Grex is one of the original master designers and naturally his scenario is eminently playable. I enjoyed almost every minute. I only took off half a point because it was a little slow getting my small force through the long winding forest paths over and over. And, I was unable to build my favorite unit, the cavalry archer. They would have come in handy and I think they would have fit with the historical period nicely.
I hesitate to award anything less than a 4 to anything Grex has created but he has stated in the intro that the difficulty here is Moderate.
I found it very easy to lay back in my secluded clearing surrounded by dense impassable forests and cliff faces with only a narrow entrance, and gather as many resources as I desired at my leisure. I was never attacked during my build phase.
Further, I found that my priest could easily convert as many passing enemy villagers as I needed without moving from the safety of my Samurai camp.
However, it's certainly not a walkover because when I finally went on the offensive, the enemy put up some difficult defenses. Having unlimited resources, I spared myself the time and trouble of guiding forces into battle and back to get healed, and resorted to sending wave after wave of Samurai Banzai attacks, possibly appropriate for that Age and people.
The map contains vast forest areas, so I had access to unlimited wood, which means unlimited farms with unlimited food, and unlimited numbers of war galleys. After I built a dock and trade ships, I was able to establish a profitable, safe trade route with the Portuguese colony of Macau, trading wood for gold, thus affording me unlimited amounts of gold. The only resource in short supply was stone, but I found adequate sources to construct towers in all the strategic places I needed. By the time I had accomplished all the objectives, I had developed all the techs possibly available to me and still had a surplus of about 20,000 wood, 10,000 food, and 10,000 gold, which is enough to win most scenarios starting from scratch.
As always, Grex shows lots of creativity in his plot, the Victory Conditions, the map design, and the skillful use of various AoE features.
Map Design: 4.5
This is the same map that Grex used for his later scenario "Return of the Ronin" (3-21-99).
The layout gives you the feeling of the map of an actual geographical location, and the individual features are both realistic and natural, and at the same time aesthetically charming, which I always aspire to as the ultimate goal of map making. I took off half a point because all of the forests appear to have been created with a broad brush and there were no areas where even a foot soldier could actually walk into or through a forest, as foot soldiers tend to do.
I tend to score low, as I believe a 5 means Perfection. I think the History, Instructions, Hints, and the bitmap and epilogs were perfect.
I replayed the scenario to check the Balance again. My technique for assessing Balance is
to sit in my original spot and see how soon and how severely I get attacked. I sat in my Samurai enclave for an hour, converting 7 enemy villagers who walked past my entry path, and never got attacked. A Reveal Map and No Fog (which I never use playing for the actual review) showed no signs of any enemy buildup in preparation for any attack.
This will be a marvelous download for either a beginner who doesn't like being wiped out in the first 5 minutes of play, or for a player like myself who abides by the Powell Doctrine (don't attack anybody unless it's absolutely necessary; if you do attack, go in with overwhelming force to end hostilities as quickly as possible, etc.) Highly recommended.
[Edited on 06/29/08 @ 12:33 AM]