One of the most underrated turn-based strategy games ever made, Europa 1400 from 4Head Studios/JoWood is a superb "medieval life simulation" that rewards the patience required to negotiate the complicated user interface and steep learning curve with addictive gameplay that will keep you up nights. Europa 1400 Gold includes both the original game and the add-on, which fixes many annoying bugs and adds a lot of new buildings and professions. |
Europa 1400 successfully blends elements from so many genres it is hard to pigeonhole. Perhaps it is best described as Merchant Prince meets The Sims meets Darklands: you play the head of a family living in medieval Europe in the 1400s, trying to make ends meet and, hopefully, transform your humble beginnings into a powerful dynasty to last generations. How you get there is up to you: there are dozens of occupations to choose from, ranging from the mundane (trader, blacksmith, preacher, money lender, etc.) to the esoteric (alchemist, perfumer, etc.) and even the other side of the law (robber, thief, etc.). As you become proficient at your job, you will be able to expand your business(es), hire helpers, and -- similar to RPG games -- gain useful skills, higher ranks, and "privileges", which let you do all sorts of cool things like blackmail someone, change your occupation, and even have a bodyguard by your side to protect against kidnappers.
The gameplay is a clever mix between real-time and turn-based. Each passing year in the game is marked by phases at the beginning and the end, but during each year, you have the freedom to move around the city at will and interact with people and events. What makes Europa 1400 a lot of fun is that the more experienced your character becomes, the more choices you have at your disposal. To get the most valuable and powerful privileges (such as the ability to change the law), it is not enough to rise to the top of your profession: you need to participate in the town's civic, ecclesiastical, and professional governing in order to win a coveted office. If you are good enough, you can even become the town's Mayor, Bishop, or Sovereign. If you choose the life of crime, you can become a robber baron or master thief. As if this isn't enough, Europa 1400 also includes dozens of useful items your character can buy or make, then use from an inventory panel as you would in a typical adventure or RPG game. These items include weapons and special items that give you extra skills or bonus attributes (for instance, wearing a gold chain will improve your standing with all officials in town). Combat takes place in real-time, and is generally a quick-and-dirty affair.
No medieval life sim is complete without a family line aspect, and Europa 1400 shines here as well. Since your character must age and die eventually, finding a good spouse and rearing children is very important. Once your character dies, you can continue by controlling the life of a child or sibling. The underlying economic model behind all this is detailed, realistic, and responsive, and the AI of computer players is more than capable of pulling all sorts of nasty Machiavellian tricks on you. Last but not least, the game offers LAN support, although I never tried it, and I heard it is far from perfect.
If there is any complaint I have with this underdog, it is that the game seems overwhelming at first, due to the sheer number of options and a less-than-intuitive user interface. It took me a few retries to finally get the hang of things and start to have fun. My advice to anyone new to the game is to start slow: focus on building your career without paying attention to the political intrigue going on around you. It will take more than a few games before you know all the machinations and tricks, but thankfully Europa 1400 is never the same game twice. A wonderful and overlooked gem, Europa 1400 comes highly recommended, and more than deserves our Hall of Belated Fame honors.
Reviewed by: Underdogs