The West Indies at the turn of the 18th century: Europe is at full sails during the golden age of exploration, and this fictionalized account of Caribbean colonization absolutely sings with a chorus of promise and prosperity. While often attempted, rare is the period piece video game that captures the gleaming possibilities of the New World with such energy and spirit as 1701 A.D.
Shy away from the overly-specific temporal namesake at your own risk; this third submission in the A.D. series (see 1602 A.D. and 1503 A.D. -- in that order -- to witness its progression) is made all the more beautiful by the simplicity of its face-value design. That design puts a smiley face on the otherwise hostile facade that dooms many 4X titles the moment your ship hits the beach. Take your average eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate sim-builder, and you'll feel the uphill battle commence before you even plant your flag in the sand. But here, in the welcoming arms of a 1701 A.D. learninglandscape, your settlers' jovial expressions are there to match your own. Developing the natural and mineral resources of unexplored islands has rarely been this cleanly executed (or this fun).
Swiping your mouse over different structures triggers a VH1 Popup balloon of pertinent information, without descending into the murky depths of charts & graphs land. And while this leaves room for a little bit of fudging when it comes to hard and fast numbers, you get to thankfully leave all the fourth grade math behind when gauging just how many fish it takes to feed your God-fearing populace. Next to your food icon in the city-wide warehouse is a green up-arrow: Hooray, food is in surplus! A red down-arrow: Oh no, it might be time to open up a hunting lodge or a cattle ranch to fill everyone's belly.
It's too well done for other city-sim designers not to stand up and notice -- at least those that don't vacillate over the need for endless miniaturized Excel spreadsheets to glean the most out of their gaming experience.
But that's also where the charismatic nature of 1701 A.D. will get you every time. Because the research tree that's so youthful and charming at first, matures into a branching behemoth of supply & demand management. Those branches are always neatly pruned and easy to gather fruit from, but they gradually multiply into the challenging resource crunch requisite of a satisfying city builder.
But -- Hernando Cortes be praised -- the learning curve (which is more like a learning curb in some similarly-themed titles) is made wholly digestible by the in-game ANNOpedia, which is as trouble-free and functional as any finely-crafted Civilopedia, a la Civilization. (The "ANNO" prefix comes from the game's original German title, Anno 1701 … as in Anno Domini.)
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