Warlock: Master of the Arcane (or is that Master of Magic?) has been just the thing to celebrate my 40th. It has all the fundamental mechanics of Civ5, inspired my Master of Magic, and is set in the realm of Majesty. I've enjoyed all 3 games in the past, but with a completely new developer you never know what you're going to get.
I grabbed the demo and played enough to see that this was a definite purchase, but unfortunately couldn't find anyone to gift it to me with 5 hours to go for pre-order. I picked it up anyway and will work out who got it for me later on.
The main thing I enjoyed about the game is the environment. It really feels like the world is more active and agressive than Civ5, and is really interesting pushing back the shroud. Sometimes it's been rats or ogres to fight, or an NPC city, or a really good city position, or even an untimely death for the the explorers. It all makes exploration worthwhile.
Building cities to keep the economy going also feels like back in the Civ2 days where there isn't any artificial limits to stop city expansion. With the random maps and lots of different resource tiles to use, city placement is great for optimising.
In the first (normal difficulty) game I had pretty much the whole northern continent to myself, and had over 20 cities before pushing down onto one of the AIs. It looked like a foregone conclusion and moving 30+ units a turn seemed to drag down the experience.
In the second game I cranked it to impossible and once again expanded hard. I took out one of the AI's single city with the help of the other, but the 2nd remained allied with me while remaining on a single city. I'd once again built on just about every exposed piece of land, explored both worlds while settling fully one of them, before finally figuring out that I'd probably have to kill the other AI to win. With 4 paladins against a horde of skeletons, it was over in ~4 turns. Wonderful world, woeful AI. Why doesn't it expand?
I set another challenge to see if I can win it while only having one city myself. Played a couple of starts, butt just felt like the exploration part of the game suffered a lot in doing so. Do I want to spend a lot of time playing an unfun game just to beat the AI at their own game?
Next challenge was to se how fast I can beat them. They seem to be super effective early on, but then hampered by their inability to expand or tech up, so I know I'd eventually steamroll them if given enough time and gives a good expand vs fight mechanic to play with. Played a couple of games with some interesting challenges, but eventually came up with a winning strategy: summoned rats.
Starting a new game with Grum-gog and +100 Mana, I figured I'd be able to get 7 rats out (one a turn) and ignore the food cost. This was helped by a pretty decent staring position, but the rats really swamped their ability to kill enough or even fireball. Finished the game in 10 turns, but I'd say that there's another couple of turns that could be shaved off due to some agressive NPCs attacking me from the top.