Welcome back to Facebook Game Faceoff. This week, we're revisiting the strategy genre on Facebook. (You know, because its' huge, apparently.) In one corner, we have Empires & Allies (E&A), a returning combatant and Zynga's first strategy game effort. The other corner hold Civilization World (CivWorld for short), the social edition of one of the most respected strategy series ever created: Civilization by Sid Meier. The former takes a more accessible, strategy-light approach to the burgeoning genre, while the latter is an incredibly deep, serious effort to bring a true strategy game experience to Facebook.
As always, we'll pit each game against the other based on three criteria. First, we'll get right to the good part and see how each game handles combat or, you know, blowin' stuff up. Next up is a look at resource management within each game, two things no strategy game can be without. Finally, we'll compare how E&A and CivWorld's approached social interaction and player vs player combat (PvP), the lynch pin of Facebook strategy gaming. Ready ... Fight!
War is Hell
And boy, does CivWorld take it seriously. In this strategy game, combat is a collective effort, tasking players within a given Civ (Firaxis's shorthand term for civilizations in the game) to join forces and each contribute units to any given battle with another Civ. Combat is handled in a card system in which each military unit--divided into Melee, Calvary, Ranged and Naval classes--is represented by a card with both Attack and Defense statistics. And with these cards, players can choose a Heroic attack at the cost of defense, Fortify at the cost of offense or simply choose the balance Normal approach.
It makes for a terribly deep combat system complete with considerations for weather and other factors. Though combat is not as flashy or explosive as one would hope for all of the stipulations attached. Especially considering that PvP battles, because they require many players to contribute, only occur every few hours or so. And not just any player can initiate a Civ on Civ battle--only those who rise to the rank of Prince over time can do that. Though, the Barbarians--the NPC (non-player character) villains of the game--give players a crack at smaller-scale battles in between the larger PvP struggles.
E&A, on the other hand, surrounds the player with combat scenarios. Combat overall is handled in a rock, paper scissors format. There are three classes of military units that players can create with varying strengths within each unit: Infantry, Naval and Air Force. Those classes are subdivided into smaller classes, and each subclass is effective against and vulnerable to three opposing subclasses. Combat is an asynchronous (between players), turn-based affair in which players trade explosive blows until one loses all of their units. Admittedly, combat in E&A won't do much to satisfy the true strategy enthusiast, though popping in and blowin' some stuff up takes mere seconds.
We Need More Lumber!
Resource management is nearly CivWorld's strongest suit, and most faithful to the traditional games. There are five resources in CivWorld: Production, Science, Culture, Food and Gold. Players create houses within their nation that are home to Workers, jack-of-all-trades folk who can be switched to gather any of these five resources at any time. However, the resources you gather contribute to your greater Civ, not just your own nation (though, Production helps you create new buildings and military units). That said, it's best to focus on just one or two resources to help your Civ reach its goals to win a given era even faster. To spice things up, there are three admittedly entertaining mini games that can grant you resource bonuses.
Anyone who has played FarmVille or CityVille already knows how resource management works in E&A. Players gather Coins, Wood, Oil and Ore--all of which are needed to create buildings and military units. Gathering resources in this game is more of a set-and-forget-it ordeal than anything, which isn't terribly exciting. However, players are forced to trade for the five types of Ore in the game, as each player's island only produces one type. This makes friendships in E&A slightly more strategic, though resource management on the whole is nothing more than a means to an end in this game.
'F' is for Friends Who Do Stuff Together
This is the meat and potatoes of CivWorld, and it's quite admirable how Firaxis has handled social interaction. Frankly, social interaction is so ingrained into the CivWorld experience that you literally will not win a single game of Civ without coordination with your friends. Everything you do in CivWorld is for the benefit of the whole, something few social games have accomplished, and it's all made possible through live chat. However, PvP combat is limited to the large struggles between Civs that take place rather infrequently. But again, for what it's worth, more developers should look to CivWorld for how to make social interaction compelling.
In E&A, all social interaction and even PvP is done asynchronously, meaning players trade blows or trade favors in turns regardless of whether both are online. Players have the choice of either invading their friends' empires or helping them out. This will increase the player's Infamy or Honor, respectively, and unlock either offensive or defensive combat abilities. Through invasions, you occupy a friend's territory by strategically choosing a location with the fewest units and most resources and attack their units, controlled automatically. The player can then repel the invasion or have a friend help them. It makes for an interesting dynamic, but it's barely the stuff of more hardcore strategy games on Facebook.
Both Empires & Allies and CivWorld offer the depth and strategy that the genre calls for, though in varying degrees. CivWorld certainly brings more to the table in terms of both. But it's far too easy to get bogged down in features and stipulations when sometimes all you want to do is get to the combat, which isn't terribly exciting already. E&A is most definitely lighter (arguably too light) on strategy, interaction and depth, but focuses on where it counts: getting to its explosive PvP combat quickly. And for that, we'll have to declare Empires & Allies the winner of this Faceoff, though it was terribly close. But enough about what we think: It's time for you to decide the victor.
CivWorld vs. Empires & Allies: Which is the victor?
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