|Ingo van Thiel
This semi-historical campaign features the end of the Shang dynasty and the first years of the Chou empire. In the chaos of intrigues, barbarian invasions and rebellions, one man emerged who was more powerful than the king himself: Chou Kung, Duke of Chou. This campaign is designed for experienced players. If you are good at micromanagement and if you like tough challenges, this might be the right game for you. Enjoy, and save often!
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Yippeee.and We had to wait a long time for it, but here's the first campaign by Ingo after a really long holiday that was well spent on designing for other games. This is his second historical campaign (the first was his submission in the Mongolian Campaign Contest) and of course it's another masterpiece.Do you notice a difference between a historical and a fantasy campaign? Not really. It might have been the Tai Gun III after all (j/k). There's still the same attention to continuity, wonderful map design, the compelling story, the gorgeous bitmaps, the puzzles, the narrow shaves, the hard work to see it all through - not a bit of monotony throughout.The campaign starts with the end of a dynasty - the emperor has forfeited the Mandate of Heaven by his faithless behaviour. It's your call to finish his rule and after that to support Chou Kung, who has been appointed as the regent for the infant new emperor. Whether Chou Kung is going to usurp the throne instead is just one of the many things you're going to discover here.
Chou Kung is one of the first campaigns I played, and it sparked a huge interest in both playing and designing campaigns. I can’t say that I have ever played a campaign better than this, although that opinion may be biased by fact that it was my “first”. Regardless, it shall most likely never be surpassed.
Beginning as the martyr Pi Kan, you must solve a brilliant puzzle, and send word of your martyrdom to Wu Wang. It is then a post Iron Age build and destroy level, with a diplomacy issue: Do you attack the Quiang, or the Shang? The Quiang will certainly hold off the Shang attacks, but they attack you as well. The level is difficult and extremely enjoyable, probably my favourite level of all time. The objectives are perfect, such as bringing Wu Wang and his Legions into the palace of Zhou, and converting the towers that stand before it. I was a fairly new player when I beat this mission the first time, and I was really proud of myself when I managed to do it.
From a design point of view, the puzzle is a highlight, something that isn’t all that simple to make. The other thing to note is that you can’t really have an “Or” condition for destroying units, this was done with another trick, destroying units with bring object to object.
Now General Li faces a critical decision. His loyalty to an oath is questioned when Xian entices him to join him, in his plot to wrestle the crown from his brother Chou Kung. It is not a decision General Li takes lightly, for a man who breaks an oath is nothing. The level is extremely original, with a very unusual objective of having to avoid your advisors so that General Li won’t revoke his decision, another highly creative use of Archimedes. Once Li appears from the meeting with Xian, he must get the war chest out of the area. This uses another trick, where you may bring an object to several different areas. The mission will require careful strategy and skillful use of counter units, and of course you will have to keep his advisors busy chatting to people who _aren’t_ Li.
Back to the classic build and destroy style, then a diplomacy trick to get reinforcements. Taking on Prince Hung is no walk in the park, and you have to get a well outfitted army to stand up to his attacks. Once you control Li, you have a siege scenario similar to those at the end of The Kings Best Men (AoK). There are also two puzzle elements to help you in the siege, one involving a blind lame priest, the other using the minimap in a creative way.
At my first play through I found the levels very difficult, but I still finished the campaign over a short time because I always kept trying. The campaign was too much fun not to. I finished it on hardest both times, but a less skilled player could also finish it on moderate. The second time I enjoyed the levels in a new way, taking more notice of the bitmaps, the story, and the map design. In the final level I chose to face the siege with just the men I had, but that led me to discover a new part of the BLP puzzle I had missed on my first play. The siege was very hard without reinforcements, but I managed it.
This is Ingo’s first really “Historical” campaign for AoE, and it follows on from his “Taigun” campaigns, which end with the beginnings of the Chou. The historical area was mixed well with creative fiction, including the character “General Li”, a key figure in the story. The map design is yet another evolution, taking cactus eye candy and unique forests to another level. The levels are made to fit the story, for pure playability, and to host a new array of old, improved, and new tricks. Getting such a balance in all these areas is very difficult, and being creative in all of them is even harder.
Map Design: 5
When I first played Chou Kung I simply didn’t know anything at all about map design, having only played the ES campaigns and a few rag tag submissions, I was blown away with how the levels looked. Once I started designing maps, which was largely inspired by levels like these, I kept going back to the first scenario, never believing I could make a city look this beautiful. I constantly tried to memorize how to make it, how to use units and how to arrange them. I think I’ve eventually got it, with the help of Andrea’s designing as well, but Ingo’s Asian cities are always something to savor, and something I can only make poor imitations of. For most players map design will be looked on the same way I did when I first played, which is without much knowledge, but it’s when you know it looks good without really understanding why or how that you have a great map.
The story follows the crown of the Chou, rulers of ancient China, and the decisions of those that have an opportunity to make personal gains at the expense of their conscience. General Li is a central character, and so is the custodian of the crown of infant Ch’eng Wang, Chou Kung. The two face parallel decisions in their story, which is skillfully written.
The historical section shows a lot of research and thoughtful insight into ancient Chinese politics. The bitmaps are beautifully done, using the same cut and paste vs. ES style, and are very polished.
Genghis Khan, Taigun I and II, Gyda’s Challenge (AoK)
Play it, love it, and treasure it.