The art of peaceful war
As with any game of this type, the campaign map only tells half the story, with the city management screen being every bit as important to your success or failure. The spartan design of the campaign map carries on to the city management screen.
There it is, the entire interface to construct your armies and buildings, and to improve or claim new territory belonging to the city. Not only that but you also get an overview of the amount of food coming in and being stored, the unrest levels of your peasants and nobility who happen to have very different ideas about what makes them happy as well as income and an easily overlooked visual aid detailing the current state of your workforce.
At the top are your building interfaces, structures on the left and armies on the right, with your cities current statistics. The bag of gold is your city's gross income, then your current gross food production, by clicking on either you bring up an interface that shows your current expenditure. Next is peasant unrest followed by the nobility, which you are guaranteed to have as life in ancient times was not exactly idyllic and Oriental Empires focuses on that as a game mechanic. There are a variety of ways to make your peasants and nobility happier but you should expect to see the occasional bandit outbreak as dissatisfied citizens take to the hills to live a raiders life. The final two blue icons display your current population and the growth rate, if any.
The Land Improvements start with farms, something you will spend a lot of time creating and upgrading to keep your cities thriving. There are certain tribes who exist by hunting, which takes up far more manpower than farming to bring in an equivalent amount of food, they are not recommended for your first play through. The second button allows you to fall any inconvenient forests which are hiding bandits from your chariots and horsemen or which could be better used as farmland. Building roads is of utmost importance to allow trade income to flow and thankfully can be placed over top of farms. The last build menu offers different choices depending on the surrounding geography and range from wharves to allow you trade over water to resource buildings to palaces, shrines and monasteries to appease the population or to help you accumulate victory points.
The structure build menu will be familiar to veteran strategy games, certain buildings have prerequisites and others have synergies, like the armourer and weaponsmith. Bazaars and their upgrades should be top priority as they will help generate the majority of your income. Troop building on the other hand is treated in a unique manner. Peasant and Noble troops can be recruited with no cost whatsoever to build, the limit being those tiny circles towards the right which indicate how many of those troops are available to build. Your city size and growth influences the maximum amount available as well as the speed at which they replenish. The troops may be free to build but do have an upkeep associated with them for each turn they exist; you can disband them at any time and if close to their home city they will be ready again for use in a short time. This differs from many other games and leads to new strategies when garrisoning cities or maintaining standing armies.
Professional soldiers, once you can build them, are a different beast altogether. They do cost you money to build as well as having an upkeep but are far superior to peasant armies. It is wise not to send peasants to kill peasants in rebellion. Troops of both types gain experience, but keeping veterans around can also cause a large hit on your economy.
The bottom of your city screen displays important information you may not notice at first. Those little colourful icons represent your peasant farmers whom also make up your workforce. The only happy peasant is one working on their own farm, taking care of their family. If you tear them away from that to build someone else a farm, construct a building in your city or put them on a road gang then unrest starts to grow. Green peasants are at home farming while orange are out hunting animals for food. Blue peasants are currently working on building something for their overlord while grey are otherwise occupied, most likely that means they are unemployed. Blue peasants are not happy with their lot in life so assigning a majority of workers to construction products not only serious effects the amount of food being generated but will also lead to rebellious bandits appearing on your cities borders. As I mentioned, rebellions are a big part of this game for the unwary. The final two icons represent the number of flocks you have access to and the amount of food stored in the city against inevitable famines.
Of the five additional menus, I will focus on the technology and edicts as the others will be familiar to those who play 4X games. Technology consists of four types, which you research simultaneously and which share cross dependencies. Power, craft, thought and knowledge all have specific colours, which show on completed research to help you understand how to unlock more technologies. They focus on different aspects of the game, thought has the most impact on increasing your rulers authority, these last beyond the rulers lifetime as well as culture which increases trade power. Others may only have an impact after a while, just because you learned how to ride horses does not mean you can field effective cavalry immediately.
Imperial edicts are enabled as you progress in the game and have an effect on your entire empire, both positive and negative. Your peasants and nobles do not like change and will express that vehemently when you dare to interfere with the way things always were. On the other hand properly divvying up farmland or mounting your nobles in chariots offer advantages it is almost impossible to ignore. Some negative effects will be permanent, others temporary so be sure to read carefully before passing an edict; some cannot be revoked!
Last up is a look at ending turns, combat and this look at Oriental Empires.