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Posted on Jul 11, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Great Invasions Review

By Larry Levandowski

Passed Inspection: Control of multiple nations. Exciting period of history. Role of religion well designed.

Failed Basic: Poor documentation, confusing interface, occasional lock-ups. Occasional helpless feeling

The Dark Ages is one of the most turbulent periods in the history of Western Civilization. In much of Europe, fragmented groups like the Saxons, Franks and Vandals, ruthlessly warred against their neighbors for the right to pick apart the last remnants of the Roman Empire. Because of the complex mix of warfare, religion and cultures, this period of history has not often been depicted in computer games. Undaunted, Philippe Thibault, the designer of the original Europa Universalis, goes where only a few have dared, by giving us Great Invasions, The Dark Ages, 350-1066AD, published by Strategy First. The game attempts to break new ground with its depiction of the complex strategic brawl that was Europe 1500 years ago. Unfortunately, the game’s rich historic depth is marred by poor documentation, technical problems, and a sometimes confusing interface.


While GI‘s Europa Universalis lineage is immediately obvious from the first few moments of game play, there are several innovations that make it stand out. The player starts by selecting not just one nation, but a group of several historic kingdoms or tribes, and is given the option to bid on more as the game progresses. This keeps the player in the game even while his individual nations rise and fall during the course of scenario. Another innovation is that each player also holds and plays a group of strategic cards. These cards depict events like bandit attacks, marriages, and dirty deeds such as poisoning your neighbor’s leaders. Also leading edge, is that the game allows the player to take over one of the major religions, and propagate the faith peacefully or by the sword.

Like its Europa Universalis brethren, the game plays in real time on a map of Europe, with each nation controlling one or more regions of the map. There are ten scenarios starting at various points during the era, and the shortest scenario lasts over 100 years of game-time. Even playing at a brisk pace, it can take almost an hour to get through a decade, so the full 350 – 1066AD scenario will require quite a time commitment.

The map interface has a military, economic, diplomatic and religious mode. In each mode, the map uses color codes and icons to display the attitude of the other nations to the players currently selected tribe. The player moves his or her armies, ships and missionaries to expand territory, strengthen the group of nations, and gather victory points. Scripted historical events such as massive rebellions upon the death of the Emperor Constantine, add to the rich period flavor of the game.

The player’s nations represent historic groups like the Alemanni, Jutes, Saxons, Franks, Ostragoths, or even the broken pieces of the Roman Empire. These groups go through a historic lifecycle of raiding tribe, barbarian tribe, kingdom and then empire. As the nations advance, they are allowed increasingly more options for the player to manipulate. As a barbarian tribe for example, there is very little the player can do. Taxes are not collected, and troops are raised automatically from nomadic tribes. The only effective strategy to advance is to make war on your neighbors. Empires at the end of the life cycle have many more options for the player, but the constant warfare from rebellions and barbarian invasions make these nations a challenge to manage.

Each of the games four modes are complex and interconnected. In the military mode, the player raises troops, and sets up the military forces necessary to attack or defend. There is an involved relationship between a player’s gold, and logistic points necessary to move and pay the troops. Barbarians need not worry about such matters, but the more sophisticated nations need to insure that the troops are well fed and happy. Diplomatic relations determine who your nation’s allies are and where they can move. Interestingly, it is possible for two or more of a player’s nations to actually be at war with one another. The economic mode allows the player to manage the growth of regions, and this in turn affects the number of troops the nation can raise and support.

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