8/21/2008

Browser game : Travian

Travian is a browser-based massively multiplayer online real time strategy game (don't worry , it's a good thing :P ) , built by enthusiasts in Germany. At a first glance you would say that it looks a bit too childish , but in fac it's more of a "user friendly" game .



www.travian.com

Gameplay is based around short visits to the site a few times a day (usually once every few hours, but a lot more often if you're beginning to build up a new village or in the middle of a war), so it can be a pleasant distraction from whatever you're meant to be doing without in theory taking over your life. The problem is that the only way to do well in the game is to let it take over, to be constantly launching attacks and making sure that new building is lined up as soon as the old building is finished. Victory depends equally on skill and your willingness to sacrifice your real life. I've heard this is normal for MMORPGs, but this is the first time I've played in a game where this is true; and I didn't like it.

The game was most fun when I picked a fight with another player and tried to conquer their village. I spent a weekend calculating move and countermove, being bluffed and counterbluffed, and convincing his allies not to attack me. It was fun, and the slow speed of the action (it would take two hours for the units which could damage his defences and convince his citizens to switch sides to reach him) reminded me a little of news reports and made the unfolding fight much more immersive and involving. Most of the tactics ended up boiling down to maths (when do I have to send the powerful cavalry to get them to arrive just before the weak-but-vital catapults?), which I'm geeky enough to enjoy. But not many people are that geeky, and most people probably want to get out at some point during the weekend.

Because the game often boils down to being in the strongest most active alliance, you can spend a lot of time chatting to other players and trying to corall them into joining a plan. Many of the alliances are based around particular nations, particularly the smaller European nations. And Poland. I once accidently attacked someone without realising they'd joined a large Polish Alliance, and wrote to them with sympathetic noises about the UK's failure to achieve its main war aim in WW2 and the Molotov Ribbentrop pact. I don't remember a German or an English alliance, for which I'm very grateful. (Although there was a Yorkshire one. So if no-one was refighting WW2, there is still potential for the Wars of the Roses.) The software has several functions to support alliances - such as fora and listings of who is allied or at war with whom. Unfortunately, alliances are often too important - the sheer scale of the game often means that success or failure depends less on your tactical choices than on whether your alliance gets into a large war or not.

Unfortunately, this problem with the scale of the game overwhelms other chances for interesting decisions. The degenerate strategy is too obvious, and relies (notice a theme?) too much on sacrificing your real life. When the first game closed, the winner (simply the player with the most points) thanked the many people who had helped them, largely by pitching in and sharing the running of the account so that whilst one person is busy or sleeping, another is making sure that no move is missed.

As a piece of software, it is sometimes slow, and occasionally processing stops. But given that it's a large game funded entirely out of a few euros a month for optional extra features, I'm quite prepared to tolerate that level of faults. I didn't notice any bugs which affected game rules, and there was good communication on the forum between admins and players.

In my opinion the game is good enough to keep you busy for a while but nothing more . People that look for other gameplay options beside just attacking an opponent will be disappointed by the game . The reason why I dropped the game after 6 months is that the game has almost no protection for people smaller than their opponent . I had the bad luck to be spotted by someone larger than me and in a more powerful alliance than mine . The result was that I lost 6 months work in about 3 days .

Bottom-line , if you like a competitive game , with friendly interface and nice people , you should try Travian at least for a while .

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