City Conquest (iOS) review

City Conquest is a new iOS game from Intelligence Engine Design Systems. As the developer’s name suggests, the game began life as an experiment in artificial intelligence routines, but gradually grew and flourished into a full-scale game, which is now available as a free download from the App Store. There is a single $4.99 in-app purchase to unlock the full game content.

City Conquest describes itself as a hybrid between the real-time strategy and tower defense genres, and that is an accurate assessment of its gameplay. The game features both single- and multiplayer action, though access to all the levels of the single-player component is locked behind the single in-app purchase. The free version of the game does not feature advertising or any other form of monetization — it simply acts as a rather generous demo version that gives players ample time to try out all the game’s main features before committing to purchasing.

City Conquest’s basic gameplay is rather straightforward at its core, but gradually grows in complexity as it progresses. Essentially, the game revolves around a red and a blue army squaring off against each other on opposite sides of an isometric-perspective map. Although the game is marketed as “real-time” strategy, there is actually a turn-based element — both sides alternate between attack and defense duties, swapping over when the attacking side has run out of units.

At the start of an attacking turn, any dropship pads players have built will summon their respective units, who will then take the shortest available route to the enemy base. On a defending turn, the player must simply repel the incoming forces of the opposing player using a selection of defensive towers. It is possible to pause the game while placing buildings, and additional dropship pads or towers can be constructed even while being assaulted, though they take a few seconds to appear. The number of buildings which can be constructed is also limited by the amount of gold (for defensive units) and crystals (for attacking units) the player has on hand — the player regularly receives income from their collector units within their territory, and said territory can be expanded by constructing special “skyscraper” buildings. Expanding territory also allows the player additional space in which to build.

As with a conventional tower defense game, a lot of City Conquest’s strategy revolves around carefully constructing buildings to make an appropriate “path” for units — but because the player is on both attack and defense duties, they must carefully weigh up the need for building both defensive structures and unit-producing dropship pads. They must also consider the enemy’s defenses, as different defensive towers are more or less effective against various types of attacking units. There is a lot to take in, but the game gradually introduces new concepts at a good pace through its single-player mode — initially, a single mission features only attack or defense gameplay rather than both, for example, and the available units and structures expand as the player progresses through the levels. This means that new players will not be overwhelmed with possibilities — but at the same time, experienced armchair generals can jump into the more difficult “challenge” or multiplayer modes, in which they are immediately confronted with more difficult skirmishes with more strategic possibilities.

The game’s multiplayer mode has two options — live, synchronous online play against other players, or “hotseat” play between two players on a single device, passing the device to the other player when it is their turn to defend. There is no asynchronous option, nor any option for multi-device local multiplayer. The player has the option of enabling a “multiplayer monitoring widget” in single-player mode, which continually tracks how many players are in the Internet lobby for the game’s online mode, giving them a good idea of when would be a good time to seek an opponent. The game’s online mode seems to be quite sparsely populated at present, but it is still quite soon after the game’s release and word is presumably yet to get around.