by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Have you ever thought to yourself "man, I love the Civ games, but I really don't have 10 hours to play through a game of it?" If so, Midjiwan AB's The Battle of Polytopia might be exactly the game you're looking for. A 4X strategy game that goes light on complexity without sacrificing all of its depth or strategic options for play, The Battle of Polytopia is the perfect game
At its core, The Battle of Polytopia isn't really any different from some of its bigger brothers in the genre. As a player, you'll pick a civilization, start out with one settlement on a shrouded map, and attempt to grow bigger and better than the competition. Everything is just... smaller. Instead of giant, sprawling maps, games take place on small boards. The game's bright, colorful, boxy art style fits this smaller scale well, looking so cute you'll forget that you're committing horrible acts of war. Each of the civilizations you have to choose from is fictionalized, but they're all inspired by a wide array of real cultures. In addition to their small, unique bonuses, each also has a unique look for their buildings that keeps things a bit more visually interesting. Plus if "realism" isn't quite your thing, Polytopia's four post-release cultures have taken a more fantastical approach, letting players try their hand with unicorn-riding mystics, spooky bug-cultists, and more.
Streamlined Development and Combat
The beauty of Polytopia is that many of its systems that could have easily complicated things have been streamlined into something much more manageable. A great example is the economy. There aren't a bunch of currencies or markets to worry about balancing, it's just stars and population. Each settlement has a population that determines how many units can be on the board at a time that it has produced, and stars are what's spent to' buy units and spots on the tech tree. Speaking of the tech tree, its also delightfully simple. Instead of dozens upon dozens of tech unlocks with various prerequisites and repercussions, there are only a handful of 'arms' that extend out, each with just a couple of extensions. It's not too simple, though, and the system still makes decision-making interesting and meaningful. While you can easily unlock every single upgrade during a match, the early decisions between units and tech unlocks can have huge implications, and a number of early-game strategies seem viable.
There are two main ways to play The Battle of Polytopia: Perfection and Domination. Domination is an all-out royale rumble in which the only goal is to crush the opposition, and it's... fine. I much preferred the timed Perfection mode, which gives players 30 turns to rack up the most victory points. Combat is still necessary, but its augmented by a la'rger focus on growing your cities and building non-combat buildings. It also cuts out some of the fluff of domination games. With no time crunch, these games often start slow and go on a bit too long. Not that combat isn't fun, because it is. Like everything else, combat mechanics are super simple to grasp. Units only have four stats- movement, attack, defense, and health- and there are only a few units to pick from. Archers, unsurprisingly, are the game's ranged units, shields have high defense, riders have high movement, warriors are the basic offensive melee unit, and knights are fast, strong, and tough. Add in a combat ship, and there isn't too much to get your head around. Picking which units to buy and where to place them is critical, and battles play out like nice little rock-paper-scissors chess matches.
Not for Everyone, but Great for Some
I appreciate that Battle of Polytopia is a game I can leave alone for a while, jump back into, and have fun with without the need to spend 30 minutes refamiliarizing myself with the game's minutia. If you're looking for a deep, complex system that takes hours upon hours to fully grasp, this probably isn't what you're looking for, but it's hard to beat for quick scratches of a strategy itch. It's hard to come up with many serious complaints about Polytopia. Would more game modes be nice? Would I like a few more units? Would I have appreciated more diversity between civilizations? Well...maybe. Part of the game's charm is its simplicity. The game doesn't pretend to be something more complicated than it is, and adding much more would start to push the game too far in the awkward space between casual and hardcore. Polytopia probably isn't going to be your next Civilization or Stellaris, but if you're looking for something a bit more laid back, there's a lot here to enjoy.
Pleasant art style, simple mechanics that don't dumb things down too much.
Domination mode tends to drag a bit too much.