Anno 1404 – aka Dawn of Discovery

I have a weakness for strategy games that involve bustling little communities. Stronghold has always been a favorite of mine, because you can watch one little piece of grain go through its entire production cycle from seed to flour to bread to some ungrateful peasant’s stomach. All the while, you can see the hunters with their little dogs, the jester entertaining the troops, and the priest blessing people.

Anno 1404 (known as Dawn of Discovery here in North America) has the requisite amount of bustle for me. You run a series of islands and port towns that you must grow and keep satisfied. You can almost never get everything to fulfill everyone’s needs on one island, so you must colonize several and set up elaborate trade routes with ships to make sure your production never fails.

This is really hard to grasp at first, but it is ultimately very satisfying. You can micromanage to the extreme if you want to, individually performing each and every shipping run manually, or you can set up routes that your ships will run once you’ve laid out the parameters. I do a mix of both, because I’m cool like that.

There’s a campaign mode, which is surprisingly slowly paced for the most part. It’s only 8 missions, but each one will take around 3 or 4 hours to complete. The game has other continuous play modes, where you can treat it like a sim game, as well as a few scenario modes that have different goals for the player to accomplish. This is exactly what I want in a strategy game. A building campaign mode, with self contained levels that slowly teach, with the option to play endlessly afterwards.

I found the first couple campaign levels to be really fun, but towards the end it started to bug me. The naval battles are quite simple and easy to manage, but the interface for moving around your ground forces is both initially hard to grasp and incredibly clunky. There are problems with objectives throughout the campaign as well, where the game gives you objectives, but doesn’t tell you how to achieve them, or refuses to give you objectives until you do something that isn’t clear, leading you to just blindly develop your city as you await direction.

There are also a few objectives that require skills that will outright bother some gamers. In one level you need to find spies in your city within a time limit, or else they will sabotage some part of your empire. You do this by zooming in and clicking on little spy guys in your bustling metropolis. I found it gimmicky and stupid, but others will find that level of “twitch gaming” completely unwelcome in their sophisticated city building game.

I enjoyed Dawn of Discovery quite a bit though. I recommend it to fans of the Tropico and Stronghold games particularly. Check it out if you wanna build a series of cities and trade routes, but you think Settlers of Catan is overrated.

Loving the Craft – A brief HP Lovecraft review: “The Statement of Randolph Carter”. I’m going to go back and cover the Randolph Carter stories leading up to “The Silver Key”, since I felt bad about starting with that one out of sequence. This is a quick little story that Lovecraft wrote quite early in his career. It feels like an early story, too. It’s simpler than most of his other work, with a kind of abrupt but unsurprising ending. You can see the foundations of his writing style here though, so I recommend it to fans.


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November 2009
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