Software Review: Build colonies for the Queen

The 20th century was an era of the dismantling of colonial empires, but the 18th century was a time for building them up.

anno disk 88 (photo credit: )
anno disk 88
(photo credit: )
Anno 1701, a DVD-ROM in English by Sunflowers, distributed with a 50-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Atari-Israel, requires Windows XP and up and a 2.2 ghz Pentium 4 PC or better, for teenagers through adults, NIS 200. Rating: ***** The 20th century was an era of the dismantling of colonial empires, but the 18th century was a time for building them up. To play this real-time strategy game, you need a great deal of patience, an eye for detail and a fondness for Civilization-type city-building. It is the third and most successful disk in the series by a German software company, which also includes Anno 1503 and Anno 1602 (all of which are known as A.D. in the US). As the main character, you are dispatched by an unnamed redheaded queen of England to the Caribbean, where you are to populate islands that are part of her empire. But when I went into Google to find out who England's monarch was in 1701, I found it was William III, who was king from 1689 to 1701. Queen Anne replaced him in 1702 and lasted for 12 years. How could the developers make this historic error? No matter. Create a profile - either male or female - to play the protagonist. After the beautiful opening videoclip of your farewell to the queen in her palace and your voyage to a Caribbean island, which has been partially destroyed by a volcano, you must go through a series of four tutorials to learn how to play. This takes about 40 minutes. If you've played the previous Anno games or other city-building software, you may not want to go through this instruction, but you are given no choice of opting out. Still, for the uninitiated, the tutorials are very helpful. You are asked by the queen to settle the fictional island of Goldfurt, building a village center, modest homes, a fishing industry, sheep ranches, weaving factories, warehouses, a clay pit, a brick factory, bee colonies, gold mines and other facilities so the growing number of residents can earn a living and pay taxes. Your avatar (the face you choose for your profile) displays his or her view of the way you're running things by laughing if pioneers are satisfied or yelling and complaining if unhappy. In addition, a statue in the center of the village square depicts the general mood by releasing fireworks from its upheld lance when things are going well or lowering it menacingly when they are not (too bad our government and the Knesset can't gauge public opinion this way). But settlers can also be grumpy and surly because you haven't yet built a chapel where they can pray or supplied alcohol for them to drink in the tavern after work. As Goldfurt does not have land suitable for growing hops (for beer) or sugar cane (for rum), you will have to set sail for a nearby island called Ranzingen, which is suitable for such cultivation. Just click on icons to construct a sugar cane farm and a distillery, and you're in business. If you don't want to have to repeat this process every time residents get sober, you can easily set up a trade route: The ship Neptune will automatically take goods produced in Goldfurt and exchange them for alcohol without your having to bother. There are 10 single-player missions, plus an open-ended game in which you use gold and other resources provided by the queen to build warehouses and colonize your islands. Although colony-building and economics are the focus of the game, the need to protect trading routes and other interests requires a combat component, and naval forces are available to escort ships and fight battles if diplomacy fails. The graphics engine is superb. Everything down on earth is detailed and lifelike, and when you zoom out, you rise above floating clouds. Birds of various species fly about, sheep go out to pasture, the waves roll in, and the houses look well-developed and tidy. During storms, water sprays at the screen as if you were facing a window. Scenes are a joy to behold, and lovers of this genre can easily lose their sense of time. The game even reminds you periodically to rest your eyes if you've been playing for two hours on end. The sound effects are excellent, and the background music is perfect. City-building genre fans will be delighted by this game, with the nearly endless possibilities of its open-ended mode. But it is not recommended for those who prefer shooting and other action and lack the diligence and fortitude for methodically and painstakingly creating an empire.