November 29, 2010

If someone makes a board game version of Bronze, I’m in for one in a heartbeat.

I wanted to get that out of the way. And it makes sense, because Bronze is practically a board game already. The game, from Dreamspike Studios and Shrapnel Games, is nominally about early civilizations, but it’s really an area control game very similar to the classic Reversi. 

Players start with control of one or two tiles (usually near the board’s corners), then they can take control of an adjacent tile on their turn. Of course, just that would be incredibly boring. On each tile, players choose a building to construct, each having a different gold value. Some, like mining villages, add gold to your supply, while others cost gold but have various effects. Towns acquire unclaimed adjacent tiles. Armies convert adjacent enemy buildings to your control. Bridges let you cross rivers. There are more, including some that prevent buildings from being converted and others that, well, do nothing. Your goal is to control more land tiles at the end of the game than your opponents. 

Each civilization has a different set of buildings and costs, making them play differently and have dominant strategies. Some have free armies but little else. Others have cheap towns. It’s hard to say they’re all balanced, but there are times when a lopsided battle can be interesting.

The game is supposedly not designed with a multiplayer focus, but it doesn’t feel that way. (Only hotseat is available, though, which is unfortunate for a game that feels like a board game. Fans of board games always look for ways to play when gathering a group isn’t an option.) There is an extensive set of single-player campaigns, each designed to make you familiar with a faction’s strengths and weaknesses. The AI is smart (and sometimes too smart), but it leads to a real feeling of satisfaction when you pull off a particularly difficult map. There’s a map editor, so you won’t run out of maps, but most possibilities are covered in the many campaigns. 

The production values were, put bluntly, not a priority of the developers. The interface is functional but not at all impressive, the graphics have a clear focus on usability but look about eight years old, and the sound is passable. Because it’s a board game, and that stuff doesn’t matter too much. 

Bronze targets a very small segment of the gaming population, and it targets it hard. At $30 it’s hard to recommend a game with no online multiplayer, but there’s no denying that the base here is interesting.

Now just print everything out and throw it in a box already.


Pros: Solid base game design, challenging AI

Cons: Production values, limited multiplayer

Score: 3/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.