Build a fantasy alliance in Playdom’s Armies of Magic

Armies of Magic, Playdom’s new Facebook game, is a combination of fantasy role-playing, citybuilding and real-time strategy. It casts players in the role of a human, elven or dwarven army commander and tasks them with following an episodic storyline while bolstering their own offensive and defensive capabilities.

Players begin the game by choosing which of the three fantasy races they would like to represent. This choice affects the aesthetics of the player’s city, the units they will have available in combat and the storyline that the game’s main PvE component will follow. Players can choose between being male or female in their selected race, and may then choose between three different appearances for their character, with the differences being mostly in skin color. After an initial tutorial, players may then name their avatar whatever they please — though this name must be unique among the game’s worldwide player community.

There are three main components to gameplay in Armies of Magic: citybuilding, exploration and combat. In the citybuilding phase, players construct buildings for their race’s capital which then produce income, combat units and research. Players must balance their amount of production buildings with their “culture” value, which is an abstract representation of how happy the populace is. If the culture value drops into the negative, no new units or research may be constructed, and the player must build decorative items to build it back up again. All buildings take time to construct and may be hurried along by the expenditure of hard currency.

The citybuilding section is competent with a few minor interface flaws marring the experience. While in “Build” mode, for example, it is impossible to see the time remaining for other structures to be completed. Also, some popup windows feature a prominent “close” button while others do not, making it appear as if it is compulsory to press the “Share” button. It usually isn’t, but the inconsistency in the interface is a little frustrating at times.

Exploration occurs on a node-based world map, and this is where the majority of the game’s PvE story takes place. Players move from node to node (at an excruciatingly slow pace) by clicking on them, and are then presented with a dialog scene between the story’s characters. Depending on the situation, they are often then thrown into combat.

Combat itself takes the form of a strategic defense game. The player’s avatar and the opposing “hero” square off against each other from opposite sides of a side-scrolling battlefield. Both sides then expend “crystals” — a temporary currency only available in battle and not carried over between encounters — to summon various units, which continuously walk forwards until they reach an enemy unit. They will then attack the enemy unit until either they or the enemy lies dead. The exception to this rule is the “miner” unit, which is very weak defensively but is also the only means of acquiring additional crystals during combat. Combat continues until either the player or the enemy hero has been downed, at which point the player receives a score rating based on their performance in battle. They also have the opportunity to revive fallen units by expending a special currency expressly for this purpose. Alternatively, players may simply produce new units back at their capital, which takes time and costs soft currency.

Battles are simple to understand but fun to take part in, with the only niggle in the formula being the player’s inability to order their units to attack a specific enemy. This often leads to the computer-controlled opponent making rather “cheap” attacks by placing a ranged unit behind the powerful enemy “hero” character. It’s a relatively small issue, but it is frustrating when it happens — particularly as there is nothing that can be done about it.