Mini Empires is a new iOS-based free-to-play social strategy game from Midverse Studios, a company built up by Riz Virk and Mitch Liu, the cofounders of Gameview Studios.
Mini Empires has a lot in common with titles such as Zynga’s Empires and Allies and Social Point’s popular social strategy games. Those seeking a “true” strategy game experience will probably leave disappointed — but these games do, however, provide an accessible jumping-off point for those interested in a light introduction to the genre. Players who like the idea of competitive military conflict but find the typically deep, complex gameplay of traditional standalone strategy games somewhat daunting will probably find a lot to like here.
Mini Empires consists of several discrete components. Firstly, players build up their base with various structures and production facilities to acquire resources and units for their army. Secondly, they progress through a linear campaign map, which allows them to earn experience points and other rewards. Thirdly, they may battle against “neighbors” — players don’t have to add other players as friends in order to battle against them, though this facility is available via either Game Center nickname or a proprietary “Empire Code” system.
The game follows numerous social game conventions. Most actions — such as collecting resources from production facilities, chopping down trees or attacking other units — cost energy to perform, and this gradually replenishes over time or may be immediately be restored in chunks of 6 points at a time using hard currency. Building things also takes periods of real time to undertake, or this process may be hurried along using hard currency. Quests direct players down a good route to success, and the “campaign” mode, made up of a number of preset battles against computer-controlled opponents, is completely linear.
Battles between units unfold in an abstract manner. Any unit may take on any other unit, regardless of whether they are air, sea or land units — though some units are better at attacking others using a kind of “rock, paper, scissors” system. When in battle, an attacking unit’s strength is compared to the target, and damage is then done, reducing the target’s strength and potentially destroying it. The other player then gets a turn, and thus battles unfold until one side or the other is destroyed .Very little actual strategy is involved — it is mostly a numbers game, with bigger numbers inevitably defeating smaller ones.
Potentially one of the most interesting things about Mini Empires is its Civilization-style use of technological “eras” which the player progresses through as they level up. This changes the appearance of their units and buildings and provides access to different units over time. The developers don’t take this anywhere near far enough, however — players are using air, sea and land units from the supposed “Bronze Age” onwards, making the supposed historical era they are playing through all but irrelevant. Consequently, you’ll see regularly see implausible sights such as primitive tribal spearmen attacking naval or airborne units and winning. It’s clear that the developers desperately wanted to channel Sid Meier’s classic historical strategy game but stopped short of implementing the features they call reference to in any meaningful manner, which is a missed opportunity.
The aesthetic of the game is a little offputting, too. The game is about war and conflict, so the childish, cheerful visual style seems completely at odds with the core concepts of the game. This is nothing unusual for the social strategy genre, which tends to adopt a cartoonish visual style to make it accessible and friendly to all players, but here, the relentlessly smiling characters seem particularly incongruous with the theme. It’ll doubtless prove popular with younger players, but those seeking a bit more gritty realism from their wargames will do better to look elsewhere.
Mini Empires is a decent quality game that, while incorporating some solid social play features such as weekly tournaments, doesn’t quite go far enough in exploring its most interesting features. Battles are shallow and physically implausible, the historical aspect is underdeveloped and, despite the linear campaign mode, the game feels a little “directionless.” Players are given little reason as to why they are fighting against these faceless enemy units or attacking their neighbors — it’s simply “something to do.” Many social game players won’t have a problem with this, as it’s an established trope of the genre, but more “hardcore” strategy game players looking for a little light relief will leave quickly, disappointed.
Mini Empires is available now from the App Store. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for iOS and social games and developers.