Expand your Age of Empires

by Alan Zisman (c) 1999. First published in Vancouver Computes, February 1999

Microsoft Rise of Rome: Age of Empires Expansion Pack
Microsoft Corporation

One of the best-selling games of 1997 was Microsoft?s Age of Empires. AoE offered another take on the Civilization-theme: start with a tribe of hunters and gatherers in the late Stone Age, and bring them forward into one of the classic ancient empires?Egypt, Sumeria, and so forth, beating off competition from neighboring cultures along the way.

This time around, rather than a completely new game, Microsoft is offering jaded Empire-builders an expansion pack: Rise of Rome. To play RoR, you need a copy of the original AoE?the new disk updates your pre-installed AoE version, and adds four new civilizations: Rome, Carthage, Palmyra, and Macedonia.

As in the original, you can start off with a few tribesman, and hopefully build your culture up to Roman splendor. Alternatively, you can pick one of the dozen or so new pre-built scenarios?for example, you can help Carthage?s Hannibal bring his elephant-equipped army over the Alps to invade Roman Italy. Or help Romans fight Romans, commanding Octavian?s army, trying to defeat the combined forces of Marc Antony and Cleopatra.

The new version adds new forces of ?historically correct carnage?: armoured elephants, camel riders, slingers, scythe chariots, and fire galleys to those of the original game, offering opportunities for new strategy and tactics. New buildings, offering Roman-looking architecture, culminating in the Coliseum. Larger than ever maps allow users to carry out campaigns that sweep the Mediterranean.

Like other real-time strategy games, this will only appeal to some game-players. (It would make an interesting thesis for some psychology grad student to correlate favorite games with personality types). It can be slow-going, especially in the early stages of moving out of the Stone Age. And when combat breaks out, your tiny soldiers fight the enemy. But you?re like a general in a real war?all you can do is outfit and position your troops to the best of your ability?what happens next is pretty much out of your control.

As a result, fans of arcade action, or close-up gore should look elsewhere. Instead, this sort of game rewards patience and planning. Of course, as in the real world, luck factors in as well. And it?s not just combat?building a successful ancient civilization also takes economic development (war elephants as well as soldiers have to eat, after all!), trading, and diplomacy.

Like the original version, RoR can be played by a single player, up against a combination of computer-run enemies, by multiple players using modem or local area network (a single copy can serve two players that way), or across the Internet (for example, at the Microsoft-run Internet Gaming Zone).

Check out the trial version at: www.microsoft.com/games/aoeexpansion.

Promised soon: AoE-II, taking the passage of history from the fall of Rome through the Middle Ages.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan