1503 A.D. The New World

For those of you who remember 1602 A.D., The New World is its prequel. 1503 doesn’t reach out and grab you with mesmerizing gameplay when you load up your very first mission. Instead, this real-time thinker draws you in slowly and makes you consider every detail, from building placement and resource proximity to lines of commerce and civilian happiness.

9A typical game in 1503 A.D. The New World begins with a single ship and a hold full of basic goods. You scout the map for decent 16th-century digs, choosing from among land masses that vary from temperate or tropical to frozen tundra. You deploy scouts to sniff out iron ore, salt, marble, and such. Since natural resources vary, and different crops grow better or worse in a given environment, what you pick shapes what you can build and the order in which you build it.

Once you’re settled, it’s time to build basic industry. Foresters harvest wood for buildings, fisheries net food, hunters hunt, tanneries process furs, churches and pubs provide piece of mind, and so on. What’s unique about this sort of game is that you spend most of your time mapping your civil infrastructure — charting roads, worrying about civilian house placement (it affects industry access and vice versa), and making sure your commodities flow. What you don’t do is push peasants around, slap down goofy abstract buildings, or build hordes of tank-rushing red shirts. It’s surprisingly good fun if you enjoy balancing an economy one tweak at a time.

Eventually you’ll be forced to seek out other cultures — Aztecs, Mongolians, Venetians…you know the drill. Trade can be run manually or automated right down to single-unit quantities of a commodity. The AI is much better than 1602’s, with far more aggression and appropriate reactions to dynamic situational changes. Alas, few games escape some righteous bad-mouthing, and 1503’s no different.

Though you can spin the view in four directions, foliage tends to block buildings, making road placement a pain. A bug with the mini-map occasionally causes it to blank out, and the interface is a mess of top- and side-tabs. The biggest problem is the tendency of the campaign to sometimes lead you down an economic dead-end to meet a specific mission goal. I had to restart the campaign several times to get a well-oiled economy in motion.

System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win95

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