Anno 1701: Dawn of Discovery is the latest building/merchant sim in the series. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the games the series puts you in control of building a colony and ensuring its success.
The series has been very popular in Germany in particular (where the developer, Sunflowers, is based). This is the first in the series to appear on the DS.
The game is divided into two main types, story mode and free play. Free play has no specific goals other than to conquer the map, where as the story mode (as discussed later) follows a set path and has specific objectives.
Upon starting a game you are given a warehouse and limited resources. Building structures allows you to harvest resources such as wood stone and ore. To fund your colony you will require a population. Build a house and then tax the occupants. The first people to occupy a house will have basic needs. Meet all these needs and they will move up to the next citizen level and will gain a new set of needs. The higher a citizens level the more tax they will pay. Each level requires two types of resource and access to two buildings. For example to get your citizens to advance to the second level they will need access to market, be within the influence area of a church and there must be sufficient cloth and food. To expand the sphere of influence of your colony you will need to build further markets. These are essential as they will give you new carriers to get your precious resources from the production facilities.
This may seem like a simple formula though in reality there is a significant amount of strategy and micro-management required. Each island will only offer certain types of resources and its climate will affect the resource types available. This means you will have to conquer additional islands to offer your citizens all the luxuries they require such as chocolates and jewellery. Increasing a citizens level is especially important as the amount of tax that is generated by the higher citizen levels is massive.
To conquer an island that has already been settled you will require a military force. Build a barracks and a warship, then transport the troops to the required island and set up a beach head. Combat is very simple. A warehouse will have a number of defenders, keep sending attackers until all the defenders are wiped out and then the building is yours.
The games graphics work quite well. The game is far from spectacular, but more than does the job. Each structure is well detailed and unique allowing it to stand out and be identified easily amongst a large group. The bottom screen shows your colonies and areas beyond, whilst the top screen shows your resources and contextually information based on what you have selected on the main screen. If a blank area of land is selected then colony information will be shown such as your income and outgoings. Select a building and more detailed information will be shown such as what the building is producing, its efficiency, how much product it has and how much it costs to run. One point worth noting is in addition to the games smooth graphics the game is bug free as far as I have seen. It's good to see a game that has gone through extensive enough testing to ensure that it's a complete product.
The games story mode works quite well. You are sent to the New World to establish colonies for your queen. As expected you start with access to a limited number of building types and as the game unfolds you are introduced to additional building types. Each mission will give you a certain number of objectives to meet, such as take over the pirates island, send 25 tonnes of jewellery to the queen or have 500 of a certain citizen type. The one thing that I found a little frustrating was I would lay out my colony based on the advice I was given, only to find that as the next set of structures became available that my layout was unsuitable and I would have to demolish buildings to re-situate them. Fortunately the game is quite forgiving in its early stages and there is plenty of cash available to make these changes. Also this element is part of the learning process and will help ensure that you don't make the same mistake twice.
I was quite impressed with the games controls, in fact they make controlling the game feel effortless. All you will use (unless you want to pause or save, in which case you hit start) is the stylus. The stylus can be used to select buildings, whiz across the screen or access the games various menus. When a menu is selected it expands out to give access to multiple options and screens. This frees the screen from clutter.
My biggest issue with the game is the viewing perspective. The game is isometric, which normally wouldn't be a problem, unfortunately there is no option to rotate the screen. This means that you generally can't see smaller items behind larger buildings. It therefore becomes difficult to see where your roads are. Often I found that some of my buildings weren't connected to the road network because of a break in the road I couldn't see. Also I lost several buildings to fire because I thought they were connected to the same road network as the fire station, it turns out they weren't. Whilst this may sound like a significant issue it rarely causes much frustration.
I would have liked to have seen a better developed military/combat portion of the game. It wouldn't have to be too much more, just a few extra unit types and structures. Also there is no option to play over the internet, which will limit the games replayability.
In conclusion Anno 1701: Dawn of Discovery is a welcome addition to the catalogue of DS games. It is one of the stronger god sim/population management games that I have played. It is a solid title and deserves to sell well.