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Aevum Obscurum - Das Tausendburgenspiel (PC, Mac, Linux) Developed by Noble Master Games http://www.royalao.com System Requirements: Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X ver. 10.4.2+ running Java 1.5+ (Reviewed on Linux) Also can be ran using Java WebStart, presumably on any platform which supports it. Approximately 100MB of hard drive space free, with a little bit more needed for optionally downloaded maps. Version reviewed: 2.6.6 Full Membership subscription: 1 yr: $19.99 2 yr: $34.99 Full Disclosure: A 1-yr membership was provided for this review by Noble Master Games. (Thanks!) Aevum Obscurum - Das Tausendburgenspiel, which is also known as Royal AO, is a turn-based multiplayer strategy game where you take the role of a king ruling over one of many empires, and each empire jockeys for position in becoming the region\'s most powerful. This is your chance to rule through military conquest, diplomacy, and economic superiority!

What kind of game is this, and how does it play?

Aevum Obscurum is a turn-based, multiplayer strategy game, as mentioned earlier. It is somewhat Risk-like, in that you have armies in one territory attacking the armies in another. It all takes place on a 2D map, where you can see all territories owned by you and all the other player characters. There are also gray, or neutral, territories ripe for being picked off by nearby aggressive neighbors. As you start each turn, you are first shown what each player\'s visible moves for that turn have been. You are then shown the statistics of yourself and all other player characters. Statistics include Victory Points (which is a combination of provinces and ally provinces), Number of Provinces, Provinces Map, Economy percentage, and Morale. On every other turn, you also can set your empire\'s economy and tax rate, as well as collect said taxes on the off turns. Economy and taxes play a significant role in the strategy of this game. The economy percentage affects how much and how quickly each of your provinces grow. Basically, the amount of population in a province, and the economy of that province, directly affects how much potential tax money you can collect. The higher the economy, the faster the population grows, and eventually, the larger the potential income from them is. From what I can tell, what you invest into a province (it\'s done across the board, but all currently owned provinces are effected) stays with it even if it changes hands. The tax rate, between 0% and 100%, is how much of the people\'s income you take for your war effort. The lower the tax percentage, particularly below 10%, the higher your morale, which affects how many soldiers you can recruit (more on that later). Each point above 10% will tick your province\'s morale down by one point per percentage each turn, so it can drop quickly if you are not careful. If any province\'s morale drops below a certain point, then there is a chance to lose it and it will become neutral again.. so be careful and keep your people happy!

Each kingdom is led by a king. Protect your king! If he gets captured, you lose all available money except for five thousand gold, and lose what appears to be a random amount of provinces. The attacking army gets not only the provinces, but the money you had in the bank as well. If you take out a CPU opponent, you get not only their entire bankroll, but also their entire kingdom, which means all of their provinces. You can see why \'king snipes\' are good ideas, especially for CPU opponents. Interestingly, one time I had a large negative balance (difficult, but possible to do through over investing in your economy) and when my king was captured, I lost half of my empire (it was small as it was) but my balance was reset to positive five thousand! I wonder what happened to the capturing king\'s gold reserves... Military conquest is a fairly straightforward affair. The attacking kingdom allocates a certain number of troops from the current province to be moved into the defending province. If the attacking force is sufficiently large (after considering defensive bonuses, etc.) then the province changes hands after appropriate damage is dealt to the attacking force. If not, then the attack fails, and the size of both armies is reduced accordingly. There are several types of defensive bonuses. If the defending province is \'fortified\' (which costs money to do, but it\'s permanent as long as you control it) then the required attack force goes up by eighty percent. If there is a castle on the land (which is determined per map; you cannot build one) or if the king is living there, those also add bonuses. These, especially in tandem, can require the attacking force to be considerably larger to take over that land. All inland attacks can only be done to adjacent properties. If the attacking and defending lands are both on the sea, then you can attack others through the use of ships. Each ship costs two hundred and fifty gold, and holds one hundred soldiers. As soldiers themselves generally cost around one gold each to hire, it\'s a substantial (but probably fair) markup, though it definitely can get expensive fast for very large attack forces. Morale has a rather substantial effect on army size. Though mercenaries can always be hired (assuming the population supports it) up to five thousand per move, recruiting soldiers has no limit other than the surrounding population on the quantity recruited. If your morale is above 80%, you will generally receive more soldiers than gold pieces spent. For example, if your morale is >95% or so, you might get about 20% more soldiers for the cost. I will often recruit ten thousand gold pieces worth at a time, and I\'ll often get around twelve thousand soldiers for my money. This added value sure makes a very big difference when beefing up armies. The only real advantage of using mercenaries is that they are not effected by morale (which is good if you are in a bad place there) and they are available for immediate offensive use, instead of for offensive use on the next turn, though they can certainly defend this turn.

Economically, ships and troops have an upkeep cost. Though morale has a great effect on troop procurement, upkeep costs the same regardless. So, in addition to whatever your expenses are in economy, there is also significant expense in upkeep as armies grow. Therefore, it\'s important to keep expanding territory in order to keep feeding that tax machine to keep those troops going! You\'ll also often find that minimal (or even zero) troops on inside provinces that are in no fear of attack is a good idea for the bottom line. When playing against human opponents, diplomacy makes some things interesting. Some players are more accommodating to borders, while others are more aggressive. It\'s also interesting to see alliances take place. Sometimes early alliances are formed that make it so you don\'t have to worry about a border for a time. It also helps your victory points, in that you gain 35% of the provinces of your ally as victory points. There are also non-aggression pacts, which are somewhat like weaker forms of alliances that gain both parties 10%. When they are disbanded, you at least have a turn to protect your newly disputed border. You can also send messages to other players, which will be sent to them next turn. You can also choose to help your allies by sending money if so desired. There is built-in IRC-like chat, but I see it as being fairly unlikely you will find people online at the same time you are.

So how does multiplayer work?

A majority of multiplayer games are what they call \'Longhaul\' games. These games are such where each turn lasts anywhere from 8 to 336 hours apart. At first I wasn\'t sure how much I would like this, as some games I played literally lasted weeks. But I found it fun, interesting, and easy to integrate into my lifestyle. I will say this though - 8 hour turns are a bit too short, as I found myself staying up until 10:16 just so I didn\'t have to be up before 6:15 to get that nighttime turn in. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that there are at least fifty joinable games at any one time to play in, with almost four thousand different accounts as of the time of this writing. If you set up your profile the right way, you will get emails when games start, and also when the next turn is up. A few days into my first game the turn emails stopped coming.. I\'m not sure why. But other than that, it worked out pretty well. The only thing that took getting used to was the lack of instant gratification on seeing your opponents feel the wrath of your conquests. There are also \'Blitz Games\'. These are multiplayer games in the commonly expected sense, where you and your opponents immediately take their turns in order. Apparently this kind of game is not very popular, as I\'ve never seen one to join. I can understand why, as turns can take several minutes if you are careful, and with a lot of other players, well, I suggest having something else to do in the meantime. I imagine it would work well for small groups trying to get a quick game in over a lunch hour or something. There are also Tournament games. The play style seems to be similar to Longhaul games.. I have not joined one yet, but from the documentation it seems that depending on the game you can enter a sponsored tournament where there is no entry fee and the winner can win cash, prizes, or perhaps subscription time or other things. Games of skill like this could be interesting if intense competition is your thing. I do not know if the framework is in place for unsponsored tournaments. That could lead to somewhat of a gambling pot situation, but it is not appropriate to speculate when nothing like this appears to have happened. All multiplayer game data is sent over the internet. As a matter of fact, the game itself expects an internet connection to run properly, even for a single player game.

What kind of single player options are there?

Single player games are seriously limited. For non-paying users, there is only tutorial and demo mode, which puts you against a set number of computer opponents using the default Europe map only. If you want to practice more, a Campaign mode is provided for subscribers. This allows you to create a game using any parameters you like similar to a multiplayer game. The game style is like a Blitz game; you cannot exit the game or progress is lost, and it all happens quickly. It\'s good to learn how to play and try out ideas, but it\'s only rudimentally similar to the multiplayer games.

What does full, paid membership allow vs. a free account?

All players must create an account, unless all you want to do is play the tutorial and demo levels. Free players can join any non-tournament multiplayer \'Longhaul\' game. They cannot create any games, or play the practice Campaign mode. Full members can also create and manage clans, as well as join tournaments. They also get that warm and fuzzy feeling we all get when we support an independent game developer.

How are the graphics and sound?

The graphics are basic 2D images that are really very simple. There is nothing flashy going on here. Any battle animation is in your imagination. When an action happens, the originating province flashes, and if appropriate, a receiving province has an arrow pointed at it. One good thing is that the game is scalable to large or small resolutions (within reason). On my 1920x1200 laptop screen, I had no problem taking advantage of the extra screen space when maximizing or using full screen mode. Scrolling around on the map was not exceptionally smooth, though I\'m not sure if Linux video drivers are partly to blame for that. One minor glitch I noticed is that if you click on a province and the actions box pops up, you may need to scroll on the map to be able to see all the actions. It\'s really not a big deal. As for sound, there\'s a total of like three sounds in the whole game. There\'s the intro music theme which turns off when you leave the from page, and a few \'ba-boom\' sounds when attacking or something similar. It doesn\'t do much; its presence doesn\'t help or hinder the game any. You\'ll likely forget that there are sounds at all.

How is the stability or the interface?

I did not find any major bugs other than what was mentioned in the graphics section. In Linux at least, I had no problems with crashing, though that is as much Sun\'s fault for making a stable version of Java for Linux as it is Noble Master Games\'. Nevertheless, it worked fine. Also, the email bug I mentioned before is worth pointing out here: new game turn notices stopped coming after the first few turns for some reason. I checked my profile and I still had them enabled, so it might have been some kind of bug somewhere.

How appropriate for Christians is this game?

There is very little to complain about here. If tournaments ever start charging for admission and there is some kind of pot, that could be a problem for some in the future, but as of now nothing like that exists, and it\'s really not fair to Noble Master Games to speculate in this way anyhow. There is one little quip in the storyline advertisement that says: "Will the Papal States move from tending the kingdom of God to tending the kingdom of man?" It\'s clearly written (in context) to say that there are many different empires you can take the role of, including the Papal States. The main European backdrop is from about 1300AD, so this kind of makes sense. Nothing in the game ever rubs this kind of thinking in again. The logo for the game also has a skull in it. In this writer\'s opinion, there is nothing to worry about here, but it is our job to inform.

Overall/Conclusion

Aevum Obscurum is a game that, at first, I was not sure what to think, but it really grew on me. I\'m not a big fan of super-ultra complex strategy games, and I never thought I would like games that last weeks at a time. It turns out it\'s simpler than it looks, and that games with longer turn durations really allow me to fit them in while still having enough time for the rest of my life. It\'s fun, and I\'m sure I\'ll still play a game here and there for some time to come.

Final Ratings

Appropriateness Score: Violence 10/10 Language 10/10 Sexual Content/Nudity 10/10 Occult/Supernatural 9.5/10 Cultural/Moral/Ethical 9.5/10 Appropriateness Total: 49/50 Game Score: Game Play 15/20 Graphics 5/10 Sound/Music 3/10 Stability/Polish 4/5 Controls/Interface 4/5 Game Score Total: 31/50

Overall: 80/100

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Jason Gress

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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