In the last couple months, I’ve branched out a bit and started playing other games. I’ve tried several other MMO’s and a few single player games that I’ll write about soon. WoW still takes up most of my gaming time, but the game that is currently a close second place? Ikariam. Yes, really.
I first heard about Ikariam about a year ago. I remember sitting there at my desk at work, daydreaming and listening to podcast, and something prompted me to check out this game. (I can’t remember if it was a blog or a podcast, to be honest.) I glanced at the game site only briefly and it didn’t even interest me enough to make an account at the time. It just didn’t look appealing. Things going against it included that it was a browser game, it was free-to-play (but with premium options available for cash), and that it looked like a Civ-type game. Couldn’t possibly be as compelling as Civ, I thought.
Nuts and Bolts
You start with a single colony on an island and some wood to construct your first building, either an academy to begin research or barracks to house your budding military. Of course I chose to build the academy. Back in my Civ days, I was always going after the space ship rather than the military victory. After hiring a few researchers, I went to the island view to hire some workers in the lumber mill and crystal mine. (This mine allowed me to collect glass, one of the four harvestable resources.)
Rather than being turn based like Civ (which it couldn’t be, since it’s an MMO), activities like building, research, and travel are all time-based. It reminded me of EVE in that regard — set up your training and then go do something else for a while. As with EVE, the early skills and lower level buildings don’t take long. Unfortunately, there are no building queues available unless you pay for a premium account. Research used to be queued (sort of), but they changed it in a recent patch so that you accumulate research points and then buy the discovery of your choice when you have enough.
Travel time, as far as I can tell, never changes (unless there is a miracle, which I’ll talk about later) . This is where some of the challenge comes in if you want to play near your friends. You begin in a random spot on the world map. While you can certainly build your second colony anywhere and eventually make it your capital, it takes a while to gather the resources to accomplish this. I’m sure plenty of folks do this, too. My husband and one of our friends have both relocated their civilizations completely to some islands on the fringes of the map so that they can build their resources together.
To cope with the travel time issues, the MMO Voices folks initially set up trade routes together to help each other get started. We plotted our locations on a map and posted it to the website. Occasionally I’d get a note that said, “400 sulfur is on the way. Please keep 200 and send 200 on to so-and-so at such-and-such location.” Really fun, actually. It made me wish there were a way to set up more permanent routes in the game like that. Setting up a trade alliance with someone only means that when they add things for sale in their trading post, you can see it even if you’re far away from them. Beyond that, trading is limited to nearby islands (the trade radius defined by how much you’ve leveled your trading post).
Aside from building materials, the basic resources are marble, wine, glass, and sulfur. Just for my own play purposes, I would prefer them in that order. Marble is used in higher level building upgrades and city walls. Wine is made available in local taverns to keep your population happy and growing. Glass goes toward upgrading academies and temples (recently added), military upgrades, and the training of spies. Sulfur is used for the training of military units (a process that can be queued, thankfully).
The amount of a particular resource that you can harvest depends on how many you hire to work in the mine, vineyard, or mill on your island. The number or workers you can hire is limited by your population, but also by the level of the node itself. Here’s where the “MM” in MMO begins to creep in — the resource node is leveled through the contributions of all the other people with colonies on your island. In the beginning, you’ll be scraping to have enough resources to get your basic buildings going. Once you have a modest surplus, it’s good to start contributing to these shared nodes. Not only will these contributions improve the island’s output and benefit you in the long run, it will make you look like a good citizen. Some island residents make a particular point of attacking and pillaging leechers who don’t contribute, so it’s wise to help out.
Beyond gathering things yourself, you can trade with others that you know (as I mentioned above) or with people nearby through your trading post. The radius of available trades increases with every two upgrades of your trading post. I didn’t see any traders at all until I was able to trade at least three islands away, though you may have better luck if you land in a more populated area.
…and Getting Pillaged
I, like many of my MMO Voices compatriots, got pillaged within the first week of playing. Someone marched their army into my town, killed the two slingers I had in my barracks, and cleaned out the majority of what I had in my warehouse. A percentage of your stuff is protected in your warehouse (again, this is building level dependent), but everything else is game for anyone that decides to rob you. My husband’s first colony got pillaged repeatedly when he first started playing, so he started changing his production schedule to make sure he never got too big of a surplus when he thought his neighbor might be active. (He then moved to another island.) Not a very friendly welcome to the game.
I didn’t get pillaged more than once or twice early on, but it was enough to make me build some extra warehouses until I got a few defensive units and city walls built. I have managed to fend off some medium-sized attacks, but once or twice, the enemy has come in with more than 1000 troops to my 20-30. Some alliances in the game seem to have rules about attacking people way below your level, but others don’t care. The mottos on the guild pages of the latter are usually to the tune of “if you’re not armed, you will be farmed.” This is the nature of MMO’s anywhere, I suppose. There will be griefing.
Unfortunately, this caused of few folks in MMO Voices to lose interest right away. To my surprise, I didn’t quit when I got pillaged. I once got pillaged very badly, too, in fact. I lost about 10,000 building material, 5,000 marble, and 1,000 sulfur. I was so furious. But, the fact was that I had been sloppy. I had forwarded all this material to a new colony that I was founding. (I needed it to upgrade the governor’s residence to kill the corruption there.) An enterprising individual had occupied a nearby town and I imagine he giggled with glee when he discovered all the unprotected goodies in my warehouse, waiting for the rest of the boats to arrive. I was furious, but I knew I’d done something really stupid, too, and assumed the stuff would be safe long enough for me to get the stupid building built. That’s part of the game.
I’ve never pillaged anyone, but I’ve certainly reaped the benefits of being occupied. When your town is occupied by enemy forces, they can’t pillage you, but they can use your town as a base to pillage everyone else on the island. For hosting the army, you get 10% of everything they pillage. I happened to get occupied on the best of the islands I have colonies on and I got a TON of stuff out of it. So in the end, it all balances out, I suppose.
They recently added some features to make the game friendlier to new players, in this regard. Now, new players cannot be attacked or pillaged right out of the starting gate. Until their town hall is level 4 or they’ve built a second colony, they are immune to any attacks my other players. (If they attack someone else, all bets are off, of course.) This is a nice change, I think — they’ll keep many more players this way.
Cultivating a Civilization
Your first colony will take a while to get going. Building materials will always feel like they are in short supply unless you have a friend to help you get started. (By the way, if you decide to start playing, I’d be glad to send you a welcome package. I’m on the US Iota server — send me an e-mail with your coordinates and I’ll put my fleet in motion!) But once you create your second colony, things really start cooking. You’ll find yourself with occasional surpluses to send to friends or sell at your trading post. There will always be little things to tweak and things to build. Small goals will be met, new goals will be made.
Checking in on the game can become a habit very easily, especially if you work at a computer all day. Here’s the part where I have to admit that all those things that turned me off in the beginning are the things that now keep me playing. The game is browser based, so I can keep it going while I’m doing other stuff on the internet. It’s free-to-play, so I can do as much or as little as I feel like from day to day without feeling like I have a big commitment to it or need to get my money’s worth. In fact, if I take a day or two away from the game, I return to find that I have a huge surplus of resources to play with. Fun!
Finally, because it is a Civ-type game, there’s a great sense of progress as you watch a dumpy little town in the sticks turn into the cultural center of your empire. The fact that it’s time-based and not turn-based is what allows you to get other things done during the day, too. When I take writing breaks, I might check in, send out some ships, set a few buildings to upgrade, and then determine that there’s not much more for me to do for the next two hours. I can then write or work for two hours, come back, and check in. It’s also a great game to play in between other games. There is as much or as little to do as you wish to do.
After our short-lived (and miniscule) MMO Voices alliance dissolved, I decided to look for a larger, more established alliance to join. An alliance’s size is limited by the number of diplomacy points available, which is based on the robustness of the leader’s civilization (as I understand it, anyway), so it seemed like this would put less pressure on one of the bloggers, in case they wanted to wander to a different game. It would also give us a chance to see how established alliances run themselves.
After a bit of shopping around, I happened across an alliance called Art of Defence (AoD) , an alliance based on trading, mutual defense, and expansion. They do allow pillaging, but military play is not their primary focus. It sounded perfect. I applied and was accepted, and now I watch the day to day ramblings and tradings of an Ikariam alliance. Folks are helpful to one another, trading vast quantities of materials in 1:1 trades. Once you are able to build museums, you can arrange cultural treaties with people, too, displaying your cultural artifacts in one another’s museums to raise happiness (an alternative to wine). I’ve also seen some come to the defense of one another. Another particularly appealing thing about this alliance is their impressive list of peace treaties. Aside from the person that ran off with all the goods for my governor’s residence (who could resist such a mother lode?), I haven’t been bothered by anyone since I joined them.
The Addition of Miracles
In this recent patch, they added “miracles” to the game, which can do things like boost your population or make your ships go a little faster for a brief time depending on which god has a statue on your island. The statue itself is also a node on the island where you can contribute resources (anything but building materials and the resource available on the same island). The quality of the miracle increases based on the statue’s level. You need to have a certain amount of your population converted (through temples and the hiring of priests) in order for the miracle to become available.
It’s been interesting to see the community’s response to this addition. Certainly some miracles are going to be more desirable than others depending on what aspects of the game you enjoy. I wouldn’t say I have my finger on the pulse of the community at large, but some in our alliance have dismissed them as useless. One of them will allow your ships to load faster for 30 minutes every 20 hours, for example. One of our members said, “Only every 20 hours? What’s the point of that?” Well, the point is to make it so that it’s not so incredibly overpowered that everyone will evacuate their current location for the islands that have the best miracles available. I imagine folks will be selecting locations for new colonies with the miracles in mind (since they do act upon your entire population), but it seems they’ve tried to make things beneficial without being too gamebreaking. I’ll be curious to see what people will think about them once they actually try using the miracles.
A Few Rules
I mentioned before that my husband started playing, as well. This has been fun, because it means we’ve been able to talk about the game, daydream about colonization plans, and sympathize with each other’s resource losses. As it turns out, we cannot actually play together, however, since we both play from home. Playing two accounts on the same IP from the same server will get you banned. This rule is no doubt in play to make sure that one person with too much time on their hands doesn’t make a ton of accounts and take over the world in one fell swoop.
It turns out that if you officially let them know that you are two different people at the same IP and you agree never to have fleet contact with one another, then it is fine. You just need to submit a ticket. “No fleet contact” means we can’t jointly attack an enemy, but most unfortunately, it means we can’t trade resources directly. It’s been okay because we’ve managed to lure in a few friends on different IP’s (living in different states, actually) to play with us and they were able to help him get started. It kind of sucks that we can’t trade and help one another out, but I think it would suck more if other folks were allowed to multi-account. I imagine that could make it unplayable for the rest of us. Anyway, it’s something to be aware of if you game with someone you live with.
More Addictive than you Might Think
Games like this are a terribly slippery slope if you have to be a productive person at your computer during the day. I’m sure if I weren’t playing this, however, I’d be doing something equally distracting. Ikariam effectively takes the place of daytime Facebook checking, social e-mailing, and all the other little things most folks do during their work breaks. Instead of reading about who needs what for their next Mafia hit, I peek in to find out, “Do I need to send out another wine shipment? Did that person in my alliance accept my cultural asset treaty? Are there enemy forces on their way to pillage my towns?” I currently have four towns to look after, which means there’s usually something to do if I have a few minutes to check the game. Although it will be expensive as hell to build a fifth, I’m already scoping out locations.
So, I am completely addicted to this game. In total, I didn’t even play Chronicles of Spellborn this much and I really loved that. (Runes of Magic has been deleted from the hard drive to make room for other stuff.) In fact, one thing that has held up my writing a review of Ikariam is the fact that I play it so much during the day, during times that would otherwise have gone to blogging. (All those people on Facebook haven’t heard from me in eons either. Heh…)
Definitely check this one out. Again, find me on the US Iota server. (Be sure you’re at ikariam.com and not .org, too.) E-mail me to let me know where to send the welcome wagon. Join ussss… 🙂