The Hex Map. Sturdy war horse of the strategy game, hex grids have divided our playing world for longer then I have been alive. Each time I see one, I am immediately reminded of two things: The hand drawn hex map my college DnD group used for game nights, and Heroes of Might and Magic III, whose hex battlefields were stomped through quite thoroughly by my armies of the night.
It's this similarity to Heroes that interested me in Eador: Genesis. Crafted in Russia, with a difficulty level as cold and brutal as that of it's motherland, Eador is neither kind nor welcoming, but those willing to stick through the steep learning curve will find a game of depth and old school charm.
At it's core, Eador is a turn based strategy game, with, depending on the scenario, the player controlling one or more heroes across a map of various sizes. Heroes come in 4 varieties, warriors who rely on strength of arms and heavy armor, scouts who attack from range with a bow, commanders who specialize in army building, and wizards who do, well, very wizardly things.
Starting from their stronghold, players have a ton to do and prepare right from the get go. Much like it's RTS cousins, Eador strongholds are all about building and resource management. Every turn allows construction of one type of building, which thankfully is constructed and usable immediately, and each building is different in form and function; some allow the hiring of units to join your hero in battle, while others work on morale or add straight to your coffers at the end of each turn.
Strongholds and other provinces also require exploration, with the assigned hero taking a full turn to explore the surrounding region. Expeditions often end with nothing but the percentage of the realm explored increasing, but they can lead to discovering bands of wandering adventurers, or even undiscovered areas offering combat and loot.
Combat takes place on the familiar hex map of yore, with the hero's squad lined up on the left and then enemy placed on the right. Again, everything is turn based, with each squad moving and attacking on their specific turns, though if in melee range, all units get a counterattack when hit. While combat maps are 2d affairs, landscape does affect things like movement and defense; if you move on to a hex with a hill, you are effectively on top of the hill, along with all the bonuses being on a hill in a strategic battle would confer. Walk on to that swamp picture, and well, you're done for this turn. Unless you're a goblin. Apparently, they enjoy swamps.
Adding to it's depth, Eador also has a morality system, taking into effect things like whether or not you summon the undead in battle, how you treat surrounding villages and even whether you tax other adventurers that pass through your land. Units with similar morality gains bonuses in combat, making it all the more important to surround yourself with units that like the way you play. They also gain levels in combat through an experience system, making those units that manage to survive long enough hurt even more when they eventually die due to a poor decision.
The campaign, depending on whether you fully explore all the provinces, can take upwards of 30 hours, and while it eventually gets to enemies and multiple-shards (playing worlds), the real bread and butter is the randomly created scenarios, pitting you against multiple opponents, each with their own customizable difficulty, on maps of random sizes (which of course can also be per-determined if you so choose).
Eador is not pretty. Or, at least not in the way that games of this generation are. It's functional, in that all the information you need, even if you don't understand it all, is in front of you, but it is in no way pretty. 2D figures, some nicely rendered, slam into one another on the battlefield, easily drawing comparisons to the old paper play sets of youth, where pictures of Batman would kind of kick pictures of the Joker into a picture of Arkham (well, given how easily he would break out again, maybe it is a pretty accurate depicition).
The backgrounds themselves are also pretty functional, though it can be tough to tell whether or not that building in the woods is a town, or an orc shack. Sure, you can click on it to find out for sure, but it would be nice to be able to tell without accessing the wall of text and stats that accompanies everything in the game. All those numbers look fantastic though.
Eador is a mood piece. You have to want to play this type of old school, turn based strategy to even begin to crack the ice covering the core of this game. Information is not very easily obtained, and most of what is available is in Russian, so if the answer you're looking for isn't in the English forums, you're pretty much left to figure it out for yourself.
The games tutorial does a decent job of explaining the hows, but the whys are left up in the air for you to decide. Exploration, for example, is mentioned and then glossed over. They tell you that exploring a province completely ups the total income of that province, but it doesn't tell you that the random encounters found through exploring are the main source of experience for your troops and your hero.
Same with the morality system. Your decisions mattering is hinted at, in an off-hand way, but I was about 6-7 hours into my first play through, not quite understanding some of the pluses and minuses on display, when I stumbled upon the info in some reading. Come to find out that all the skeletons I was summoning when my spear men would die was giving me a bad reputation. And those settlements where I chose the “killing you would be easier then paying you” option, yeah those peasants didn't welcome me in with open arms.
All of that was information I could have used, and being the kind of player I am, wanting to get things right the first time, exploring everything to it's fullest, not having it, and watching the happiness of settlements plummet without any idea as to why, left a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
Should you be in the mood for turn based, RPG strategy, you would be hard pressed to find a better game for the 6 bucks Snowbird Games is asking for. It's incredibly deep, and if you're willing to put the time in, it's a great trip into the way games used to be made. Though not for everybody, Eador: Genesis is in a class by itself. Probably Pre-calculus... or applied sciences... or even study hall. Yeah, Eador: Genesis is in a study hall by itself.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!