While Age of Empires: Castle Siege may take its name from the classic real-time strategy game series, it shuns nearly all of its forefather's gameplay. Rather than reenacting legendary and/or mythical battles in strategic open set-pieces, Castle Siege has you slowly building your fortress, waiting for timers to tick down, and occasionally engaging in skirmishes against other players and the AI.
The king is dead, long live the king
Stepping into Age of Empires: Castle Siege, the first thing that strikes you is that all of the factions are based on historic armies. There are six different groups on offer, ranging from the Britons to the Saracens, each with their own heroes, units, and look.
Once you have your army selected, it’s time to build your castle. Like most timer-based games, this involves developing the right structures to maximize your ability to expand.
Clash of Castles, Boom Seige, or Age of Farms, it doesn't really matter what you call it: the base building mechanics of Age of Empires: Castle Siege are familiar to most players. You develop your own little empire from nothing: constructing an infrastructure, building an army, and gathering resources.
The bottle neck in this are the various timers and resource limits that put a hard stop on your efforts to expand - unless you are prepared to spend real money on in-app purchases. Upgrading and building structures gives you access to additional space and perks, but the only real pay-off is the ability expand further. It's a cyclical process, with the aim being to grow for the sake of growth.
Build, attack, tap, repeat
Even the other main play mechanic, attacking other people castles, is only really done in service of expansion. This leaves you collecting wood to build an archery range, upgrading the range to buy crossbowmen, and then taking them into battle to earn more wood to make more troops.
Fortunately, the battles can be good fun, especially in the game’s ten "campaign" battles. Here you have a pre-set army to lead against a massive fortress. Careful management of your troops is vital, and using effective tactics is the only way to make it through. For example, keeping a line of archers just behind your pike-men is a great way to defeat an overzealous cavalry, run in halfcocked and you won’t be so lucky.
What is perfect about this mode is that, while you can level-up more quickly by purchasing in-game currency, the army is always the same. This means it’s down to your skill, rather than your wallet, dictates success.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
All of the game's armies have their own look and style. While at a distance many of the troops look similar, hero and special units have their own unique flare to differentiate them - and their abilities - on the battlefield.
This variation in appearance stretches to your kingdom and castle also. My Tutonic Order's spent most of the game covered in snow, with wooden buildings to fortify themselves. In contrast, the Saracens lived in the yellow of the desert, with castles made from stone.
Another from the same lineage
Age of Empires: Castle Siege is a just another in a long line of classics to get the free-to-play, time-management, social-game treatment. It has a few nice features but there is a good chance that you have played the underlying mechanics a dozen times before.
However, if you are a massive fan of the Byzantine Empire (or perhaps the Age of Empires franchise itself), then this provides polished mechanics and a focused campaign mode. And that could be enough to win you over - providing you aren’t already too heavily invested in the competition.