A Beginners Guide to Xenophobia

Today I’m going to talk about one of my favorite games, Age of Empires. This is a game that got me interested in ancient civilizations from an early age. AoE is a historically themed RTS (Real Time Strategy) game that was released in 1997 for PC. Since then it has spawned a few sequels that cover the Dark Ages and the American Colonization periods of history, as well as a spin-off game that covers ancient mythologies.

The original AoE game spanned the Stone Age through the Iron age and focused on ancient civilizations located around Europe, Asia, and Africa. Some of the playable civilizations include; Hittite, Assyrian, Minoan, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Persian. There are several other civilizations included in the game and I will likely end up covering all of them on the blog over time. This game is also what initially taught me of the existence of many of these civilizations.

The game is primarily focused on a single player aspect with an objective-based campaign that leads the player through important historical moments for different civilizations. There are also other game modes including Random Map, Death Match, Scenario, and Multiplayer. All of these modes have different aspects and rules that help the game to have a massive amount of replay value. 

The most popular mode would probably have to be the Random Map mode. This mode pits the players chosen civilization against several computer controlled civilizations vying for control of land and the natural resources on them. At the start of the game the player will find themselves in the Stone Age with 3 villagers, one town center, and all of the hostile computer civilizations are scattered about the unexplored map. During this period the player will use their villagers to gather resources such as food and wood. Gather enough food and you can build more villagers, gather enough wood and you can make houses which will raise your population limit or barracks which allow you to start building soldiers.

As the player progresses from the Stone Age into the Tool Age by gathering enough resources they will then need to start collecting new resources such as stone and gold. These resources are what you will need to build powerful military units and defensive fortifications for your civilization. Further complicating things is that all of the resources in the game are finite with the exception of food once you progress far enough to build farms.

The finite resources are what drive conflict in the game. Within the first 20-30 minutes of a match, the player can usually find at least one or two enemy villagers on their borders collecting resources that you would swear were in your territory. Who do these guys think they are?! Stealing your resources so close to your home turf! Time to drive these barbaric miscreants off your land! Of course, attacking enemy villages will bring enemy soldiers into your territory to defend their citizens.

At this point, the game can usually take one of two turns. 1: You successfully repel the invaders and can attempt to destroy their buildings or you prepare for another assault that’s bound to happen within the next several minutes. Or 2: Those marauding sacks of shit wipe out your feeble army and half of your civilization and you end up cursing profusely at a civilization that has been dead for roughly 4 to 6 thousand years. Just today when playing a quick match before typing this article I found myself cursing the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires.

The AI in the game is fairly single-minded in that even though there are options for alliances and diplomacy, they only care about gathering ALL the resources and wiping out your civilization. Offers of tribute to other rulers nearly always result in the enemy proclaiming that they care not for your petty gifts. Much to my dismay, my defensive playing tendencies seem to be the thing that most greatly agitates enemies. For some reason, a few well-placed walls around the border will send the enemy into a frenzy of conquest and destruction.

While the AI in the game does leave something to be desired, overall the game is fun, challenging, and keeps me coming back over the years. Whether I’m putting up walls to keep the plebs out of my territory, or being destroyed by war mongering dickbags and vowing to commit mass genocide upon their peoples, it’s always a good time. It can certainly help you develop feelings of xenophobia knowing that at any time some intruders from foreign lands could come swooping in and destroy everything you know at any moment. It’s a learning experience.

In the end, the game is a fine balancing act. Do you create more villagers to accumulate resources and progress faster or do you dedicate most of your resources to quickly pumping out soldiers to wipe out your enemies? I usually tend to build up my resources and play defensively with few soldiers until I have upgraded my civilization sufficiently. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, and that’s what this game is all about, playing your way.

This game is a bit hard to find online in digital format. The sequels can all be found on Steam or GOG with ease, but this original game is not there as of yet. Below I will provide a link to the physical edition of the original game plus the first sequel as well as all the expansions for both on Amazon. I can vouch for it working flawlessly on Windows 10 as I just played it without issue earlier. Have any of you played Age of Empires before or are you more of a Civ player? Let me know in the comments.

This article is also available in MiniMag format.

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