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A New Take on Empire Building

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I've recently decided to back my first Kickstarter project.  When I saw an article on GIO a few weeks back about Jon Shafer's newest project called At the Gates, I immediately threw my support behind the effort.  You see, he was the lead designer of Civilization 5, the newest entry in my favorite long-running strategy series.  At the Gates isn't your typical empire-builder.  It takes place during the waning years of the Roman empire and, rather than play as the Romans, you take control of one of the eight barbarian tribes attempting to supplant them and become the new political power in Europe.

Presumably cover art for the recently announced boxed version of the game...

At the Gates is already fully funded.  Jon's small, three-man (or rather two-man, one woman) team had a modest goal of forty thousand dollars and they've already surpassed sixty which means several of their 'stretch' goals (including adding full-on map editor for example) have already been met.  Several innovations are being brought to the typical 4X game-plan and I'd like to go into several of them for the purposes of this blog. 

As of the time of this writing the 2-D sprites lack animation but it's still in pre-alpha so expect a less static appearance when it releases next summer (2014).

The first change-up to the formula is that you won't be playing as Rome even though it's set during it's decline.  You'll be choosing one of the upstart barbarian kingdoms to the north and the goal of the game will be the destruction of your decadent southern neighbor.  Through war, trade, and diplomacy it will be the players task to bring down the Romans while at the same time fending off the attempts of other tribes who are striving for the same thing.  Generally games in this time-frame focus on one of the major players of the time and it's refreshing to think of taking command of an upstart instead.

More concept art...

Another major change as compared to other strategy titles is the concept of 'dwindling resources'.  Iron mines will run out.  Fields that once supplied enormous food stores to your fledgling empire will fail.  Trade, supply-lines, and the mobility of a nation will be your biggest assets when taking the battle to your enemies.  A well-fed and well-supplied army can succeed against terrifying odds when the enemy troops are starving and/or poorly-equipped.  There will be times when it'll benefit the player to uproot entire settlements and move to different areas of the map to exploit newly found resources.  The purpose behind all of this is to remove the feeling of 'been there, done that' often found in these types of games.  In other titles the mid to late-game feels like a constant build to greatness which, while fun at times, can get a bit static with the early choices and constant expansion of the start of the game determining the course of the entire play-through.  Dwindling resources will attempt to add some much needed flair to the end-game by making late choices actually impact how you play.

Notice the differences between this screen and the one above...

The biggest change to the formula, and one that ties directly to the resource management mentioned earlier, is the effects of seasonal change to the landscape.  In At the Gates, time is always flowing like most strategy sims.  The team is attempting to bring another new idea to the table however, with terrain changes based on what season you're currently campaigning in.  As summer turns to fall your food stores better be full because that plantation you've parked a settlement next to will no longer be providing as much (if any) food to your population.  When fall turns to winter things get even hairier.  Imagine a wide river, too deep for crossing, divides your territory with that of a rival.  With a harsh enough winter it could freeze over, allowing you or your enemies to cross with ease and threaten a once-unassailable foreign city.  As winter turns to spring major flooding could occur, turning grasslands into marshes and swelling the banks of rivers and lakes surrounding your troops.  And, like all cycles, summer can come and blast areas of the map with so much heat that troops could find themselves stuck in arid, dry conditions which are certainly not the best for an extended campaign.  The team at Conifer studios is attempting something fresh and new with this concept and I'd like to thing that it'll allow for smart dictators to do some truly wicked things to their foes.

The same map shown from the perspective of both summer and winter...  Major planning will be needed to manage both resources and troop movements.

Long story short I've always been a sucker for strategy simulation-style games.  The original Civilization released when I was a freshman in high-school and I've been following it ever since.  While the fifth installment changed things up quite a bit I've learned to love it like all of the others and am eagerly awaiting the newest title from it's lead designer. Sid Meier is one of my gaming heroes and Jon trained and worked under him for several years, making At the Gates one of the forthcoming games I'm most eager to play. 

 Keep an eye on this group as I expect great things in the future from them all!

Anyone interested in joining the fun can click here to jump straight to their Kickstarter page.

It's hard to not feel a bit of ownership of a title you've backed and I hope this little blog helps spread awareness of the new ideas they're working on just a little more!

Thanks for reading Game Informer community!

Any feedback will be relayed to the team...

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