Zynga Launches Strategy Citybuilder Empires & Allies for Facebook

Zynga’s first game out of its Los Angeles studio, Empires & Allies, is also the developer’s first-ever strategy game. With Digital Chocolate’s Army Attack also live and Kabam’s Global Warfare launched earlier this month, we expect to see the strategy genre expand throughout the summer. More importantly, as Zynga prepares for an initial public offering, all eyes will be on how Empires & Allies performs.

In Empires & Allies, players take the role of a commander needing to rebuild their island town after an attack by an evil general. The game draws on CityVille’s citybuilding mechanic where buildings produce resources for the player to harvest. In addition to rents collected from residential buildings and crops collected from farms, players also harvest resources like oil or ore. These resources for the basis for the game’s building economy, which also includes units to send into battle.

The combat portion of the game is inspired by real time strategy games like the Command & Conquer series and Battle for Middle Earth, on both of which Zynga Executive Producer Amer Ajami previously worked. The combat in Empires & Allies is asynchronous as opposed to real-time, but Ajami points out that this style of gameplay better suits Zynga’s existing audience. Players select a world map view of other islands in their region and click on an occupied area to enter combat. The game is structured around a series of bad guy characters each occupying a cluster of islands along a chain leading toward the final boss character. As the player advances through the islands, conquering territory, they can unlock the enemy vehicles of defeated mini-bosses. They cannot, however, build structures on any islands besides the starting island cluster, which provides five islands total. Friends can be called into singleplayer as “power-ups” that aid in combat.

The actual combat instance is a turn-based event where the player initiating the combat can view what units the opposing force has positioned in the area. Units are classified by terrain (air, land, sea) and then by type (bomber, grenadier, etc.). In a guided preview with ISG, Ajami demoed a battle where the opposing force had three grenadier units stationed on land. He responded by choosing to attack by sea with two different types of gunship. He explained that units follow a rock-paper-scissors combat flow where land has the advantage over air, air has an advantage over sea, and sea has an advantage over land.

In addition to this layer, each individual unit type has three “specialty” units against which its attacks are the most effective. The game communicates this both with icons next to each unit that show the specialties, and with help text like “Good Target” or “Poor Target” that appears when the player hovers the cursor over an enemy unit after choosing to attack. The player first selects their attacking unit, then an enemy unit, and then clicks a final time to launch the attack. The enemy unit, controlled by artificial intelligence, counter-attacks almost immediately so that the player doesn’t have to sit around waiting for the AI to make a move.

What sets Empires & Allies apart from Army Attack and Global Warfare for the time being is the ability to attack friends in a “Fight With Friends” mode. While Army Attack hasn’t introduced the feature yet and Global Warfare’s combat system is geared more toward attacking strangers while forming alliances with friends, Empires & Allies sends users to their friends’ island cities either to help out by harvesting resources and joining building crews or to attack their friends’ cities in an attempt to “conquer” land.

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