Old World (pka Ten Crowns) from Soren Johnson

Here’s a t-shirt for my approach to Old World:

No man, I must manage the flow! If I don’t manage the flow precisely, it might flow wrong! And that would be bad!

Be advised that you dudes should be happy that your unique brains are not unique in the way mine is.

Yep. There are a lot of micromanagey decisions, and some of them are additionally unnecessarily fiddly - particularly territory development. Yes, it feels very clever to build granaries next to a developed food resource to get lots of popgrowth, but does it add much to the game? Or the urban area expansion rules - and all the exceptions to them! Very fiddly. Or every military unit having subtly different advancements and leader abilities that need to be taken into account - again, fiddly.

This is not my biggest issue with the game however - you can always turn the difficulty down a notch and try not to sweat the small stuff. My real problem is the way I play it seems almost never attractive to go to war with the other nations. You might be forced into a war, but you rarely will want one. I’m sure there are good warmonger strategies, but the AI seems much stronger at building its military and expanding than building economy and tech, so as long as you can expand well early on you don’t need a war - and if you cant expand well early on youve got an even steeper mountain to climb.

Old World is so good if you just let workers, cities and tech build what the game suggests, and enjoy the events, family management and ambition goals. Play a bunch of games that way (they’re short) and absorb the game design details over time as your curiosity leads you.

The problem with Old World is that while it’s possible to min/max the decisions, it’s almost never necessary to. Sure, you can get extra resources if you place X next to Y, but the solution is usually to just build more quarries (and mines, and lumbermills). Now, full disclosure, I’m working my way up the difficulty tree, and I only started my first game on Noble this morning. And it’s definitely more challenging. So I could be wrong.

I also seem to be always at war. First with the barbarians, then with the tribes. If the game goes long enough, with the other civs. So I do like that the orders system forces you to choose between warmaking and building your economy. I like the competition for wonders and city sites.

I do think that the UI could use some work. It’s always a little obscure how I can force religious conversions, or improve relations. The mechanism isn’t always consistent. I’d also like a full screen mini map with different overlays to see, for example, the spread of religion, or where fighting is going on. It’s also hard to keep track between turns who’s going where.

Overall, enjoying it. Nice spin on a familiar theme.

We are exactly the opposite! I like sweating the building / economic decisions and just want to get through the events and family management. I do enjoy shooting for the ambition goals and deciding if it’s worth going all in on one at the expense of other things to try and get the victory.

I wasn’t sure if I should share it here or not, but for what it’s worth, I wrote a (very long) review about Old World on my website. I comment on the game’s systems (of which there are too many) and also provide commentary on the game’s representation of the ancient world (which leaves a lot to be desired).

The long and the short of it is that I ended up not liking Old World. I think it’s a bit of a mess, with too many systems vying for attention, hampered by a UI that is utterly byzantine. Also, all those tooltips-within-tooltips strike me as aggressively user unfriendly. As an archaeologist, who has to deal with people’s weird ideas about the past on a more or less daily basis, I also very much dislike how ahistorical it is (except if you decide to play as the Romans, more or less – but then their leader in this game, for whatever reason, is fictional!). Feel free to ridicule me about that again, but Old World is quite possibly the most frustrating “historical” game I’ve ever played.

Again, my thoughts for whatever they are worth.

I’m all over it.

I liked it, thanks. I think we experienced the game fundamentally differently; I disagree with the gameplay aspects of your review quite strongly, but I understand where you’re coming from and how you got to your opinion–you certainly took the time to explain it all. ;)

That said, I heartily agree with your criticisms about historical accuracy. In particular, I think that your point that a game with a much longer historical scope such as Civ (or Humankind) can get away with shuffling up historical eras is very well put. I think one of the great strengths of Old World is that they narrowed the focus down to just the classical era, but that does mean (IMHO) that they should focus more on getting the particulars of history right, or things like your example of Hatshepsut mining tons of iron stick out more.

Oh nice, thanks for sharing.

Continuing with guide videos:

Oh yeah. There is no accounting for how someone experiences the game mechanics, which is why I prefaced it with a discussion of Carr’s essay. If you check upstream here, my initial experiences with the game (as a collection of rules) were much more favourable than where I ended up with it eventually, so there’s plenty of variance even with one person’s experience(s) with a particular game!

Yeah, this is where it falls apart for me as far as it being a “historical” game is concerned. I don’t reference Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in the review, or the (superior) Origins, but those games do a lot better. Even though those AC games are rife with historical inaccuracies (I wrote thousands of words about them!), they at least try to feel authentic, which is easier to pull off than simply making sure you skip the leather breastplates and bracers (since authenticity plays into players’ expectations).

With those games, I never felt the frustration that I felt with Old World, and I guess that’s partially because the AC games have a much tighter focus (a more specific period of history), but also because within that smaller scope they try to get the broad outlines correct (e.g. the Peloponnesian War is a conflict between Sparta and Athens and their respective allies, in a world where the sea plays a major role, featuring mostly dudes who live in cities with marble temples and run around with big round shields and spears – never mind the anachronistic Corinthian helmets, the stark white statues, or the catapults).

I think Old World lives in this weird space where the focus is on a more narrow slice of history than Civ (and so details matter), but also a much broader scope than something like the AC games (and so you need to get a lot of different stuff right as well as a great many more broad strokes for it to not feel weird/ahistorical or, in a word, inauthentic). As I say in the review, I think it was a mistake for Old World to mix and match Bronze Age and Iron Age cultures, for example.

Edit:
And I should add that there are plenty of gamers who don’t give a spear’s sauroter about whether or not a game is historically accurate or authentic, only if it’s fun. More power to them, of course.

Whew, I can resume feeling ok about myself for liking and enjoying this game a lot.

Good, I knew you would be worried about this. Have at it.

I liked your essay a lot. I was able to form in my head a picture of a civ-type game that you would really like. That’s good reviewing.

Things I most agreed with:

  • I’d also like to see a Persian DLC Probably wouldn’t sell as well as Greece, though.
  • Would also prefer similarly historical starting leaders from more similar eras
  • Rome being the baseline civ (though, I don’t think my brain could handle remembering what several different historical farms look like when scanning the map)
  • Many of the ambitions are either un-fun or present themselves at the wrong time, so there isn’t a meaningful choice which to pick. And you aren’t really forced to take ambition victory seriously unless you play against the militarily strong AI levels

Least agreed with:

  • Old World’s narrower scope makes Civ-style fantasy-history a problem
  • One year per turn causes problems for warfare length (wars did last decades…) and emotional attachment to family members
  • The family system isn’t fundamental to the game (though I can see that pairing with disregard for ambitions)

Again, good stuff. Just listing those things to prove I read it, really.

I actually think it would be cool if they narrowed it down even further to just the Roman republic era or just the late bronze age. I never got the sense that I was hugely progressing, technologically or culturally, over the course of a game anyway. And you can still have a sense of progress through a shorter time period, especially if you somehow manage to include key events like the bronze age collapse or end of the republic as capstones. (Though maybe you’d want to start with those rather than the with them so there’s a sense of “forward” progress.) I’m thinking of At the Gates as an example, though I guess that had other issues.

But this ties in to another point you repeated a couple times, which was (loosely) “why don’t they just do fantasy instead?” and the reason is probably this:

The advantage of a wider time span is that you get to include Egyptians and Greeks and Romans and they’re all cool and more importantly recognizable, and that probably helps sales. (Also the techs are more recognizable since you’re get to include wheel and irrigation and acqueducts, etc.) The same reason fantasy games always have orcs and elves.

I came across your review by way of the comments in one of the ACOUP articles. And now here…small (old) world.

Wars could last decades, but battles didn’t. They sort of get muddled in a game like this. I don’t think it’s a problem that can be solved, but there is something off about the scale in the game, I think. Again, not a problem when it’s more abstract (e.g. Civ) or much more small-scale/narrow in scope (e.g. Age of Empires), but in this game e.g. Alexander gets old in a “war” that lasts 20 years (!) to just capture a few neighbouring cities…

That needn’t be a problem, since Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans also co-existed at the same time. You could have the historical scope of the game focus on the Hellenistic era, for example (so the first three centuries BC). Other games have done that, too (e.g. Imperator Rome, IIRC). You wouldn’t have chariot-riding Egyptians and hoplite-fielding Greeks, of course, but that, too, needn’t be a problem, and might actually be more interesting? Not an unsolvable problem, I don’t think.

There’s not a lot of us “pedants” about, I guess? Bret Devereaux and I also know each other from Twitter, so there must be some overlap, especially since we both also write about games. ;-)

Is anyone having issues since last night’s update? I’m no longer able to pan the map using the wasd keys after selecting a unit, and tooltips have gotten wonky on events. I can’t find where to report bugs.

I’m still loving the game. I actually lost on Noble level with the Assyrians (I think - the ones that get to buy tribal mercenaries). I became too dependent on my mercenaries, expanded extremely fast, didn’t build up my own armies, neglected my economy, didn’t build any wonders, and got repeatedly invaded by the Egyptians. It was pretty nice that the game wasn’t a pushover.

Learned my lesson - now in the middle of a game as the Egyptians. Built many wonders, concentrating on resources, and building a local army for the inevitable clash with my neighbors. Unfortunately, I’m lagging in tech, so I’ll need to address that.

I find the narrower scope to be enjoyable. It’s a tighter game with a more predictable gameplay loop.

It seems your main criticism is that it’s historical, but not historical enough, to put it a certain way - that it clearly is playing with the components of history without trying to reproduce them the way a Paradox game appears to do. It’s clear this takes after the Civ series in that it’s a board game style design where there are not asymmetric political or economic systems.

I do think it taps most into Crusader Kings for being information heavy and, for me the worst part of the UI, which (imo) is certainly not horrible or anything, but the sense you have a bunch of information, and especially characters, with apparently nothing to do with them. If you tried to actually map out all the Characters and interactions in CK2, you’d go mad, so you learn to ignore them except when you go fishing in the character barrel.

How did you feel about the “gross” systems though? The sense that there are competing factions within the civilization, the balance between cultural and economic and military development?

I get that, but honestly, the worst possible example of this i know of is Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia, where it takes like 15 years to cross the island from one end to another in ‘game’ time!