Era of Sail is a seaworthy tycoon game, but it’s not without some leaks in the hull.
Columbus, the protagonist of DreaminGame’s Era of Sail, is a plucky little chap. Only moments after he’s discovered bobbing amid the wreckage of a ship, he’s already throwing his weight around the local port in his role of port manager, criticizing the dilapidated mills and lack of commerce. But rather than just grumbling about it, he immediately sets off to remedy the issues. We could use more people like him. He never loses track of this one-sided drive to perfection, but we get glimpses of a human side as he helps restore housing for the homeless and in time, we see how his success leads him to love. Believe it or not, this really isn’t a story-driven game.
Indeed, Era of Sail is a tycoon game at heart, the objective being to amass as large a fleet as possible and to use that fleet to send precious cargo across the world. The cargo itself comes from the factories and mills in the town that Columbus helps to restore, which you in turn pack into the cargo holds of your ship (remembering, of course, to provide beer for your sailors as a reward for a successful voyage). It’s a complicated process–right down to fluctuating prices that force you to keep an eye on the market to net the most profit–but not so complicated that newcomers to the tycoon genre might shy away. Not only does DreaminGame sprinkle the whole project with decent menus, but they wrap the entire game in intuitive tutorials.
To get the most out of Era of Sail, though, you’re going to want to have several friends playing so you can establish trade routes with their ports. Such a concept seems forced in some other social games, but Era of Sail‘s saga of ship channels and merciless capitalism allow it to make sense; after all, even the bloodthirsty pirates of yore had a knack for diplomacy and the social aptitude demanded by commerce. If you don’t bring along a lot of friends, quite frankly, you’re going to have a bad time. Without them, progress gets unbearably slow, hampered even further by long shipping times.
It’s tempting to criticize Era of Sail for its reliance on the tedious sideshows of social gaming–the energy bars and cartloads of premium currency items, for instance–but it seems excessive to harp on those features in a game that so earnestly rewards you for the simple act of playing. Many social games award you for logging in every day, for instance, but Era of Sail distinguishes itself by showering your with increasingly large amounts of gold for however long you’ve been playing the game in one sitting. It’s a nice little topping of surprise in a game that already serves up a delicious helping of fun.
To complement its engaging side story, Era of Sail also benefits from a strong art style, ranging from the characters themselves to the occasionally beautiful models used for the ships and buildings. Alas, it’s not without its problems. Some players might balk at the way the energy bar mercilessly prohibits gameplay late into the game, and still others might balk at the occasional minutes-long waits as Era of Sail loads. Sometimes, it stops dead in the process, leaving you to wonder if your data was lost at sea.
But for a mobile tycoon game, you could do much worse. If you can accept its quirks (and manage to bring along a boatload of friends), it’s one of the best new tycoon games on the mobile market.