Great Invasions Review (PC)

The period between the fall of the western Roman Empire early in the fifth century and the first crusade 500 years later as come to be referred to in history as the dark ages. Over the centuries nomadic tribals from Asia and Northern Europe had been relentlessly advancing on the west. In the south a new religion was emerging, and a new dynamic force called Islam was sweeping the old world aside as it advanced everywhere. Players can attempt to recreate this age of change and upheaval in Great invasions.

View the terrain

Check status

Great Invasions in the latest offering from the designer of the highly acclaimed Europa Universalis board game, Philippe Thibaut. In this real time strategy game, players control groups of nations as opposed to a single power. This takes some getting used too, as you may be commanding the fate of up to ten different nations at a time. From the invading barbarians to the Byzantine Empire and beyond, the entire scope of this period is included in this offering.

This time period is exceedingly difficult to simulate simply because there was no real stability in it. The only Empire to remain from beginning to end was the Byzantine Empire, and this changed dramatically from the 5th century when the Byzantines were dominant to the 11th century when they were barely hanging on. Nations one after the other sprung up and vanished, be they Goth or Visigoth, or any of the other barbarian tribes which seemed to appear and vanish with no rhyme or reason.

The Game map is all of Europe as as the North African coast and the Levant, and players must accumulate victory points in their quest to become the dominant empires of the period. The map is sub divided into provinces that are rated for attrition, weather effects, raw materials and a number of other factors. The map has a number of modes for viewing that include military, economic and so on to help players determined their course of action in the quest to earn victory points.

Make battle plans

Dominate the Dark Ages

The amount of detail in this game is amazing as players can keep track of a huge number of variables. Through a series of subscreens, and also viewable through tool tips with your mouse are the status of each province you control. Even so, the basic concepts are not to difficult once you get the hang of what you are supposed to be doing. A number of things are rather simple like trade for example. You will receive periodic messages with trade offers to accept or deny. There isn't a lot of diplomatic actions, after all this was an age of barbarian tribes.

The nations of the game are given something of a national identify through the troop types they control. Players will see different types of horse soldiers and infantry, powerful Muslim cavalry as well as Viking berserker. There is no research as such in the game, this being the Dark Ages after all. You pretty much have the same units and capabilities while a particular empire is alive and the idea is to try and keep them alive, a daunting task.

Another interesting idea seen in this game is the status and age idea. Each particular group is either a bunch of Barbarians, a Kingdom or they are en Empire. Player options for a group fit their current status, Barbarians want to pillage and make war, and will want to until they settle down and form a Kingdom. Once this happens they have an economy and some diplomatic activity. Once a group receives Imperial dignity they will control many provinces and have more complex operations. A number from one to 12 determines a nation's age, as nations grow older they get stronger, but after a time they grow weaker, so age is not a good thing in the long run.

There is a religious subtext as the four major faiths of the time are represented. There is Catholic and Orthodox Christians and Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Players have missionaries to convert the heathen, as well as guard against heresy. There is also the ability to build religious structures such as churches and mosques in the provinces to keep the people happy. Converting people and keeping the faith goes a long way to making them remain loyal, and is a real help in this game.

The game screens and graphics are rather pedestrian in this design, good enough for what they need to do but nothing spectacular. There are some animations to show movement and weather as well as ships moving at sea, but it isn't much. The sound quality is good, with suitable music provided for the time period. The game interfaces are a little tricky, but once you get used to them they are rather easy to use.

Overall this is a solid effort form a veteran game designer. The game is extremely complex and may  overwhelm the timid, but if you want some good barbarian fun, don't hesitate to give this a try.