Age of Empires is a computer game that was developed by Ensemble Studios and Microsoft in 1997. It was so popular that it was followed up with a Roman expansion pack and two sequels, Age of Empires II: Age of Kings and Age of Mythology. In Age of Empires, the player is placed in charge of a civilisation and must develop it economically, militarily and religiously (advancing through 'Ages') in order to defeat other civilisations and win1. The game is based on real historical civilisations and situations.
Each game will start on a 'map' - the area where your civilisation lives. You can choose the sort of map you would like to play each game on (you can choose between large islands, small islands, coastal, inland or highland). Maps come in many sizes and with areas of water, desert, grass, forest and resources. The default game settings mean that areas of the map you have not yet explored (ie, sent a unit off to that part) will remain black, and only reveal themselves after you have explored the area.
When starting a game, you must also choose your civilisation - the options are: Egyptian, Greek, Babylonian, Assyrian, Minoan, Hittite, Phoenician, Sumerian, Persian, Shang, Yamato or Choson. In general, the civilisations are fairly evenly matched, although each one will have a slight advantage in one area, and the buildings look slightly different. Each player in a game will have a different colour (you can choose your colour) so that you can tell civilisations apart easily.
When you start the game and are placed in charge of a civilisation, you must control all units and buildings which that civilisation owns. Control is fairly simple; when you click on a unit or building, you find out what it can do, and you can then tell it what you would like to do accordingly. All units are supposed to obey you, but occasionally some things seem beyond their grasp (if you give them a complicated location to go to, with lots of obstacles in the way, they may get stuck somewhere and wait for you to help them out).
In a game with many civilisations, the civilisations are able to form teams. When you are in a team with another civilisation, they become your ally. This means they are friendly and will not attack you (you cannot attack them unless you suddenly choose to become their enemy instead). If you are playing against a team of allied enemies, many civilisations at once will come and try to attack you.
How to Play
Generally, you will start with just a town centre and a handful of villagers. Fortunately, town centres can produce more villagers. By collecting resources (wood, stone, gold and food) you can create more and more buildings, which in turn can 'train' units. (A unit is any sort of villager, boat or military force. They also cost resources, usually food.) Your 'stockpile' of resources is a number that shows how much of that particular resource you have. The numbers are in the top left-hand corner of the screen, and get smaller when resources are used up (in a building for example) and grow larger when resources are collected by villagers and added to your stockpile.
When a unit of yours engages in combat, it will lose health points as it is attacked. When it completely runs out of points, it will die. Priests can be use to heal injured units (see below), but cannot bring back the dead.
Units can be upgraded to more powerful units (a clubman can become an axe-man, for example) and buildings can 'research' various things, giving your civilisation more power. Some buildings and units can only be built when you have another building - for example, you cannot build a market unless you have a granary, and you cannot build a temple without a market. Also, some buildings cannot be built until you are at a certain age (see below). Siege workshops, for example, only become available at the Bronze Age. When you have certain buildings, plus a set amount of resources, you can advance to the next age. The ages in order are: Stone Age, Tool Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and occasionally Post-Iron Age.
Villagers are cheaply produced by the town centre and are basic units. They are not really military units, as their attack capabilities are limited and they have little defence. Villagers are most useful for building and collecting resources. Resources are essential to a powerful civilisation and can usually be found in the area around the town centre. Food comes from berry bushes, wild animals, farms and fish (fishing boats also fish); stone and gold are mined, and wood is available after chopping down trees. The wild animals are mostly friendly and will only occasionally attack villagers. Once collected by villagers, resources are deposited in storage pits, granaries or the town centre.
If the map you are playing on contains water, you can build a dock. Docks can make boats. Fishing boats (these can be upgraded to fishing ships) collect fish from the water and bring it back to the dock. The collected fish is added to your stockpile of food. Trade boats (these can be upgraded to trade ships) can trade the other three resources for gold by going to foreign docks. Light transport ships (can be upgraded to heavy transport) can transport land units around via the sea. Scout ships are good for scouting, as their name suggests, and have a small attack capability. They can be upgraded to war galleys and then to triremes. Other, more powerful ships (with catapults) can also be created, when your civilisation has sufficient resources.
Military units are used to engage in combat with enemy units. The most basic military building is the barracks, which starts off producing clubmen (these can be upgraded to axe-men, then sword warriors can be researched and created). Archery ranges and stables are also available, producing archers and cavalry respectively. Different units have different attacking power and different levels of armour. It is possible to increase the armour a unit has by using your storage pit to research armour (such as leather armour and chain mail).
Houses are the most basic type of building, relatively cheap to make, that can be built by villagers. Houses are essential to a civilisation, as they house all the units in that civilisation. Each house has a limit of how many units it can hold, and when the limit has been reached you must build more houses or else you will not be able to create more units.
If you have reached the Bronze Age and have a town centre, granary and market, you can build a temple. Temples can train priests and research various religious things. Creating and researching costs gold, but it is worth it as priests can be extremely useful. Their two functions are converting (changing an enemy unit or building to one of yours) and healing (restoring the health of an injured unit).
Different Types of Games
Age of Empires caters for single player and multiplayer games. In a single player game, you choose a civilisation and play against the computer, who is in charge of the civilisations you choose to play against. The computer can control up to seven different civilisations in one game. Multiplayer games are between two or more players and can either take place through the internet or on a local area network.
You can choose various different types of games to play, depending on what you're interested in. In a 'random map' game, you start out with a town centre, some villagers and very few resources. You must therefore organise your villagers to collect resources (making lots of villagers will really help) and it is hard for you to advance through the Ages or create a large military force. In a 'death match' game, vast quantities of each resource is already provided for you, so all you have to do is start building, producing and fighting as quickly as possible without really worrying about your resource levels.
'Campaigns' are a good way of learning how to play the game and practising your skills. You are given a scenario and some aims which you must achieve. Once you have completed a scenario you may proceed onto the next one. The scenarios and aims get progressively harder - the first scenarios involve simple things such as collecting food, but later ones are very difficult. It is also possible to build your own scenarios using the 'scenario builder' section of the game.
Winning the Game
You can win the game in several different ways. One way is to defeat all your enemies. Defeating means eliminating all buildings and units that they own. You can also win in some less violent ways. If you collect all artefacts (little things that trundle around the board and can be grabbed by a civilisation) and hold them for 2000 years (5 years is about a second), you will win. The same applies to ruins (these are like artefacts and can be grabbed by a civilisation, but stay in a fixed position). Building a Wonder - a massive construction that can be built in the Iron Age - and keeping it standing for 2000 years (enemy civilisations may try to destroy it) will win you the game. If you are playing a game with allies, you can win the game if they hold the artefacts/ruins/Wonder.
The Age of Empires game includes a very comprehensive Help section and details of how to access a special help phone line.
Want more? Try: Age Of Empires II: Age Of Kings