29.95 (Digital Download).

Passed Inspection: Good research, great replay value through several modes and civilizations, simple mechanics.

Failed Basic: sub-standard graphics; lack of PBEM and Internet play.

Gamers usually think of wargames as functions of tactics and weapons. Such considerations are correct when dealing with conflicts that are well documented. However, earlier periods have to rely on anthropology and archaeology, and these are disciplines which have proven fairly difficult to convert into a game. Dreamspike Studios’ and Shrapnel Games’ Bronze shows how it can be done.


Tiles without Grout

Bronze is a tile-based strategic game showing the ebb and flow of empires in Mesopotamia during the Early, Middle, and Late Bronze Ages. The map shows the area from the Nile delta to the Taurus Mountains. On the strategic map, rivers, desert and mountains have a kind of 3D appearance. This map is divided into territories. The territories’ squares have symbols in the corners indicating the powers are in the area and how many “start” squares they have. The tactical map is made up of 9 by 8 squares. Terrain elements are typical of the strategic territories: hills, swamps, rivers, clear, desert. Deposits come in three flavors: copper, tin, and stone; qualities are shown by clicking on them. The terrain graphics seem a tad crude.

Tiles available for development are marked by bouncing daggers. Possible developments are farms, mining villages, ziggurats, armies, bridges, towns, places, trade outposts, citadels, and embassies. Again, the graphics could be better but are not displeasing.

Learning the game is simple with a fine series of tutorial scenarios. The twenty-page PDF manual is a helpful supplement.

Rocking the Cradle of Western Civilization

The game mechanics are simple; click on an available tile and left click through the possible buildings, then right click and the tile’s border becomes the player’s color. Actual play is cranked up to a very high level by clever variations on buildings. Every building requires money that is raised from farms and mining villages. Revenue can be enhanced by placing certain structures adjacent to hills, with stone providing two coins, copper three coins, and tin four. In later eras, trade outposts increase revenue along rivers.

Most structures have offensive functions. Ziggurats capture all adjacent fields while armies convert all enemy adjacent tiles. Towns grab adjacent neutral tiles while citadels defend all nearby friendly tiles. Palaces do all of the above and embassies force a truce between players. Bridges do what comes naturally. The spice of the matter comes in the fact that some tribes don’t have all buildings and the price of buildings differ between peoples. For instance, the Gutians don’t have ziggurats but get free armies. Therefore, players should watch opponents’ money balance and pattern of play, e.g. why did he play a farm when a ziggurat was possible?

Tactics is the usual balance between offense and defense. Since victory is a function of getting more tiles than the enemy, grabbing tiles is a no brainer. However, players are poor at first, forcing them to place single-tile revenue producing buildings. Yet, pushing toward enemy borders is also important to block him and gain room to expand. Once a perimeter is established, the decision to convert enemy tiles or fill in the hinterlands with structures that convert large numbers of neutral tiles can be made. The latter tactic can be a quick win if the borders are well defended.

These tactics play out in three modes: campaign; tournament; and survival. Campaigns are divided into three ages and have three different empires each. Players must conquer every territory in Mesopotamia before the age ends. By selecting territory wisely, players can get more start tiles by capturing easy areas around hard ones. Interesting archaeological information can be gained in the campaign introduction. At the hardest level, the AI is quite challenging.

Survival mode borders on spooky in that everything is thrown at the player without one whit of mercy; lose a game and start again at the bottom rung. Random maps pit players against twelve civilizations on random maps. The key is to win every match presented; a loss throws players back to the beginning. The AI is not restricted by historical bounds so anything goes. Emissaries can neutralize enemies before each round but their number is limited.

Custom map/tournament mode allows players to set up games for hot seat. While hot seat is fine, Bronze’s major failing is the lack of PBEM and Internet play. The game would be fantastic with multi-play.

Despite this noticeable failing, this game is not only a good beer-and-pretzel game but is challenging and yields insight into a fascinating period. Gamers should take a serious look at it while hoping for some graphic and multi-play enhancements.

Armchair General Score: 85%

About the Author

Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he deals with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online, Ganesquad and Gaming Chronicle.



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