Author: Mark G. McLaughlin
To describe this real-time strategy game of colonial construction and trade best, try to imagine Caesar III in the Caribbean, or Pharaoh with Pirates, and then blend in a touch of Colonization and season with pinches of Civilization, Cutthroats and Sim-City. Although a German import, this best-selling European design is solidly based in systems and concepts familiar to anyone who has played some or all of the American titles listed above. The 1602 A.D. design team at Sunflowers may have built upon foundations laid at Sierra/Impressions, MicroProse, Eidos or Maxis, but they have used these merely as stepping stones to create a truly delightful and truly "new" world
Anyone who likes any of the above titles will find something to like in 1602 A.D. The only trouble is getting past the manual and the tutorial to find all the good stuff. Thankfully there is an excellent 1602 A.D. web site that more than just supports the manual - it effectively replaces it.
The Hype and The Straight Talk
The advertising for this game has a lot in common with the way European colonial recruiters sold the idea of going to the New World to the huddled, impoverished and oppressed masses of their time. The game, like those recruiters, promises a lot. When a player gets the game booted up and running, however, he is likely to be just as confused, frustrated and disappointed as were the original settlers to land at Jamestown or Plymouth Rock. The faint-hearted, casual gamer will probably pack up and head back to Europe (as it appears many other reviewers in American print and on-line publications have done after a cursory look at the game). The hardy pilgrim, however, should not despair: the game lives up to its promise, and then some. To attain that promise the gamer will have to stick it out, do a little research and experiment a few times - in other words, he will have to do what his immigrant ancestors did when they came to these shores.
This game is billed as the "best selling PC game of all time in Germany" and one of the best selling games ever released to an international market. More than a million copies have been sold worldwide in both English and German. These quotes and numbers are straight from press release issued by GT Interactive Software Corp., the American distributors of 1602 A.D. Many other reviewers have poked fun at this hype (as did this reviewer for the first few hours of play). What GT should have done was lead off their press release with a simple instruction to NOT attempt to play this game in earnest until AFTER visiting the truly excellent web site that Sunflowers put together to support this game. Their 1602 A.D. site is packed with all of the answers to every frustrating question this reviewer came up with during his first dozen or so hours of play
Important Proper Planning: Go To the Web Site - Then Skim the Manual
The Anno 1602 web site includes the kind of information that SHOULD have been in the manual. The manual and the accompanying on-disk tutorial are confusing, incomplete, wordy and misleading. Of key note are the Resource files, which list the multitude of buildings available along with the cost of building and maintaining them (a glaring omission in the manual). This file provides detailed, illustrated information that the player should print out and keep handy. Another vital file is "The Hint Compendium." The title is a misnomer. This file is NOT a collection of hints - but a compendium of vital RULES and GUIDELINES for basic play. The "Tips for Starting Out," "City Planning" and "Trade" sections cut to the quick of the game. Those few pages provide more information about HOW to actually play 1602 A.D. than the rule book does, and they do it better and more concisely.
The 1602 A.D. web site has a lot more good information about additional scenarios that can be downloaded, including news about the sequel (1503 - which will add nine indigenous races ranging from Aztecs and Africans to Eskimos). It also tells a player how to play the game on-line and how to solve some basic, simple and common problems that arise in play. (Like how to trade with natives, how to get soldiers back on board ships, or how to get an invasion force past a stand of trees - readers should not laugh at this last one. This reviewer landed a huge army in one scenario only to have it hemmed in by a bunch of bushes. The FAQ file explains how to tell soldiers to cut down the trees, something that is lacking in the manual). With this caveat firmly planted, the eager prospective player should find that the game meets all or at least most of the expectations aroused by the advertisements.
Explorers With A Map
The player in 1602 A.D. is European of non-specific nationality or religion (chose blue, red, white or orange, it does not matter - they are all the same). His world is based on the real world, but neither the area to be explored and settled nor the situations are meant to replicate any specific event or conflict of the era. That noted, the setting is still strongly reminiscent of the age of colonization, although in a much more gentle and politically correct vein (no slaves, no annihilation of native cultures, no disease, etc.).