Return to Part 1: Dumpster Diving
Continued from Part 29: The Odyssey
War! Age of Imperialism was in the first instance a board game, designed by Glenn Drover of Eagle Games. Players assume the role of a colonial empire intent on subjugating the rest of the world. Having an established ruleset left a solid foundation for one-man band Donohoe Digital to work with, not to mention a wealth of graphics assets in the form of a game board drawn by prolific illustrator Paul E. Niemeyer, as well as the indvidual game pieces themselves.
The Linux version of the game was sold directly by Donohoe Digital from their website starting in December 2003 up until the bankruptcy of Eagle Games, with Donohoe Digital themselves ceasing operations in 2015. That website does remain online today, and it even still hosts both the war-demo.bin.gz trial installer, as well as the war-aoi-1-3.bin.gz installer for those who had previously purchased the game. This is not kept behind a paywall, but a valid activation key is required.
Thankfully second hand boxed copies of War! Age of Imperialism for Windows and Mac can still be found, and the activation keys included therein are compatible with the Linux version of the game. Or at least they would be, if not for the fact that the activation key server seems to have been taken down. I thought this might be another dead end like Marble Blast Gold proved to be, but I eventually discovered a way to get around the key check.
Simply blank the "settings.online.server" line found in the client.properties configuration file, and then try to activate your key. The window will stop responding, but upon killing the process and launching the game again, the key will be accepted. This of course is a violation of the license agreement, but I am not going to lose any sleep over it. Donohoe Digital's other DD Poker title was made freeware before the studio's closure, so I doubt Doug Donohoe himself wants to see his games dead.
The setup uses the Java based InstallAnywhere package by Zero G Software, an alternative graphical installer to the traditional Loki Setup tool which is rather spiffy and is still being sold to this day. War! Age of Imperialism is also written in Java, much like the Risk inspired Aevum Obscurum and the Lux series of games which were its contemporaries. Coverage at the time directed much praise to the game's artificial intelligence, which does make for a canny computer opponent.
In fact, the first game I managed to win was only accomplished by my expanding outwards from Central Asia, holding Persia up to the Urals. This meant that I could concentrate all of my military forces at one of the narrowest points on the map, split among just the three provinces, while also ensuring that my rival would become bottled up in the Far East. I was then able to send forth Explorers to entice all of Europe and Africa to my empire, while my rival floundered taking the rest of the Steppe.
I had selected the house rule that dissuades the computer from investing in a navy in the early game, so we both had ships in the water by the time we had our sights set on the islands of Southeast Asia and Australia. They met in the Timor Sea, with the ship carrying my brave Explorers being sent to the bottom of the ocean in a sneak attack. Of course you know, this means war! The sound actually cut out then after several hours of play, muffling the climatic battles that followed.
My second successful attempt had me take a similar strategy by holding Palestine, with my navy blockading the computer to hold them to just their African heartland. The artificial intelligence still managed to impress, as after starting my invasion the computer executed a successful feigned retreat, baiting me to keep advancing forward and creating the conditions ripe for a potential encirclement. Only by not taking the bait and pulling back did I ward off heavy losses.
The game still has a much greater degree of complexity on offer, as so far I have just been playing with weak natives who do not revolt or need westernization, and with technological discoveries and purchases disabled. One rule that I will insist on using going forward is "Empty Region Worth 5 PP", as otherwise you can end up paralyzed despite holding territory. It is also odd that by default the game asks you to roll the dice for computer players, but this can be changed with the "Quick AI" settings.
My Pentium III 500 Mhz just barely meets the minimum system requirements for War! Age of Imperialism, and the game does indeed chug on the hardware, but being turn based this never proved to be much of an issue. It also spontaneously quit on me at one point, although I did not mind too much as the only thing distancing me from my last save was a number of unfortunate dice rolls. War! Age of Imperialism is well worth taking a punt on, if you can get past the key check.
Carrying on in Part 31: The Fear of Loss
Return to Part 1: Dumpster Diving