Before the sun was cast into the shadows and the darkness set in, the Elven kingdom of Inioch ruled the Valley of Wonders, and all was at peace. Inioch was a powerful monarch and his Keepers maintained happiness and order throughout the Valley of Wonders, until the council decided to take the infantile human race under its wing. A few years into the tale, the humans captured the Valley and the entire Northern continent now stands on the brink of war as races align themselves against one another. In this uncertain time of war and pestilence, your task is made clear - you alone have to lead a motley crew through the map set before you, make alliances, and declare war as you see fit.
"Age of Wonders" rekindles those boyish fantasies of magical swords, mystical enchantments, goblins and tales long lost to our own imaginations. The main menu gives you the chance to play a variety of game standards with a wide array of options and settings. In case you're familiar with the game jargon, a scenario would be the logical place to get into a new game. If, however, the game is as alien to you as a plate of sushi, you could head right for the tutorial section, which offers a brief run-through of the interface, and some practical experience with your units on the map.
Before you embark on your journey, the game throws open its vast archive of races and leaders for you to choose from. The decisions you make here are vital to your diplomatic success on the map, due to the political relationships between the races and their links with the surrounding towns. Every race has a certain number of units to choose from, and these use a turn-based system that allots movement points to the unit with every turn. This is vital to the basic strategy of the game and helps you to cover a certain distance on the map in one day.
On the way, you are instructed in the fundamentals of the map, and you will come across several towns and wanderers with either hostile or friendly intent. The AI is surprisingly exhaustive, and diplomacy is affected by your chosen race and by the subsequent actions of your units. In the event of a clash of interests, you may have to fight your way out of the situation, but that's also easily resolved with the game's intelligent provisions for automatic and tactical attacks.
There's more to this game than meets the eye, and its interface is more complicated and dexterous than most games in the market. The attention to detail vividly represents the epitome of strategic games and transports you to a time of lore and legend that has a striking resemblance to a Tolkien epic.This article was first published on 10 Apr 2001.