Raising Knights and Slaying Trolls With Social Empires on Facebook

There are many a game on Facebook that claims to be a strategy game, but very few do so in a real-time fashion. The latest to attempt this is developer Social Point in Social Empires. Currently earning over 800,000 monthly active users (MAU) and just shy of 109,000 daily active users (DAU), the game is continuing to grow at a steady rate.

Similar in respect to other social games such as Backyard Monsters — as well as popular traditional PC games like the Age of Empires series — the well-polished Social Empires gives players a much more active role in the game in allowing them to control most of the game’s minor nuances (combat, resource management, etc.). The main downside is that the level of micromanagement can get tedious at times.

Players take on the sole goal of building up an army and expanding their medieval empire. To do so, they must build various structures to produce the resources of gold, food, wood, and stone in order to construct future buildings and units. Done by a basic “Villager” unit, resources may be collected in one of two ways.

The first means to do so will be the most familiar for social gamers. Players simply build a structure and assign a villager. Over a period of time, resources will be produced. However, in many cases, this will take several hours, so for users seeking more immediate return, villagers can be sent out into the wilds to gather smaller bits of resources from nearby trees, mines, and animals.

It’s actually a good addition, but this is where the game gets a little bogged down. Gathering from these external nodes does not take very much time (only a few seconds) but players can only control one villager at a time and harvest only one item at a time. And, there is no way to queue up actions like most social games, and when users start to get a sizable number of villagers to micro-manage, it becomes extraordinarily annoying after a while.

Once a steady flow of income is pouring in, players are then going to have to start concerning themselves with housing, which allows more units to be made. It’s not a tremendous deal with just villagers, but once an army starts being built, more houses are going to be needed more quickly. From cavalry to archers, players can construct a variety of medieval units to not only defend their own empire, but to expand and conquer those around them.

To get players familiar with combat, their virtual space is littered with trolls and troll camps about the outskirts of their kingdom. There’s not a tremendous amount of depth to units — consisting of basic stats like speed, armor, and damage — but it is rather fun to watch armies clash together. Also, players can control where and when to attack, adding some basic tactical choices. As an added bonus to all of this, defeating all trolls in one’s kingdom will earn a significant bonus to gold.

The real problem with this is that unlike traditional PC real-time strategy games, there is no intuitive marquee select for the armies. Players are initually stuck with just single-clicking each unit or double-click each type of unit to select all of that type. In this case, the micro-management gets in the way and just makes things less fun. It doesn’t make the game bad, by any means, but it does get in the way of what it could be (especially when having to move  many units long distances). All that said, there actually is a marquee select, but the player must first select a unit and draw the marquee from there. In traditional strategy games, this the marquee is drawn regardless of what the mouse is hovering above. Moreover, this tool is not made known to the user.

The other half of this combat comes in the form of defenses. With a name like “Social Empires” one can imagine what that might mean. Yes, while friends can gift one another, earn bonuses for being allies, make Facebook wall posts, and compete via a leaderboard, the real social play comes from the “World” mode. From here, players can attack any other user of comparable level and earn gold and experience from the battle. Moreover, users can send out an eagle to spy on their prospective opponent’s defenses (e.g. their defensive towers and units) before committing to battle.

Also in the World mode, players can sail about the ocean fighting kraken and other such sea monsters for even more bonus gold and experience as well as “invade” islands full of non-player enemies and their armies. So far, we’ve seen only trolls, but as one travels about, they tend to get a lot bigger and a lot meaner.

Social Empires suffers from some fixable usability issues but as a social game, it is actually a good bit of fun, and with a lot to do early on, can become extremely addictive, extremely fast.