Everyone who has had anything to do with computer gaming has probably heard of Civilization, the genre originated by Sid Meier and so successfully built (some would say exploited by) Microprose. There have been many branches of the Civilization pedigree, and I even reviewed one (FreeCiv) a while back.
The premis in Ikariam is similar to most other Civ-type god-games. You’re the administrator of a small town trying to complete against expansionism and economic pressure from towns and nations around you. Your goal? Come out on top! Beat them militarily, socially, economically – however you’d like to go, you need to build faster, expand better, and make more money than your neighbors.
Compared to other games of the genre, Ikariam has a very simplified approach. The enormously complex machinations in something like Civilization 3 are not here, but they do try to make up for it. The economic trading model is quite involved, not only trading and pillaging local towns, but also trading and shipping materials to other players. You’re also quite involved in localized production of baseline building resources, as well as luxury goods. The game is fully MMORPG’ed, so you’ll see other players live in the game. You can trade with them, talk with them, or attack them, as you will.
GameForge did a lot of work to make the game useable on the web directly. For instance, while things are ‘real time’, they’re not set up for you to spend hours glued to your browser. Building a new building? Will probably take a half an hour. Researching a new skill? Several hours. Sending a cargo ship out to pick up materials? A few hours. It’s normal to check into the game every few hours or even once a day to see how things are going, set up your researching, move your citizens around and change production, and then go on with the rest of your life.
The support forums are active and helpful, as is an IRC channel. With multiple ‘worlds’, if you’re planning on banding together into alliances with your buddies, you should make sure you’re all on the same server. Alliances can help both in trading and in combat, so if you’re planning on a large expansionism campaign, it’s a good idea to think ahead and share the same world / server with your buddies.
I’m still getting the hang of the game, having started only 2-3 days ago, but so far, it’s quite enjoyable. It hasn’t completely sucked me in, though I’ll credit the “make your move, come back in a while” tactic at both being frustrating (“I want to play more NOW!”), and making a lot of sense (“I just need to change this, then I’ll go back to work!”). Since the webpages are fairly straightforward and render cleanly, it’s very easy to just ‘pop in’ from a browser somewhere, check your town / towns, and then log off again.
So far, it’s fun. It’s free. And it works in Konqueror. A great combination. I’ll stick with it for a while.