1503 A.D. - The New World

By Scott Parrino 30 May 2003 0


Gamers sing "Hosannas" to the great concept, originality. Originality is, indeed, a good thing but comes at a price. New systems will have technical and gameplay bugs; learning curves go ballistic. More importantly, gamers often find that, after the first blush, the originality didn't produce a good game. Sometimes, a game that amalgamates several tested and true concepts delivers an experience that is at once comfortable and yet new. With 1503 A.D. Max Design, Sunflowers and Electronic Arts borrows from the Sierra city-building games, trading games such as The Merchant Prince and Patrician II, and Microsoft's Age of? series to create a continuous time game that starts out feeling comfortable as an old slipper but tends to become threadbare after a while.

"?Dragging My Canoe Behind Me"

1503 A.D. takes place on a 16th century-like world of islands with climates ranging from tropical to tundra. This game is not a recreation of the colonization of the New World. Although weapons, buildings, ships and products are authentic, no references to historical entities, events or trends exist. The game is about enriching the player while dealing with neighbors in one way or another. Trade, crude diplomacy, exploration, research and resource development to cultivate a populace are the tools of the game, but no national or philosophical angles figure into the equation. If ever an abstract historical game existed, 1503 A.D. is it. The challenge is not so much beating the computer or being more British than the British as it is gaining the highest score. Since no multiplayer modes are present, players compete against themselves in either timed missions or continuous "sandbox" games. Variation comes primarily from the timed missions where players are thrown into a situation where they most "beat" the clock" to meet a goal.

A fledgling village is seen fromed the zoomed out view.

Pioneer villages are crude. The info screen to the right shows their needs and the levels being met.

Installation and Documentation

The install wizard works very well in getting all 930 MB from the installation disk onto gamers' hard disk. A numeric code taken from the CD case must be entered once per installation. A second CD is used to load the game. Most notable is the length of time scenarios take to load. With a 1.2 GHz chip, load time is around two minutes, tolerable but longer than most games.

Learning the game takes three sources: the 42-page manual in the all-too-common glossy gray-on-gray format, three tutorial scenarios that teach basic mechanics and a highly detailed, hyper-linked on-screen help function. Additionally, an optional pop-up notification screen informs the player when certain things are not optional and when important events occur. All these things do not fill the important lacunae in documentation about important gameplay factors. How much knowledge can a school produce at a given level? What is the storage capacity of buildings? Is more than one main market place necessary or even beneficial? What are the advantages of different kinds or roads? None of these questions are answered in any documentation. Answers to questions like these and winning strategies come only from either many long hours of play or some serious forum surfing.

Settler towns are much prettier but demand more.

A well-developed city can be awesome.



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