Many strategy games fall into the trap of being too complicated. Players are presented with so many options - often through impenetrable menu trees - that they suffer information overload and simply give up. Other games make the opposite mistake: stripping away all complexity in an effort to make the game accessible to everyone. The result is an easy-to-play game but one which lacks replayability.
The best strategy games manage to combine ease-of-use with deep game-play. One game that achieves this balance perfectly is Civilisations War, a beautiful new Flash game that you can play in your browser for free. In this game, you assume the role of the commander of a tribe that is seeking to rediscover a magical power that was lost when an brilliant, ancient civilisation collapsed many aeons before.
The game is broken up into a series of levels. In each, you lead your army in battle against other tribes with the aim of conquering all the land in that level. Once you have finished one level, you move onto the next, upgrading your powers as you go if you are lucky enough to earn enough experience points. There are 99 levels in total.
The game play could not be simpler. You win a level by taking over all the buildings - including your enemies' bases. Each building you own generates a new tribe member every few seconds. Bigger buildings create new people quicker and are therefore vital to own if you want to progress. You take over your enemies' buildings simply by dragging minions from your own buildings to theirs. The aim is to overwhelm your enemy with force of numbers.
A similar game mechanic was used with no small success in Lionga Galaxy - an underrated space strategy game. But whereas Lionga features the basic graphics one would expect from an amateur Flash game, Civilisations War positively oozes quality. Graphically, it is a good as any Flash game I have seen, with the exception perhaps of masterpieces like Machinarium. The sprites for your tribe members are particularly well done.
The game is also blessed with great sound and lovely little touches - such as the bird of prey that flies over the map during the battles. The bird does not effect the game in any way. It is just there to add atmosphere.
But the thing about the game that impresses most is its ease of use. The game mechanic is so simple that you feel confortable with it from the word go. In less skilled hands, this simplicity might have resulted in a shallow game offering little challenge. But the developers of Civilisations War have managed to squeeze a lot of play out of this simple concept, not least by adding a magic system. Most levels contain crystals that provide you with the karma to unleash spells against your enemies. So you have to decide whether to focus on conquering buildings (which will give you more tribe members) or grabbing crystals to boost your magical powers.
There are also a variety of building types - defensive towers, for example, do not produce new tribesmen but they fire projectiles at enemies. The more people you have in a tower, the faster its shooting rate.
If that were not enough to spice up the game play, Civilisations War also allows you to complete each level on a variety of modes. Initially, you can only play on the easiest mode in which you can see how many enemies are in each building and you can see the movement of enemy tribesmen across the map. But once you have completed a level like this, you unlock new, tougher modes that reward you with more XP when you win. For example, there is a no-magic mode which, as you have probably guessed, does not allow you to use magic. Then, there is the extra strong enemy mode, where the enemies are twice as strong as usual. I will leave you to find out about the rest of the modes by playing the game.
These different modes greatly increase the replayability of the game. You can complete the game in one mode, and then try it again on a harder mode. Some modes indeed are only unlocked once you have finished the game at least once. Play Civilisations War here.