I found myself at a very particular impasse with Alea Jacta Est. Ageod's grasp of the history of war is epic in itself, and this title's exploration of the Roman civil war is nothing short of masterful. Those in love with historical strategy, or a fan of their earlier titles, will find AJE, both familiar and challenging, while those uninitiated with these types of games will find this a very, very tough nut to crack. I, unfortunately, was a member of the latter group.
Alea Jacta Est (also Alea Iacta Est) is Latin for “The die has been cast”, a Latin phrase said to have been uttered by Julius Caesar as he crossed the Rover Rubicon with his army into Northern Italy. With 6 campaigns set between 87 BC and 193 AD, AJE covers an expansive range of military engagements, with the center point being the Roman Civil Wars and Caesar's capturing of Rome.
Each campaign offers a choice between 2-3 factions, each with it's own set of objectives to be met within a predetermined number of turns. Each turn represents 30 days of actual time, so for example, the Roman Civil War is given 121 turns, representing the years between 50 – 39BC.
Victory in AJE requires patience, planning, and perseverance. With the game played out over a huge, and incredibly detailed map of Europe, North Africa, and historical Prussia, it's very easy to become overwhelmed at the sheer amount of information being given to you. Everything, from the mountains outside Rome, to the seemingly empty middle of the Mediterranean, has stats and needs to be considered as you move your armies.
Movement is a simple matter of dragging and dropping armies from where they are to where you want them, with the game calculating how long it will take for the move to be completed. All moves require planning, as any move, even those taking a week or less, still requires a full turn to activate. Battles play out during the completion of a turn as well, with the results available as a simple overview, or a detailed soldier by soldier recap. Battles over cities often turn into full blown sieges, with time passing by as the siege army tries to breach a cities walls, or sends in it's navy to block the cities port.
Armies, unsurprisingly, have their own stats, such as command points which determine how many troops a commander can have under his control, or how many units were lost as a result of disease or desertion. Some of these can be dealt with through the options menu, as AJE allows a lot of customization regarding how you want to play, but many have to be learned and dealt with.
Politics also play a part in AJE. Capturing and holding cities produces money and Engagement points, which can then be used to purchase propaganda campaigns, or hold ceremonial games to increase loyalty in areas under your control.
For a strategy game played out over a static map, AJE is surprisingly beautiful, especially when set to the higher end settings. The map is topographical, displaying mountains and hills to scale, as well as displaying snow effects when called for by extreme heights or the cold weather of the winter months. Everything is given it's period specific name, with most showing up in Latin.
On the other hand, the portraits used for group displays look muted and without life. While the actual portraits are historical in nature, they don't look alive when contrasted against the very vibrant map, and units represented by a symbol rather then a person look like they were taken straight out of the roman clip-art book. There is also a bit of lag when scrolling around the map, which I noticed even when visuals were set to very low.
This is where I had the most issues with AJE. While very technically sound and beautifully executed, I found it amazingly difficult to get into having no background in this type of game/experience. The in game tutorial consists of a small campaign of 7 rounds designed to teach the basics in movement and setting up/executing combat, and teach basics it does. Those basics were enough to open the door, but not nearly enough to let me step even timidly into the room of historically-based strategy. I had to find a series of video tutorials and Let's Play videos on you tube to really get a general understanding of what I should and should not be doing, which map overlays to be paying attention to, and even what to do with my money and Engagement points.
While I agree that games often put to much into tutorials, I think strategy games, games that require more thinking and planning then aiming and ducking, really need to introduce the important systems to its players. Ageod sets you adrift on a river of uncertainty with a set of water wings, asking you to build your own boat and paddle with instructions that were written in a language they made sure you couldn't read. Had this not been for a review, I would have set this game aside as an ill informed purchase, and simply never played it again.
I mentioned when I started this review, that I found myself at an impasse with Alea Jacta Est. How do I score a game that I didn't personally like, but that was more then technically proficient in what it was trying to accomplish. As you can see from the score above, I chose to separate myself from it, giving it the respect a technical marvel like this is do, while also admonishing it for not trying to be a little more inclusive and welcoming to those stepping into a historical strategy game for the first time. If you like, or have played, a game like this in the past, you'll love AJE. If you haven't, just prepare yourself for a lot of study.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!