Little Empire delivers a fun blend of battling and building

Little Empire is good stuff. It’s not great – it’s too simplistic and slow for that – but it’s fun, easy to play, won’t take up too much of your time, and even has a hint of addictiveness to it. If you’ve got an itch for a casual Facebook-style strategy/world-building game, then this might be the fix for what ails ya.

Little Empire doesn’t bring much new to the table. Beginning with a castle and a couple of other structures, you’ll build your kingdom as you see fit: mines for gold and crystals, barracks for soldiers and little houses for everyone to live in. Buildings can be upgraded for faster, better production, and the borders of your kingdom can be expanded, within the limits of your player level, to make room for it all.

Little Empire

The real fun however, lies in the battle system which pits you against other players. Your kingdom is really just a way to finance and support your army, which will eventually grow to include a mix of footmen, trolls, elves, ninjas and other fantasy characters. You’ll also choose a hero at the start of the game, one of three powerful archetypes who will, or at least can, lead your troops into battle. Heroes gain experience, abilities and equipment in combat, making them increasingly powerful as the game wears on, and they’ll generally be the centerpiece of any offensive or defensive formations you lay out.

The battles themselves are dead simple affairs, yet they also have a certain element of complexity to them. Troops are arranged in rows and columns and once the formation is set, they go at each other until one side is wiped out or the enemy’s battlements are breached. The name of the game is arranging your troops in an optimal formation, taking advantages of their strengths while exploiting your enemy’s weaknesses. It’s not brain surgery, but without effective formations you can expect your enemies to roll over you pretty quickly. Some of it is fairly obvious – spearmen behind footmen, archers in the back – but coming up with an effective counter to an opposing army can be tricky. It can also be awfully satisfying when your forces chew through a comparably sized, but poorly arrayed, enemy.

Along with the usual battles for gold and glory, you can also launch raids against enemy kingdoms to kidnap their rulers – your fellow players, in other words. Enemy castles and kingdoms can be occupied while you keep their erstwhile rulers hostage, taxing their people, forcing them to perform labor and even “punishing” them when the mood strikes. But just because you can take them doesn’t mean you can hold them, as their allies can attack and liberate captured castles and then come after you on a rescue mission. Don’t be surprised if the low-level ruler you just smacked around has some high-level friends waiting in the wings.

Little Empire

But for all it gets right, Little Empire is still a little rough around the edges. The control scheme is adequate but a bit cumbersome, and while placing buildings or arranging your army is simple enough, there’s no way to store formations for quick recall in the future. Unless you have enough troops to field two armies, you also have to remember to take your soldiers off of castle defense before you launch an attack or you’ll be forced to withdraw from the field before the battle even begins, which counts as a loss. It’s not the end of the world, but still a blemish on your record.

The single-song soundtrack gets to be a grind after awhile, but non-musical audio cues are very spare; turn off the music and you’ll be playing in almost complete silence.

The game was suffering from server issues while I played, a problem many other Android users have commented on. Just about everything I did during my first day of play resulted in a server error before kicking in after a second try. Even worse, it requires you to log in after any absence of more than a few minutes, which doesn’t sound like a big deal but becomes a real irritant when you have to do it every single time. And given the lengthy waits for anything to happen, this is the kind of game you’ll be putting down a lot. Little Empire progresses very slowly, unless you’re willing to spend real-money “mojo” to speed things up. But it takes a lot of mojo to make things happen, which unfortunately gives the game a strong “free to play, pay to win” feel.

My first 30 minutes with this game were rough. The tutorial isn’t particularly useful and the help section is either non-existent or so well hidden that it might as well be. But I’m glad I stuck with it, because when everything “clicked” I suddenly realized that I was having fun. It probably won’t hold much appeal for serious strategy gamers, but as an amusing distraction with the potential to get a lot better, something you can pick up and futz with for a couple minutes at a time, Little Empire is a pretty decent choice.