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Grand Ages is the sequel to the similarly Roman themed city builder, 'Imperium Romanum'. Developers Haemimont Games have had a obviously had a good look at the successes and failures of that title and seem to have come up with a much better game this time around.
Management of your city residents has become a less cumbersome task this time around. Build an Insula (a sort of apartment block for the lowest class citizens) and it will get instantly populated, with its inhabitants starting work at the nearest unoccupied workplace within the new buildings range. Gone are the gender specific jobs and your citizens themselves are no longer individually selectable. It may seem a bit strange for a whole apartment block to work in the same place but it works well. You are still able to chuck the lower classes out of work in favour of Equites or Patricians who will do a better job, but of course you'll have to find somewhere else for the plebs to work to avoid civil unrest.
Fortunately the developers have seen fit to include much needed overlays in this version - allowing you to quickly see potential problems such as an Insula sitting just out of range of a required resource and hence slowly progressing to a stage where its residents will start torching buildings.
You need to be very efficient with your building tasks and make sure you keep your research powering on.
Combat is another thing that has had some attention paid to it, and has improved a fair bit. You can recruit many more types of soldier (once you've researched them in some cases) and you can train them up to a certain level before sending them into combat, where they will gain further experience if they can stay alive long enough. I still find building the basic troops a little odd - you can produce one straight away at your initial 'Outpost' building, but any more requires Equite houses to be built. This means that you have to have at least a reasonably functioning city established first since Equites require a better quality of life than plebs. Your troops also have an individual 'special attack' which once used needs to recharge before it can be used again. These attacks bring a nice mix to combat situations so that they're not just toe-to-toe hacking.
Each mission will have several goals, like build a certain number of houses, develop trade routes or defeat local barbarian armies. In addition to this some also have time limited goals with a nice bonus to be gained if you can manage it. I found these a bit too hard to do - you need to be very efficient with your building tasks and make sure you keep your research powering on. I'm sure that I could manage some of them, but after having a couple of goes at it, I found that I didn't really want to try the same level yet again, even for the additional gold / estates on offer for succeeding.
At the end of the mission you'll be able to spend funds on buying estates which can give you some nice bonuses such as +10 wood, additional slaves and so on. You'll also be able to 'improve' your character by spending talent points, enabling things like instant forum build, extra research points and lots of other treats. There are 45 such character enhancements, 15 in each category of: City, Military and Family. These new features are a nice enhancement to the game and give you something to think about before ploughing on to the next level. If your preference is for the battle scenarios you can choose to pick those upgrades, or you can opt for the more city-specific ones.
I still have problems locating my buildings as some have a pretty generic look, but the overlays certainly help a lot and in general you won't need to find specific buildings anyway. Exceptions to this are buildings like the School which represents your research hub where you will be able to develop new agricultural methods, soldiers and buildings, and the production buildings like farms and mines (which are clearly identifiable anyway) which you can upgrade with those technologies.
And that counts for my children as well, who have both played Grand Ages for far longer that the older game.
Multiplayer is also available in Grand Ages and although I didn't get a chance to get a game it seemed relatively pain free to set up. After a quick account set up you can go to a lobby and arrange games with other players. There was only one player in the lobby when I logged in and he informed me that he played two or three times a week. He also said that the game worked well online although suffered a little from lag when large armies were fighting. After a few minutes another player logged in and they quickly set up a game. If you're keen on multiplayer then its worth giving it a go, and hopefully there will be sufficient players to keep the online experience going.
Having played Imperium Romanum and now Grand Ages: Rome I can certainly say that I enjoyed the latter far more. And that counts for my children as well, who have both played Grand Ages for far longer that the older game. The numerous enhancements have made a huge difference and although some of the new features may not be quite so game changing as they first appear, I can certainly recommend this title to both newcomers and fans of the genre.
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